Meet Arpinder Singh, Partner with EY, whose bold move of returning to India paid off in the burgeoning forensic accounting field

  • Hi, I’m Arpinder Singh, a Partner with EY, heading the India and Emerging Markets region for the firm’s Forensic & Integrity Service practice.
  • After qualifying as a CA and working as an Auditor for a few years, I was keen for a more businebusiness-intensiveand decided to do an MBA from Syracuse University, New York. 
  • Fast forward to 2005, I decided to return to India for personal and professional reasons and was tasked to grow the forensics practice in Mumbai at a Big 4 firm. 
  • Today, our forensics team is 1000+ in India. It grew at an exponential pace since being set up as a 30-member practice in 2010.
  • Here is my journey of working in global forensic investigations and disputes, helping companies achieve their Integrity Agenda by integrating technology within compliance, embracing ethics and strengthening anti-fraud agendas for a better tomorrow.

Started out in a traditional auditing role & pursuing an MBA in the US

My interest in finance developed while I was pursuing economics from Shri Ram College of Commerce, New Delhi.

Since I was inclined toward accounting and economics from an early age, I decided to pursue the coveted CA course.

(I think the career choices in the years when I was growing up were quite limited in comparison to today.)

After successfully completing CA in 1996, I worked with companies such as AF Ferguson and KPMG. 

In a few years, I gathered immeasurable experience working as an auditor and was now looking for a more business-intensive role.

My exposure to an international working environment and the inclination to supplement my professional experience with a focused business understanding motivated me to pursue an MBA.

I was fortunate to receive a fellowship from Syracuse University, New York in the US, allowing me to pursue my dream.

A bold step to return to India 

MBA proved to be a game-changer and after completing the same, I took up the role of a Financial Controller with Cisco in the US. This was in 2001.

At Cisco, I was exposed to the intricacies of various departments and functions and had some great learnings.  

My career was taking great shape however in 2005 I decided to return to India for both personal and professional reasons. 

On the personal front, I wanted to take care of my parents and wished to be close to them after spending several years studying and working in the US.

Professionally, it couldn’t have been a better time to make the move, as  India’s economy was growing rapidly and there were great opportunities in the market for professionals like me.

What next?

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Taking up a role in forensic auditing in its nascent stage

In 2005, when I returned to India I shifted to the field of forensics with KPMG, where I was tasked to grow their forensics practice in Mumbai.

Forensic accounting was still at a nascent stage. But with India’s significant economic growth combined with its evolving regulations and improved level of governance, the field was ripe with opportunities.

I firmly believed it would be pivotal in shaping the future of business by encouraging ethics, compliance, integrity and governance among stakeholders.

(Back then there were a handful of forensic professionals in the country helping corporates address the growing concern of fraud, bribery and corruption risks and non-compliance related challenges.)

It turned out to be an exciting area, with each case being unique and complicated.

During engagements, we would see more details unravel, as we followed the fraudster as well as the money trail.

Problem-solving is the key to forensic accounting, and as every case is different, every day throws a new challenge.

All in all, I was fortunate to get an opportunity and be a part of the initial days in the field of forensic accounting.

Building the forensic team from 30 to 1000+

Fast forward to 2010, I moved to EY, where I have been leading the practice for over a decade now.

Over the course of my career, I have been fortuitous to work extensively with corporates and counsel the C-suite, board and independent directors on business challenges and solutions.

I have also worked closely with the regulators and law enforcement officials on such high-profile and global investigations across diverse sectors, both in India and globally.

Today, our forensics team is 1000+ in India. It grew at an exponential pace since being set up as a 30-member practice in 2010.

We have individuals with varied experiences, backgrounds and capabilities which range from accountants, technologists, lawyers, former law enforcement officials, MBAs and others.

There is no recipe for absolute success however I think a strong auditing background, skillsets and knowledge acquired with experience, foresight, a healthy dose of skepticism, and working on challenging cases with an accomplished team propelled my career journey.

