Forensic accounting may not sound like an exciting line of work, but as early as 1993 KPMG has led the industry in this field. Over the past twenty years, the firm has been involved in some of the toughest and publically high profile investigations in South Africa, including the criminal prosecution cases of Greg Blank, General Selebi, Allan Boesak and Shabir Shaik. 

In the early 90s, a few of the then "Big Six" accounting and auditing firms had established or were establishing investigative practices globally – but only in developed markets. Recognising an opportunity, KPMG was the first of the Big Six to establish a full time dedicated Forensics business in South Africa, September of 1993.

Since the 90s in many respects the business and market landscape has changed substantially, where this has created new opportunities, as well as new risks and potential threats. Forensics can help a client reduce their reputational risks and commercial loss resulting from potential fraud, misconduct or breaches of rules and regulations, by applying accounting investigation intelligence, technology and industry skills.

According to one of the founding members and today Global Leader of KPMG Forensic and, Forensic Chairman for Africa and South Africa, Petrus Marais, "We are very excited to be celebrating not only our 20th anniversary, but twenty years of leading this industry in South Africa."

As a mature national practice, the business followed a progressive growth path that was influenced – in part by global trends and developments, but – predominantly by demand in the country for capabilities to handle larger and more complex forensics assignments. KPMG was also retained to perform high profile investigations at Cricket SA and JCI.

Marais explains, "While other players had started to establish forensics businesses in the local market in the late '90s, the forensic investigative and accounting industry matured around 2006. Until this point, our competitors mainly followed our lead. In many respects, we put down the groundwork to create what is a growing industry today – where a number of other business practices and firms in the market have spun off from our business."

Our greatest successes can be attributed to our people and our investments

Having been around the longest, KPMG Forensics business has grown to be the largest practice in the market – double the size of most other players in this space. Currently the business has 16 partners and over 200 staff members, all dedicated to forensic work. The staff skills base and related services on offer has grown extensively over the last twenty years to include, Fraud Prevention and Detection specialists, Ethics consultants and an Ethics Hotline, Anti-Money Laundering and Anti Bribery and Corruption specialists and, most importantly, world class technology specialists.

According to Johan van der Walt, Partner in KPMG's Forensics, "One the most dramatic and important developments and changes within the forensic business was the introduction of a significant Forensic Technology capability to perform forensic investigations, evidence collating activities and data management services. The days of paper investigations are over and it is required from a market leading forensic team to be able to work seamlessly across various data platforms to obtain relevant evidence and information, which is why we now have 30 dedicated on staff technologist or IT experts in our national team."

We are passionate about talent

"From our South African lead partner also representing the global head of KPMG Forensics practices, to our commitment to transformation and skills promotion and development – we are passionate about talent", says Herman de Beer, KPMG Service Group Leader: Risk Consulting.

More than 56 percent of the staff complement that makes up our national Forensics team is female – where 5 of the 16 partners are female - and 42 percent of the staff is Black (African, Indian and Coloured).

Further to this, KPMG recently launched the first internship for Forensics practitioners, where suitably qualified students from various universities across South Africa are recruited and signed on for a three year intern programme to develop the skills required of young forensics accountants and investigators. The business currently has 20 such interns completing their first year.

Tracking our footprints northward

KPMG was the first of the big four to offer Forensics services in Africa with an investigation into Danisco in Tanzania in 1999. Today, about 20 percent of the business's fees for 2013 where generated beyond the South African border.

"Broadening our reach and presence throughout Africa is a key strategic imperative for us. Some years back we established a mentorship programme to expand our resources on the continent. Though we saw great success from this programme in English speaking Africa, we are expanding on this programme to increase our individual relationships and build sustainable local practices in several countries or regions across the continent over the next ten and twenty years", concludes Marais

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.