Fraud, Embezzlement and Other Minor Trespasses…

Because it is Monday morning and it’s drizzly out and everything seems to be moving a bit slower this morning I’ve decided to write here instead of doing any real work just yet. It’s going to be a long week and I’m in no hurry to get it started. Plus I was reflecting a bit this morning about an incident of several weeks ago and every time I think of it I marvel just a little bit more at how distrustful those denizens of the padded gray-wall prisons can be of those of us who have broken free. A couple months ago that paranoia went way overboard.

It started off simple enough – a couple of marketing programs, a sales incentive, a new product launch – fairly run of the mill type stuff for any company in the IT industry where new product launches are about as predictably common and frequent as left turns in a NASCAR race. (And before Google redirects a thousand angry rednecks to my little blog for having invoked the holy grail of American idiocy, let me go ahead and say it now: Yes, I know they also turn right during road races. It’s hyperbole to illustrate a point. I’m sorry if I’ve upset your delicate sensibilities. Wooohooo, Number 3 forever! Rubbin’ is racin’! Boogity Boogity Boogity! … happy now?) Maybe I should have just said launches occur more often than Lindsay Lohan checks into rehab (OK, apology number two – I’m sure Ms. Lohan is a perfectly nice girl who has no idea how that cocaine ended up ringing her nostrils like salt on a margarita glass. Loved Parent Trap, Herbie, and all the other remakes she’s done. Brilliant career ahead of her, I’m sure, just as soon as the tracking anklet is removed.)

Moving on, my point is that nothing we had budgeted for was unusual or unexpected. Product launches happen, and inevitably involve marketing expense and sales incentives. After all, the first question any self respecting sales rep is going to ask when shown a new product that will allow them to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, offer significant advantage to their customers and undercut the competition on price is “how much are you going to pay me to sell one?” While the days of free trips to the Bahamas, Rolex watches, jet skis and BMWs are long since over in the IT industry, it’s not uncommon for sales reps to still be offered some sort of SPIF for selling a new product or even an old product that you just want to get moving again.

Where we ran into problems was when the bill came due for all these activities. Having recently been awarded our own marketing department for the region it was our first time using what for us, was a new process for financial claims. While we had gotten the budgetary approval months before to run the programs, it seems memories run short in HQ from time to time. When the kind folks in the bean counting department received our six figure bill (to be fair, it was BARELY into six figures), the proverbial fecal matter entered the ever present overhead rotary device and was promptly flung far and wide. Less because of the size, and more because of a couple of issues with how the entry was made in the system. Bear in mind it was our first time following this sort of process so I suppose mistakes are not entirely unexpected. Unless you are in finance and apparently have never had a single mistake in your life. Anyway, what should have been several line items were aggregated into a single expense request and this set off alarms faster than the Tasmanian Devil destroys a forest. (Apology number three to any Tasmanians or animal rights activists: I realize that the cartoon representation of the endangered Australian marsupial is grossly inaccurate, and that in fact the animals hold a beloved iconic status to many Australians. Good luck fighting that facial tumour disease that is wiping out your population you sweet little Tasmanian devils!)

Back on topic: There are two ways an accounting department can handle a large expense that has been incorrectly submitted. The most common way of course is what I suspect 99.9% of the population would choose. Simply notify the person who submitted the expense incorrectly of their error, reject the original request and ask them to correctly resubmit the claim. If you are feeling particularly generous you may even go so far as to walk the submitter through the process a couple of times until they are more familiar with how it is supposed to work and can avoid the pitfalls that led to the original mistake.

Or, I suppose, you could choose an alternate solution: Accuse the submitter of trying to steal a whole lotta cash from the company, claim that the request is fraudulent and generally make enough of a ruckus that the careers of several people, including some who were only peripherally involved in the situation, are suddenly in danger. I’m sure you can guess by now which option our dear, flawless, holier than thou financial controller chose.

While it was not I that was thus accused, I did have a front row seat to the whole brouhaha. Several observations come to mind:
1) If one were going to steal (sorry, embezzle!) a hundred grand from a company, I’m sure you can think of better ways to do it than asking the financial controller to send you the money by using a system which leaves a paper trail a mile wide.
2) There is a vast difference between fraudulent claims (meaning the budget wasn’t approved, you are trying to mislead someone, or are participating in illegal or unethical financial transactions) and a misfire in the claim process. The misfire is easily corrected before any money moves within the company, and has no material impact on the financial health of the business. Fraud, on the other hand, means someone is going to go to jail.
3) While I can appreciate the vigilance in safeguarding the fiscal policy of the company, I do have to wonder if perhaps there isn’t just a wee bit of bias along the lines of “I wonder what those shifty Asians are up to now” that creeps in when something unexpected from the APJ region crops up in the corporate headquarters. Back at home base if something unexpected occurs due to the actions of someone there in the office it is easy enough to shuffle through the rat maze to find out the colleague who is apparently trying to steal your cheese and discuss it with them face to face. However, the idea of having to wait until the early evening (what about Timmy’s piano lesson?!?), and then make an international phone call (all those numbers!) and then talk to an honest to gosh foreign person (what if they have an accent?!?)… well that just won’t do. Better to accuse them of being a law breaker and let someone else handle it.

While the incident has since been resolved it does still leave me in a bit of a daze. As a card carrying member of Slacker Nation I know full well the temptation to always take the easy way out, make your work someone else’s problem, and meet your job obligations by (ironically enough) ducking responsibility. Really, good skills for anyone to have. But when it goes so far as to accuse a colleague of petty crimes like fraud and embezzlement, I’m just not sure I’m willing to cross that line.

a slow speed getaway...

a slow speed getaway...

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go. The agent from Yacht Sales Int’l is on the phone about my recent order, and I need to go get some passport photos taken for my new identity…

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About Mark

Not as grumpy as everyone assumes I am. Consider me optimistically sarcastic.
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