In this blog Dr Matthew Higgins discusses how we can teach fraud and corruption as a socio-political, cultural and economic issue, and provide practical tools and approaches that individuals can draw upon to prevent and detect incidences of fraud in their personal and organisational lives.
Much like the cacophony of advertising that constantly seeks our attention, tales of fraud and corruption in the media runs the risk of over-exposure. Whether it is allegations of political campaign finance irregularities in the USA, online or credit card scams, employees misusing charity credit cards or students using essay mills, incidents of fraud are a regular feature of news briefings. We are all now enculturated into this murky world of fraud, but save for those perpetrators or the unfortunates who have been defrauded, how seriously do we take the threat? We can read about it, think how stupid the world is and then move on.
Do we feel safe because of the professional industry that has wrapped itself around the issue? Prevention, detection and investigation of fraud is now big business for the major accounting and auditing firms. But given the concerns over conflict of interest, expense and competence, a dependence on these service providers is not healthy for an organisation. We need to look at complementary self-help solutions.
As an educator of aspiring managers and business owners, engaging and energising students to recognise that early self-detection and resolution of fraud and corruption is an opportunity with significant positive economic implications has proven to be a significant challenge. This is despite my institution being keen and supportive for the issue to feature more prominently in the curriculum. Instead I suggest the issues stem from issues relating to disciplinary boundaries, expected course structures and the performative drive in business education. I’ll briefly outline the challenges we have faced before expanding on the ways in which we at the University of Leicester have been trying to address them.
Despite the merits of multi, inter and trans disciplinary study and research, the accounting and administrative realities for many large diverse higher education institutions mean that subjects need to have a home, usually within a discipline, housed within a department which sits within a college or faculty. But where a subject spans disciplines, departments or even colleges, mobilising staffing resource and administering internal revenue flows to deliver courses becomes more difficult.
Consequently, situating fraud and corruption within the curriculum is a tricky area. Within business education, it is usually positioned as an element within a broader subject. So, fraud and corruption are likely to be incorporated within modules on business ethics, corporate social responsibility or sustainability. This can ‘hide’ the issue or rather frame it through a particular lens so that it is seen as ‘worthy’ or ‘impractical’. The last decades have seen a dominant discourse concerned with ‘responsibilising the self’. This encourages individuals to invest in their future by developing an enterprising and entrepreneurial outlook which links personal worth with economic value. In the midst of this agenda, how can discussions about ethics not fall foul of this performativity agenda?
A basic response is to place greater emphasis on the money that can be saved through greater attention to these issues. But we have found that a more effective approach is to embrace the ‘responsibilising the self’ discourse in order to frame fraud and corruption as a matter of creative enterprise and professional curiosity. At the University of Leicester we have worked in partnership with Nigel Iyer (a fellow of the school of business and the fraud advisory practitioners Hibis), to build innovative workshops, short courses and more recently apps to make the issue relevant and interesting to students and professional learners. Our workshops and short courses introduce participants to the world of fraud and corruption through drama, animation, original board games, video and whistleblower podcasts. Rather than recite compliance regulations, we frame fraud and corruption as a socio-political, cultural and economic issue, and provide practical tools and approaches that individuals can draw upon to prevent and detect incidences of fraud in their personal and organisational lives. Feedback suggests that this approach to the subject is welcomed. Fraud and corruption can be both relevant and fun.
And with entrepreneurial zeal we have begun to go further, developing the fraud and corruption board game into an app. Think Monopoly crossed with Risk, set against the backdrop of dirty money centres so painstakingly sketched out by the Panama Papers.
Nigel’s latest publication takes the idea one stage further, and gives the reader a recipe book. ‘How to Find Fraud and Corruption: Recipes for the Aspiring Fraud Detective’ follows a similar approach to Chef Auguste Gusteau in the Pixar-Disney film ‘Ratatouille’. Gusteau declared that, “You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true – anyone can cook… but only the fearless can be great”. In Ratatouille, Remy, a rat, takes the advice to heart and develops a passion for cooking, by doing so challenging the conventional expectations of role and nature held by ‘the establishment’, represented by conservative food critic Anton Ego.
‘Recipes for the Aspiring Fraud Detective’ places the reader in the role of Remy, with Anton Ego representing the legions of accountants and auditors who have taken it upon themselves to claim ‘expert’ status. Its message is very simple, to see fraud and corruption as a commonplace and mundane issue, occurring in every organisation at every level. And due its pervasive nature, it requires all of us to take on the responsibility to prevent, discourage and detect. We all have the means to be great fraud detectives. We are all well placed to tackle the issue and we all have the potential to reduce the burden of fraud and corruption in our organisations and the wider society.