According to a 2005 survey conducted by a major accounting firm into global economic crime, nearly half of all businesses worldwide have been the victim of fraud in the past few years. Given those findings, it is perhaps encouraging that only 22 per cent of Hong Kong companies reported instances of fraud, a figure which represents a decrease of 29 per cent since the previous survey in 2003.
This might be because fraud is going undetected, but more likely it can be put down to greater corporate vigilance and the closer monitoring of financial transactions. Special programmes, such as the postgraduate certificate in forensic accounting jointly offered by the School of Professional Education and Executive Development (SPEED), The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Canada's Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology, are also set to have an impact.
"This is a skill-oriented programme with high-quality teaching and administrative support," says Thomas Wong, deputy director of SPEED. "It will help equip professionals and those from the government and the field of law enforcement, such as ICAC employees, customs and police officers, accountants, lawyers and senior executives with state-of-the art knowledge about forensic accounting."
The programme trains them how to investigate fraud, financial disputes, and other irregularities in today's business world. It provides specialised skills in investigation, fact-finding methods, interviews, and the collection and analysis of data. It also provides training for presenting evidence in court so that justice can be served. "We realise that it is important to maintain Hong Kong as a sound environment for business where investors' interests are safeguarded from increasingly complicated commercial crimes," says Mr Wong.
The part-time programme has 12 courses which blend classroom lectures by experienced practitioners and instructors with independent studies and group activities. The different modules focus on topics such as fraud investigation, money laundering and data mining, litigation support, asset tracing, computer forensics, criminology and ethics, and financial statement fraud.
On successful completion of the programme, students will receive the Ontario College Graduate Certificate in Forensic Accounting from Seneca, which is recognised worldwide. They will also be qualified to apply for a wide range of specialist job opportunities involving the prevention, detection and investigation of fraud, as well as tracing assets for leading companies or law enforcement agencies.
Mr Wong notes that the major accounting firms have now established their own forensic services departments and, given the current business environment, expects the demand for such services to grow. Exemption is currently being sought under the Non-local Higher and Professional Education (Regulation) Ordinance, but it is a matter of discretion for individual employers to recognise any qualification to which the course may lead.