Career Center: Making a Career Change
Michael D’Alessandro, CFE, CPA
Corporate Risk and Compliance Manager
Sony Corporation of America
After spending a few years as an external auditor at a Big 4 accounting firm fresh out of college, Michael D’Alessandro, CFE, CPA, knew he needed a change of pace. He thought about the two aspects of anti-fraud work that he enjoyed the most — investigations and auditing — and soon realized he wanted to find a role that allowed him to focus more on prevention of fraud rather than detection of an incident after the fact. This led him to a new position on a compliance monitoring team with Sony Corporation of America, and as he recently reflected on his journey, he realized that he wouldn’t have made it to where he is today if he hadn’t gotten his CFE while working that first job at the Big 4 firm. “The CFE credential has been the No. 1 thing that’s given me a leg up in each step I’ve taken.” Nowadays, he continues to take advantage of ACFE resources to shape and continuously improve his team.
How long have you been involved in the anti-fraud profession and how did you become passionate about fighting fraud?
I’ve been involved in the anti-fraud profession in various ways since my first job out of college in 2005. I was an external auditor for a Big 4 firm, and my first client had just gone through finalizing settlements regarding fraud at their company. I saw firsthand how fraud affected companies and employees, not to mention Enron and WorldCom were still recent, and many people I knew personally were feeling the effects of those frauds in their inability to retire when they originally wanted. From that first experience, I decided I wanted to be more directly involved in anti-fraud work. So I went from auditing to the fraud investigation group at the same company, then went private — internal audit for a bit — before settling into the compliance group at my company now.
I’d say that, when it comes to investigations, you have to keep an open mind, be able to pivot based on the evidence, see where it takes you and keep digging.
What does your current role in compliance entail?
I am part of a compliance monitoring group, which is a group of CFEs and CPAs within our company’s legal and compliance group. Our team has the responsibility of ensuring that the compliance program is properly implemented throughout all operating companies across the globe. We are involved with some internal investigations and also work closely with compliance personnel on global initiatives such as hotline implementation, program improvements, policy updates and more.
What steps led you to your current position?
Really, it was a few factors. 1) I really enjoyed working on investigations, 2) I wanted a break from the stress of a Big 4 and 3) I felt that my background in audit and investigations would be well suited to compliance. In a way compliance is a little of both with an emphasis on the preventative side opposed to working investigations from the consulting side after the bad activity has always already taken place (for the most part).
What is a memorable case or project that you have worked on, one that made you feel especially proud?
I’d say the one that I was most proud of was a simple travel and expense case. The company asked us for help on an investigation into an executive assistant (EA) who was using the bosses’ (there were multiple that this EA worked for) credit cards in a fraudulent manner — purchasing personal items, taking trips with friends, that type of thing. All in all it was a straightforward case, but what I was so proud of was when we finished going through all the supporting documentation, it was handed over to the general counsel, who in turn gave it to the police. When we got an update on what happened, we were told the police thanked them for wrapping it up in a nice little bow because it made the prosecution extremely easy. I guess it’s the simple things in life sometimes!
What advice do you have for anyone facing a similar case?
Simply put, make sure you get back to original documentation and, when possible, get originals from a third-party source. In this case, the EA was altering itineraries from the company’s travel agent because it came in an email that was easy to alter, so without much scrutiny the expenses looked legit. However, when we got the originals from the travel agent, it became very apparent what was going on.
How has earning the CFE credential benefited your career?
In a word, immensely. The CFE credential has been the No. 1 thing that’s given me a leg up in each step I’ve taken. I proactively went out and got it while in auditing at the Big 4, which made it easier to get into the fraud investigation group. Then going to internal audit at my company, they were thrilled I had the anti-fraud experience they were looking for and the certification to back it up. In my current role, the CFE credential is something that really sets our group apart. All in all, it’s been an amazing asset for my career.
How has membership in the ACFE impacted your professional development?
The impact to my professional development has come from ideas shared in the community, which I’ve been able to take into my role and then modified to help our program continuously improve. The same is true for attending the ACFE conference, which I have every year since I got to my current company.
What activities or hobbies do you like to do outside of work?
Lately, I feel like any time off is a great chance to relax. I’m a pretty big pop culture guy so movies, TV shows, music — I love all of it. In the last few years I took up running and successfully completed a half marathon a couple of years ago, which was a pretty big accomplishment for me that I was really proud of. I’ve also been involved in my hometown’s American Cancer Society Relay for Life for 17 years now, and I’m proud of the amount of money that has been raised by such a small town for so many years. One of my next goals I keep talking about is to relearn Italian (it’s not like riding bike — you do forget) and then go back for a trip to Italy!
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