New appointment

Charles Lazarevic, appointed to the Audit Committee
Charles Lazarevic, appointed to the Audit Committee

CIArb Audit Committee

I am pleased to announce my appointment to the Audit Committee of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (“CIArb”), the world’s leading qualifications and professional body for dispute avoidance and dispute management. 

This appointment builds on my long involvement in dispute resolution as an expert witness, as well as recognising my expertise in corporate governance, auditing and financial reporting.

Further details of my experience may be found by clicking here.

To contact me, please click here.

10 January 2020

#audit #auditcommittee #financialreporting #ciarb #arbitration #disputes #disputeresolution #internationalarbitration #law

Charles awarded Fraud Accountancy Expert Witness of the Year for 2019

 

Charles Lazarevic – Global 100 Award winner

In December Charles was Awarded Fraud Accountancy Expert Witness of the Year 2019 by KMH Media, publishers of M&A Today. This annual Award aims to provides their readership with an understanding of those individuals that are truly leaders within their chosen areas of specialisation.

The Process:

Each individual recognised must receive no less than 21% in votes from the global readership, currently in excess of 293,000 in 163 countries.

After the voting process, which follows a very strict format of self-submission and third-party nomination, firms are shortlisted and selected as winners as follows:

Judging stage:

Once all votes have been received, an independent panel of judges review the votes within each category.

The judges will assess the following in their considerations:

  • The strategic nature of work conducted.
  • The complexity of work conducted.
  • The scale of work conducted.
  • Whether the work conducted was done so in a speedy manner and within budget.
  • Any ground-breaking or innovative processes used during completion of conducted work.

The judges were asked to focus strongly on the complexity and strategic significance of work conducted.

The above criteria underlines the importance of the recognition each individual receives as a result of being recognised as a Global 100 winner.

In summary, the publishers believe their Global 100 programme provides a benchmark for the very best of the best industry leaders, exemplary teams and distinguished organisations.

The full list of Award winners may be viewed here.

Download a pdf of the entry here.

 

31 December 2019

Forensic accounting finally takes centre stage in audit reforms

Audit failings blamed for collapse

The Conservative Party’s Manifesto set out the party’s aims for audit reform within the following statement: “We are also strengthening the UK’s corporate governance regime, and will reform insolvency rules and the audit regime so that customers and suppliers – and UK taxpayers – are better protected when firms like Thomas Cook go into administration. We will also carefully study the results of the ongoing investigation into its collapse.”

Sir Donald Brydon’s review dated December 2019

On 18 December Sir Donald published his 138-page report into audit reform.  His terms of reference were set by the Government at the beginning of the year and included the ambitious aim of “seeing the UK at the forefront of corporate governance internationally. This includes maintaining a leadership position internationally in terms of the evolution of the audit”.  

Sir Donald’s report also includes over 60 other wide ranging and ambitious recommendations, including strengthened standards for auditors, more responsibilities for company directors and additional powers for shareholders and stakeholders to influence audit.   

Sir Donald proposes that the new generation of auditors should be trained in forensic accounting and in fraud detection.  So, while the higher standard will require auditors to approach their work with suspicion rather than just scepticism, by targeting their work using their forensic accounting skills perhaps we will have better outcomes without increasing fees prohibitively.

The Business Secretary’s priorities

In her editorial for my Institute’s newsletter, Economia, just before Parliament was dissolved in November, the Business Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, asserted that:

“Reform will cover not just the function of the regulator, but also the purpose and function of audit itself. It will include proposals on the function and oversight of audit committees and new internal control arrangements within our great British businesses – key lines of defence against poor corporate governance. It will also include proposals on the responsibilities of boards and directors – who need to build trust in the business activities that they lead. And reform will also look at how both investors and regulators can better hold companies and their auditors to account. All of those factors must be assessed and weighed together, so that the whole package is coherent and effective.”

She ended be stating her aims to be: “I want to see the UK leading the world in the next phase of improvements in corporate governance and audit reform.”

The challenge ahead

There has always been an “expectation gap” between what the public expected and what auditors delivered. Like many accountants, I spent my early years as an auditor before concluding that adding forensic accounting skills to my toolbox would allow me to make a much greater contribution in business.  While I applaud the introduction of forensic accounting training for auditors, and the need for them to approach their work with suspicion rather than mere scepticism, introducing these changes will require huge effort by regulators, trainers and the new firms themselves.

Some of Sir Donald’s recommendations may be implemented relatively early but others, such as creating a separate audit profession with its own governing principles, standards, and professional qualifications is a big step, and will take time to implement, and require a lot of work with the inevitable cost falling on business. 

In our interconnected world, any changes introduced in the audit of major UK companies will need to be mirrored in other major economies if UK auditors are to be able to meet these new standards.  The UK will need to encourage the accountancy professions in other countries to adopt these proposals as well.

In addition to Sir Donald Brydon’s review, the Business Secretary has three other major reviews on various aspects of the profession to address – the future of the Financial Reporting Council (Sir John Kingman), reform of the audit market (Competition and Markets Authority) and the future of audit (the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s own Committee).

The Business Secretary certainly has her work cut out if she is to implement these ambitious aims in the next 12 months.  As always, the devil will be in the detail and I suspect we will see more limited reform within this timetable, leaving the more ambitious aims for another day.

Charles Lazarevic

20 December 2019

Asset recovery in South Eastern Europe

Rule of Law Programme – Western Balkans

Capacity building

A conference on the recovery of the proceeds of crime was held in Belgrade, sponsored by the UK Government. The conference provided training for senior judges and prosecutors from seven countries in South Eastern Europe with the aim of encouraging international co-operation in recovering assets following every successful prosecution. 

