Investment Fraud and the Role of Trust

This article entitled “Investment Fraud and the Role of Trust” by Dr. Susan Mangiero was originally published on April 19, 2017 in The Fraud Examiner, a publication of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners that is distributed to some 65,000 fraud professionals.

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Investment fraud can happen to anyone, and unfortunately, there is no shortage of investment fraud possibilities. Affinity fraud, pyramid schemes, pump-and-dump security trading, high-return or risk-free investments, and pre-IPO scams are only a few of a long-list of schemes that could separate investors from their hard-earned money. 

Investors can find themselves the victims of fraud when they don’t do enough due diligence or put too much faith in the people selling or managing a fund. Investors around the world would be wise to grasp fundamentals of the financial services industry, especially since results from a 2016 survey conducted by the National Association of Retirement Plan Participants show that only one in 10 persons express confidence in financial institutions. Financial advisers are similarly viewed with doubt. This is problematic.

Due in part to these concerns, very few people are adequately saving for retirement and those with money frequently invest in riskier assets in hopes of high returns. Following the 2008 credit crisis, people are changing the kinds of assets allocated in their pension plans and foundation portfolios. Taking more risks isn’t necessarily bad as long as investors sufficiently understand what is being offered to them and have assurances that sufficient safeguards are in place. Moreover, savers urgently need reliable help. Fragile confidence in the intentions of financial service providers creates a friction that can discourage investors from getting the input they need.

But investment fraud isn’t just a problem for individuals. When it occurs, it taints the financial services industry and the professionals who operate with high integrity and put customers first. Low trust of an entire industry can invite additional regulation. The net effect can be unfair penalties that diligent investment stewards must pay for the trespasses of fraudsters.

Increasing Investor Confidence

Although there is no such thing as a risk-free investment, investors can take action to detect red flags and hopefully avoid problems. With the Madoff Ponzi scheme, there were some who seriously questioned whether the touted strategy was legitimate, let alone viable, and did not invest. Regarding Enron, some investors looked askance at the energy company’s reliance on a complex web of special purpose vehicles. One lesson learned from the Bayou hedge fund scandal is to verify whether auditors are independent and well respected.

In its guide for seniors, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission urges the use of publicly available databases to check the disciplinary history of brokers and advisors, warning that investors should “never judge a person’s integrity by how he or she sounds.” The guide also says to avoid those who use fear tactics and to thoroughly review documents. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority cautions investors not to be pressured or to believe that a “once in a lifetime” opportunity will be lost without immediate action.

To help combat investment fraud, the North American Securities Administrators Association teamed up with the Canadian Securities Administrators to create an online quiz that anyone can take to enhance awareness of what to avoid.

Although there are organizations that formally grade companies on their trustworthiness, investors should not rely on a single metric alone. Instead they should study whether a financial service provider has a good reputation in the marketplace and what the company is doing to manage its economic and operational risks.

Financial service companies likewise have responsibilities to be trustworthy and ensure that adequate protections are put in place. Some of these critical action steps include:

  • Setting up controls to prevent rogue trading
  • Appropriately compensating salespersons to minimize conflicts
  • Providing existing and potential customers with clear and understandable investment documents
  • Regularly communicating what the organization does well to lower risks for its customers
  • Calling out questionable activities of its competitors and working with industry organizations to improve risk management and fraud prevention techniques.

Disclaimer: The information provided by this article should not be construed as financial or legal advice. The reader should consult with his or her own advisors.

Interview With Susan Mangiero, PhD About Fraud Prevention

As a forensic economist, I have worked on multiple matters relating to the quality of fiduciary practices provided by investment stewards. Sometimes, fraud is involved. Unfortunately, the statistics about fraud are not good. According to the 2014 Report to the Nations, published by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners ("ACFE"), "the typical organization loses 5% of revenues each year to fraud" or about $3.7 trillion - roughly "22 days worth of trading on the New York Stock Exchange."

Last fall, I pursued and earned the designation of Certified Fraud Examiner. I had to meet an experiential requirement and successfully complete a series of rigorous exams. Click to read the press release and learn about the designation.

A few weeks ago, to my delight, I was asked for an interview by the ACFE. The result is a just-published Question and Answer profile entitled "Susan Mangiero: Take Pride in Curiosity." During the interview, I talked about trust and the value of maintaining a good reputation. Specifically, I described a situation that involved a trader who had backtracked on several deals. After news got out, few persons understandably wanted to deal with him.

Having a good reputation in business, especially financial services, is still important. In recent years, I have been asked to quantify the economic relationship between reputation and the ability for a firm to generate revenue based on the trust factor. Feeling comfortable with an advisor, consultant, banker or asset manager is paramount for an institutional investor who is obliged to carefully select and monitor a third party service provider.

Coincidentally, the CFA Institute just released its study entitled "From Trust to Loyalty: A Global Survey of What Investors Want." In its "Key Insights" section, the point is made that performance and ethical conduct are both important, with investment managers needing to demonstrate that they have gone beyond "adherence to mandatory codes of conduct." This makes sense. Governance is seldom a "check off the box" exercise. (As an aside, I am proud to say that I am a CFA® charterholder."

With the investment community abuzz about the U.S. Department of Labor's proposed Conflict of Interest Rule and its international regulatory equivalents, transparency, ethics and performance issues will no doubt remain high priorities for investors.

Dr. Susan Mangiero Earns Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) Credential at a Time When Global Fraud is Estimated at $3.7 Trillion Per Year

Dr. Susan Mangiero, financial expert and author, has earned the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credential from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), having successfully met the ACFE’s character, experience and education requirements for the CFE credential, and having demonstrated knowledge in four areas critical to the fight against fraud: Fraudulent Financial Transactions, Fraud Prevention and Deterrence, Legal Elements of Fraud and Fraud Investigation. Dr. Susan Mangiero joins the ranks of business and government professionals worldwide who have also earned the CFE certification.

According to its recent comprehensive study, the ACFE estimates that the average organization loses roughly five percent of revenues each year to fraud. This translates into an estimated worldwide loss of $3.7 trillion every twelve months. CFEs on six continents have investigated more than 1 million suspected cases of civil and criminal fraud.

Dr. Mangiero is currently a Managing Director of Fiduciary Leadership, LLC and lead contributor to Pension Risk Matters and Good Risk Governance Pays. Dr. Mangiero has served as a testifying expert and behind-the-scenes forensic economist on multiple investment and financial valuation and risk assessment matters. She is a CFA® charterholder and holds the Financial Risk Manager (FRM®) designation. In addition, Dr. Mangiero has earned the Accredited Investment Fiduciary Analyst™ professional designation from Fiduciary360. She has received formal training in investment fiduciary responsibility and is certified to conduct investment fiduciary assessments.

About the ACFE

The ACFE is the world’s largest anti-fraud organization and premier provider of anti-fraud training and education. Together with more than 75,000 members, the ACFE is reducing business fraud world-wide and inspiring public confidence in the integrity and objectivity within the profession. Identified as “the premier financial sleuthing organization” by The Wall Street Journal, the ACFE has captured national and international media attention. For more information about the ACFE visit ACFE.com.

About Fiduciary Leadership, LLC

Fiduciary Leadership, LLC is an investment risk governance and forensic economic analysis consulting company. Clients include asset managers, transactional attorneys, litigation attorneys, regulators and institutional investors.