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Family Office Structure - Reducing Fraud and Errors

Insider Fraud

“We are not looking at you as a potential threat, we would like you to be part of the process for and new staff we bring on”.

This statement is one of the most effective ways I have seen a family office CEO communicate to their current staff the need for improved governance and oversight of their roles, especially those that can transfer cash.

Review and Change

A recent article in Bloomberg noting the ongoing theft of millions of dollars by a trusted insider shows there is always a need to have more than one set of eyes, or a strong process, when it comes to transactions and payments.

From the article: “Chalmers pleaded guilty Thursday to using her position with a charitable foundation and multiple companies run by the family of Jim Collins, a businessman and Republican congressman who died in 1989, to fraudulently write herself at least 175 personal checks.”

And how was this fraud discovered? When the next generation of family members: “reviewed bank statements and identified “several alarming red flags involving Chalmers.”

And how did this happen? Because she was able to provide false paperwork to tax professionals with inaccurate figures for the entities’ year-end cash-on-hand values to cover her tracks.

When family offices look to improve their reporting and investment governance, we set a list of priorities, one of which is usually “improved reconciliation of data.” One of the trickle-down effects of improved reporting is the increased visibility of cash flow that wasn’t available using just Excel and the GL software.

Outsource vs Insource

Even if you’re not looking to make wholesale changes to your family office infrastructure, there should be conversations internally around the processes you have in place. Bookkeepers and anyone that reconciles their own work need to have more than one set of eyes and I’m seeing a move to outsourcing as a way of de-risking these roles. Often, this can provide three major benefits - specialist skill sets, reduced key person risk and recourse for any errors or fraudulent behaviour.

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