This training provided an overview of the law and practice in international cooperation in asset recovery.  The participants were also provided with an excellent Handbook setting out the available tools, channels for cooperation and best practice.  The Keynote speaker was HH Judge Michael Hopmeier, Southwark Crown Court, London.

The conference was arranged in response to the low level of international cooperation in the field of asset recovery in South Eastern Europe and forms part of a wide programme of capacity building being sponsored by the UK Government in the fight against corruption and organised crime in the region. 

Introduction & HHJ Michael Hopmeier’s Keynote Address

The event attracted over 30 participants including a former judge from the European Court of Human Rights, and judges from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. 

The UK Government is keen to share the UK’s experience of fighting corruption and recovery of the proceeds of crime. One important aim is to speed up the seizure of assets at an early stage. 

Vero Consulting’s skills in this area

Charles Lazarevic represented Vero Consulting at the conference, building on the firm’s forensic accounting investigations work in the region.  The firm has used its extensive forensic accounting and language skills to prepare and present expert witness evidence in proceeds of crime trials for the prosecution or defendants on many occasions. 

Attended by Charles Lazarevic

While most assignments are conducted in English, Vero’s team includes individuals with a working knowledge of German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Romanian, Serbian and Croatian.

Further details of Vero team’s expertise is available here. If you would like consult Vero for a business financial review or a forensic investigation anywhere in the world, please contact the firm at: enquiries@veroconsulting.expert.

Charles Lazarevic

30 November 2019

Using AI to improve data and reporting on SMEs

Last week I was privileged to be invited to join Professor Karen G. Mills for a dinner with several professors from Imperial College Business School, London and a number of London-based entrepreneurs working on applying big data to support better lending and investment decisions to SMEs using new types of AI and algorithms.  The discussion shows the astonishing range of non-financial data that can be captured about a business.

With over 50% of jobs in the UK and US and many other industrialised countries in SMEs, these innovative new data streams, particularly non-financial measures, have the power to illuminate the opaque nature of small business finances, providing more transparency and thus confidence to lenders.  

Professor Mills believes the difficulties small business has had in obtaining credit can be addressed by attracting new financiers using AI to improve lending decisions and at lower cost. This should invigorate SMEs as an important source of innovation and employment in our economies.

This rich source of data will also provide investigators with a much wider pool of data for due diligence, verification and court purposes, areas where my firm is particularly active.

Karen Mills inscription to Charles Lazarevic
Karen G Mills’ latest book – November 2019

Professor Mills served as a member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet and as the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration from 2009 to 2013.  She is now a Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School and a member of the Entrepreneurship Faculty. 

She included this inscription in a copy of her latest book on this topic: Fintech, Small Business & the American Dream.

Vero Consulting uses financial and non-financial data to support SMEs with business valuation, compensation and other dispute resolution services.

Charles Lazarevic

19 November 2019

Is the Lands Tribunal demanding more persuasive business valuation evidence?

Compensation is payable following compulsory purchase of land and businesses

Major UK infrastructure projects require compensation for compulsory purchase of land and businesses

I recently attended Francis Taylor Building’s annual compulsory purchase legal update seminar.  Richard Glover QC chaired the afternoon seminar and presented the session on business extinguishment compensation, which was a philosophical but highly thought provoking look at the Lands Tribunal’s latest business loss compensation decision, a case in which I gave evidence.   

Filling in the evidential gaps

Intriguingly he started by describing recent research by Peter Carruthers (http://tiny.cc/no-conscious-thought), a Professor of Philosophy, who concludes that judgments, decisions, intentions and goals are not tied to sensory experiences and never figure in working memory or become conscious. Professor Carruthers points out that we only ever recognise our decision-making from what does become conscious, such as visual imagery and the words we hear ourselves say in our heads.  As such, Carruthers concludes that conscious thought, judgment and volition are all illusions.

Drawing on Carruthers’ research, Richard contrasted the recent decision with how the Tribunal decided business extinguishment compensation before the Optical Express case.  This is partly because it now involves evidence from forensic accountants and partly due to the volume of, often conflicting, empirical evidence that is now much more readily available.  Richard suggests the Tribunal is now left to “fill in the evidential gaps”, which is where Carruthers’ conclusions becomes relevant.  

Charles Lazarevic

A leading expert on compensation following compulsory purchase

Having presented the background, Richard went on to describe the wide range of conflicting evidence that was presented in the latest Lands Tribunal valuation decision on business extinguishment, a £10 million claim by Welcocks Skips Limited (http://tiny.cc/Welcocks) in which I gave expert evidence

Richard contrasted this case with a typical business valuation case twenty years ago, Klein v Transport for London [1996], where the Tribunal simply adopted three years’ purchase based on custom and practice. 

Is the Tribunal now demanding more persuasive evidence?

One particular interesting lesson one can draw from the Welcocks Skips case is the Tribunal’s conclusion that when deciding between conflicting comparables, evidence from those with personal knowledge would be required in order to favour one potential “comparable” company transaction over another.  While expert evidence was provided by the Acquiring Authorities’ waste specialist, the Tribunal concluded this was not sufficiently compelling to favour certain transactions and that it is unreasonable to draw conclusions solely from accounts and publicity material.  In my view this decision sets a new benchmark for the evidence that will be required by business valuers in future.

Considering the considerable controversy surrounding the low level of compensation currently being offered by HS2 following compulsory purchase, perhaps the Tribunal had in mind the hundreds of potential cases that could be lining up to file claims on Britain’s flagship infrastructure project.

My firm are leading experts in quantifying compensation following compulsory purchase. For further details click here.

Charles Lazarevic

6 November 2019

#compulsorypurchase #businessvaluation #HS2