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The global wave of digitization has accelerated at a remarkable pace over the past two years. However, as organizations integrate digital technologies into their business operations, they are exposed to new vulnerabilities and increased risk of financial crime. Accounting professionals are increasingly expected to play a greater role in supporting their organizations in their risk management and compliance functions.

To learn more about this growing demand for accounting professionals with knowledge of financial forensics, we speak with Charles LiDirector, Tax & Private Client Services, Drew & Napier LLC and Adjunct Professor at SMU, as well as Angel Peh, fourth-year student at SMU School of Accountancy (SOA).

Charles teaches Financial Crime, a module offered as part of the Second Major in Financial Forensics in SOA. He is also a graduate of SMU Bachelor in Accounting (SOA) and the Juris Doctor postgraduate programs (SMU Yong Pung How School of Law).

As one of Charles’ students at the SOA, Angel is in her final year to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a second major in financial forensics. To date, she has successfully completed an internship with the Singapore Police (SPF) Business Affairs Department where she assisted in its scam prevention and awareness efforts.

Hello Charles, after graduating from the SMU Bachelor of Accountancy and SMU Juris Doctor programs, you have had a successful career in the tax and legal profession. What motivated you to return to teach at the SOA?

Charles Li, SMU Adjunct Professor

Charles: My current teaching position came about unexpectedly.

I was first asked to give my opinion on the topics to be offered as part of the new Financial Forensics major in 2019. I thought this would be a very useful second major for accounting students and I submitted my feedback on the proposed lesson plan for Financial Crime since I was able to draw on my past experiences as an auditor, prosecutor, and defense attorney.

A month later, I received an offer to teach the Financial Crimes course as an adjunct lecturer. This came out of nowhere as I hadn’t taught at SMU since 2012 and it took me a while to accept the offer.

I was motivated to accept the position given my strong interest in the subject and in teaching. The proof is always in the pudding, so feedback on classes taught by my students is always a key motivator for me to continue teaching.

You wear many hats, as a former SOA student, a successful SOA alumnus, and now an adjunct teacher. Can you share your thoughts on the evolution of the field of accounting and education?

VS: When I applied to SOA around 2001, what struck me was how cutting-edge SOA’s broad-based pedagogy was. Today, the program has evolved to meet market demands. It can be difficult for teachers to constantly update their curriculum, but SMU ensures that it is done so that what we teach remains contemporary and relevant.

A course on financial crime in progress

A course on financial crime in progress

Would you agree that knowledge of financial forensics is important to the accounting profession today, and why?

VS: Yes, financial crime is increasing in terms of number, value and complexity. Financial forensics skills are needed not only by law enforcement agencies and professional services firms, but also by large corporations in their risk management and compliance functions. Businesses face greater legal and ethical obligations to avoid being complicit in facilitating crimes such as corruption and money laundering. The profession certainly needs people skilled in financial forensics.

Financial Crime is a course offered as part of the second major in financial forensics that you currently teach. Can you tell us more about this course and why you would encourage students to take it?

VS: The aim of this course is to expose students to the key issues of national and international financial crimes. Students will gain a broad understanding of the different types of financial crime, the evidence needed to prove financial crime, and national and international efforts to combat financial crime.

This is not a law course, but the focus is on the legal definitions of the different types of white-collar offences. Indeed, the legal consequences of a wrongdoing very much depend on whether it is a crime or not, subject to what Parliament defines as such.

This is also not a course on investigative methods and techniques as this is the subject of other courses in the Financial Forensics major.

This is a course on what financial crime is, why it happens, the damage it causes and what is being done to combat it. Are we winning or losing this battle? You can join the course to find out!

Angel, as a student who took the financial crime course, what do you take away from the program?

Angel: My biggest lesson from this course was learning how to apply the Criminal Code to real cases of financial crime, which really interested me. I found it quite intriguing how minor changes in the wording of sections of the Penal Code could completely change the meaning of an offence.

Angel Peh, Undergraduate, SMU School of Accountancy

Angel Peh, Undergraduate, SMU School of Accountancy

Towards the end of the course, we also learned about money laundering and terrorist financing. I was surprised to learn how many types of financial crimes were linked to money laundering and terrorist financing, which is why it was difficult to apprehend many criminals, because crime syndicates were often large and based abroad. It was fascinating to learn how people went to such lengths to launder money obtained through criminal means.

What did your internship at the SPF consist of and how did the knowledge acquired during this training help you in your work?

A: The Financial Crime course sparked my interest in Financial Forensics, which led to my internship at the Commercial Affairs Department of the FPS. Using knowledge gained from financial crime – such as types of financial crime and their connection to money laundering and terrorist financing – allow me to better appreciate the work done by the FPS. By linking the knowledge gained from the course to my role in scam prevention and SPF awareness, I came to understand the difficulty of controlling the scam rate in Singapore, as the money defrauded from victims was often laundered by many different parties which made it very difficult to trace and catch the real masterminds behind the scams.

I look forward to deepening my knowledge in this area during my next internship in KPMG’s forensic investigation department.

Do you aspire to join the fight against financial crime? Accept your offer today.

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