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Deloitte targets talent at banks as new APAC financial crime unit looks to double headcount in six months

Deloitte’s Tim Phillipps

When Deloitte’s Tim Phillipps first started hunting down embezzlers and money launderers in the 1980s, working in financial crime was a “niche role for ex-cops”. Now, as global regulators hit banks with billion-dollar fines, the battle against financial crime is creating cutting-edge jobs.

If you already work in financial crime at a bank or if you are a compliance or risk generalist looking to hone your skills, Singapore-based Phillipps, a former global head of analytics and forensic at Deloitte, would like to hear from you. Phillipps is now at the helm of the firm’s new Asia Pacific Financial Crime Strategy and Response Centre and he’s looking to double the size of his team, opening up financial-crime consultancy jobs in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia.

He explains why he wants to hire banking professionals – but only those who can cope with the client-driven “agile” working environment that he is creating in the financial crime centre.

How did you become a specialist in financial crime yourself?

I started in the Melbourne police when I was 16.  I loved doing the investigative work and I became a detective, but there are only so many murders and muggings you can take and I ended up on the economic crime squad. In the early 1990s a headhunter rang me and I joined the new Australian Securities and Investments Commission, despite having no clue about forensic accounting. What made my profile there was leading the investigation into the Bond Corporation, Australia’s largest corporate collapse.

What have been your main careers challenges since joining Deloitte?

When I joined in Sydney in 1999 the big one was getting used to the sales-focused culture – at a regulator you don’t need to sell anything. Over the next 10 years I built the largest forensic and dispute services practice in Australia. When I become global head of forensic, I realised how narrow my focus had been in Australia. To succeed in Singapore you need one foot in the local market and a strong global perspective.

Why set up the APAC Financial Crime Strategy and Response Centre this year?

When I arrived in Singapore in 2009, there wasn’t the demand for a regional service, but now all banks are focused on financial crime. When I began my career it was a niche role for ex-cops, but now it’s much sexier and more cutting edge. Deloitte here is divided into member firms – China, Southeast Asia and Australia – and until we opened the centre in June 2015 we’d subcontract financial-crime work among us. With the centre we’ve broken down these barriers, which is unique within Deloitte, to provide expertise under one roof. So far clients love it and we want to do the same in other regions – have a centre in Europe, for example.

How many people are you hiring?

There’s huge demand. If you gave me 15 good people tomorrow I could start them on projects right away. We have about 40 staff right now and we’re aiming to double that within just the next six months, mid-to-senior level roles. Around five of the jobs will be in Sydney or Melbourne, others in Hong Kong, but the bulk will be in Singapore, the team’s HQ. In the future we’ll hire across Southeast Asia – Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and then Vietnam and the Philippines.

What type of skills do you want for the financial crime centre?

There are three key skills – some people have all of them, others are specialists. Firstly, forensic accounting: investigative skills and the ability to get behind the records. Secondly, technical analytics skills: for example you might be converting audio phone calls into digital to find regulatory breaches. Thirdly, there’s advisory: thinking strategically and designing projects for clients.

These aren’t graduate roles, so where will the candidates come from?

We have ex-regulators here and people from consultancies. But I love hiring from banks and financial institutions. You don’t need consultancy experience – we provide training – but you need to adapt to a more sales-driven environment. I don’t care where you’re living right now – I’ve already interviewed people from Canada, London and China. Knowledge of domestic financial regulations in Singapore, Hong Kong or Australia isn’t key as they’re all largely the same globally.

But why would people give up good jobs at banks to join the financial crime centre?

These aren’t just local roles like some financial crime jobs at banks – you work across APAC and get to tap Deloitte’s global network. We place a lot of emphasis on analytics and having leading-edge technology, and our clients are some of the world’s largest financial institutions. There are also great opportunities for promotion in the near future because we’re adding so many people. And you don’t necessarily need to be a financial crime specialist – we’re open to general risk and compliance people from banks looking for a more stimulating role. Long-term, moving into an area as in-demand as financial crime is your ticket to growing your career at Deloitte or returning to a bank as a sought-after expert.

But why become a specialist? What’s good about working in financial crime?

You’re dealing with money laundering, bribery and issues that have a big impact on the reputation of capital markets and entire countries. Improving capital markets can have a transformative effect, as has been the case with Singapore. Look at Indonesia now – they still deal with the perception of corruption. But if you’re working in our team you can help companies wanting to invest in Indonesia with their due diligence – you can make a difference to that country.

Does the financial crime centre offer a more fast-paced environment than a bank’s middle-office?

Yes, because it’s so client-focused. There’s a lot of uncertainly and not much uniformity in financial crime, so I need an agile workforce. If something major happens to a client you might need to quickly change projects – it’s different from working in compliance at a bank. You might be told on Monday morning to pack your bags for two weeks in Vietnam with no project brief.

Do some banking professionals find it hard to adapt?

Many people with a banking compliance or risk background thrive facing clients – others don’t fare so well, while some stay with us in back-room positions. That’s fine, but increasingly the real career opportunities in financial crime are for people who can work with clients.

How to you gauge someone’s ability to work well with clients?

I want ‘bridgers’ – people who can bridge the gap between, say, a maths degree and designing a financial-risk model for a client. I actually go way back into your CV. I look for candidates with a history of jobs starting from when you were 16. It shows you were work-minded from an early age. I got an awesome CV recently from someone in their late 20s with a stack of qualifications but only two years’ work experience, so I have concerns about how he’ll handle dealing with clients. If you interview with me I always ask about how you’d explain your ideas to clients – that’s the key to success in our new financial crime centre.


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