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Typical day and role as a Partner in Forensic & Integrity Services - EY

As a Partner with EY Forensic & Integrity Services, I lead the practice’s business in India and emerging markets.

A typical day involves overlooking ongoing projects around investigations, proactive fraud risk management, cybercrime or ransomware cases, or dispute and arbitration-related work.

I work closely with the wider team, brainstorming ideas to come up with the best course of action and if needed, going back to the drawing board to help our clients’ concerns.

I spend a lot of time studying the case to understand the key issues, using technology tools to analyze data, uncover discrepancies or suspicious trends and source more information, wherever required.

As a team, we evaluate the findings and analyze the evidence so it’s conclusive, forensically sound and not circumstantial, and provide impartial, fact-based reports.

I would say one of the best parts about my job is brainstorming sessions with the young team and arriving at solutions.

Keeping up with times

My tryst with forensics initially was through investigation related engagements, which were reactive, and case-based. But over the years, the focus on forensics has evolved into a more proactive approach.

Today rather than responding to a situation retrospectively and conducting a post-incident investigation and analyses, I try to use modern forensics technologies and solutions that can help setting up an early warning system, identify and detect anomalies or unexpected alterations to prevent instances of frauds or unethical conduct in an organization

As a leader, I also have to continuously acquire new skills, raise the benchmark and motivate my team to scale new heights.

Challenges

As professionals, we all had our ups and downs.

There were numerous instances where I lost engagements or didn’t get promoted but this is a part and parcel of life. However, each experience, whether good or bad, had some learning and has shaped me into what I am today.

Challenges or hurdles may seem insurmountable in the beginning, but at that time, it’s important to just pause, take a step back and give everything a real think-through to see how far you’ve come in life.

Want to build a career in forensic accounting?

There is a surge in the demand for forensic professionals due to an increase in complex Indian and global regulations, mounting pressure on businesses and individuals resulting in potential frauds or violations, a rise in cross-border business transactions demanding a forensic oversight as well a sharp spike in cybercrime and ransomware attacks.

Carving a niche for yourself as a forensic professional would entail:

  • a strong educational background in accounting, finance, law or technology, honing investigative skills, reskilling through specialization (Certified Fraud Examiner, Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist, Certified Information Systems Auditor, etc.)
  • and constantly reinventing to keep up with a changing business and regulatory environment.

Credentials like the Certified Fraud Examiner by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) is one area I would recommend as its holistic by covering theoretical as well as practical aspects and will be invaluable to a forensic professional.

A strong grasp and understanding of technology is another sphere, which is undoubtedly transforming the field.

Think creatively, innovate, cultivate an analytical mindset, develop a healthy curiosity to question everything, and try to gain some level of international exposure.

While a lot will come with experience, my advice would be to live by the mantra – Learn, Unlearn and Relearn.

Wrapping Up…

As a forensic accountant with knowledge of the law, I have been an internal auditor, statutory auditor, financial controller and also lead forensic investigations.

I truly believe that CA was the best foundation that I could have received in my career. It has the potential to open up a host of opportunities in areas such as accounting, finance, internal audit, tax auditing, forensics, taxation, treasury, compliance and many others.

If I could go back in time, I would advise my younger self to explore interests beyond work from early on and to do better at creating a work-life balance.

To all reading, my only message is: Dare to dream big, push yourself toward the pinnacle, but also seek guidance from mentors or peers, and most importantly, be positive. Success will follow soon enough.

Arpinder Singh is a Chartered Accountant (Institute of Chartered Accountants of India), Certified Fraud Examiner, Certified Public Accountant and an ISO 37001 Certified Lead Auditor.

He holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Shri Ram College of Commerce (Delhi University), law (LLB) (Mumbai University) and has earned an MBA from Syracuse University, New York.

Arpinder is also the Founder of the Western Region Chapter of the ACFE and a special invitee in the ICAI’s Digital Accounting and Assurance Board (2020-21). He is also the author of “Checkmate corruption!” published by Bloomsbury Plc.

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