Career Center: Newly Self-Employed
Britta Bohlinger, CFE, MA, BSc
Britta Bohlinger, CFE, MA, BSc (Hons), Quality Manager and Auditor (IHK Berlin), founding director of RisikoKlár, is no stranger to debates or uncomfortable discussions. From a young age, she enjoyed lively conversations with her father about his work and later became active in academic association discussions. She said, “The element of informal mentoring was invaluable — a source of motivation, challenge and aspiration. [The discussions] were also a source of comfortable discomfort as being an active member always reminded me of how much more I needed to learn.” As the only female CFE in Iceland, she now brings her passion for discourse and spreading risk management knowledge to the ACFE’s members-only online community and her clients.
How did you first become passionate about fighting fraud?
When I turned 10, my grandmother gave me the biographies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Käthe Kollwitz — they laid the groundwork for my moral compass. I also witnessed my father working late at night and on weekends on machinery assessments and analyses. Deeply immersed, he was drafting, improving and inventing mechanisms, processes and devices that would reduce serious risks and protect the safety of fellow workers. He had suffered a work accident himself, but his loyalty to his employer never wavered and I understood that the awards and rewards he was given, in appreciation of the risks mitigated for the firm thanks to his inventions and improvements, played a key role in this lifelong commitment. We later enjoyed many arguments over environmental issues in his industry, and I consider myself fortunate for growing up with my father’s willingness to engage in ongoing intellectual battle over ethical matters with me. His respect for my perspective, coupled with my insight that risk can be mitigated — and that preventive measures in combination with a passion for risk detection and the right incentives can make a major difference — were character-building. Little did I know then that conduct and fraud risk would become central to my work one day, but the passion was instilled early and strongly.
My background in the social sciences, which entailed studies in social psychology and criminology, ignited my interest in fighting fraud and white-collar crime (German: Wirtschaftskriminalität). My work in mitigating and managing banking risk tied all these elements together in a holistic and passionate way.
What is your current role and what does it entail?
I am founder and head of RisikoKlár, an independent nonprofit agency and think tank that researches and advises on risk mitigation and fraud prevention. This includes education and provision of resources as well as empowerment through dialogue. My work currently entails methods usually employed in ethnographic studies — which means deep immersion in the local culture and in-depth dialogue with key influencers, decision-makers and a diverse range of locals and immigrants. It also involves ad hoc support for individuals who approach me with ethical issues, whistleblowing matters, or requests for specific advice or guidance.
A major milestone in this work, currently based in Iceland, has been the support of the local media. In order to raise awareness and enable clear, fact-based flows of information in support of anti-corruption, fraud risk awareness and white-collar crime prevention, well-informed journalists are necessary. They play a central role in educating the public and steering public discourse toward civic participation, and they demand accountability and transparency from authority figures.
I also study and research the factors which prevent effective risk management, what issues may pose risks from a macro-economic perspective and I develop recommendations for stakeholders. On a practical level, I advise stakeholders on conduct risk, conflicts of interest, due diligence, risk and loss events, and other aspects of operational risk and fraud risk, including legislative changes and developments resulting from European Union directives.
The CFE credential and training provided me with a firm awareness and specialized knowledge that I felt should be used to the benefit of many — whether professionals or consumers or interested citizens — in order to strengthen public awareness. It also could be used to promote an appetite for fraud-fighting skills among risk professionals, independent of their position within the sector.
Why did you decide to start RisikoKlár?
While I spent eight years in London working in market and credit risk management divisions of major global investment banks, I dealt almost exclusively with other professionals in risk and related areas. At the same time, I realized that conduct risk resulting in fraud-related fines and reputation risk could be embedded and occur even within risk divisions. Despite a plethora of risk assessments, risk controls and a Code of Conduct, it could prevail and be hard to detect. An inappropriate culture, marked by a disconnect between silos of expertise, competition and hierarchical thinking, could easily undermine extensive fraud-fighting endeavors.
What is one of the biggest lessons you have learned since becoming a CFE?
Fraud prevention and detection, whether in Britain, Germany or Iceland, is far less known and understood than I used to assume. I realized that many, even professionals in the risk, legal and scientific professions, hold misconceptions and may have severe knowledge gaps when it comes to white-collar crime, fraud risk and fraudulent activities. As a volunteer in my spare time, I also witnessed charity fraud. Thanks to my CFE credential, I have become more aware of the pervasiveness of fraud and white-collar crime across all industries, and the need to fight it meaningfully.
The biggest lesson is that we need many more well-educated fraud fighters, not only in the English-speaking nations. I also learned that the ACFE is the best place to undergo this training in order to remain at the forefront when it comes to subsequent continued professional education.
You’re very active in the online ACFE Community. In your opinion, how important is the exchange of ideas and knowledge between anti-fraud professionals?
As a student I joined academic associations and conferences from the early stages on. They provided me with exchange, intellectual challenges and stimulation.
The restrictions imposed on knowledge transfer due to strict intellectual property clauses and working hours in investment banking are not supportive of volunteer engagement, but I missed the engagement and the community over the years. So when I joined the ACFE and realized what a wealth of resources and community potential I was dealing with, plus a tone at the top I highly approve of, I knew the time to give back had come.
Online forum work requires a substantial amount of flexibility, communication skills and reflection. It provides a great source of thought-provoking input that can greatly help with one’s own perspectives and creativity. On top of that, the ACFE staff are doing a fantastic job and have provided guidelines which make engagement in the ACFE online communities safe and pleasant. This in itself, given the number of members, highlights the importance of active participation in the online exchange of knowledge and ideas with the global community. So, yes, it is super important!
What is a memorable case or project that you have worked on; one that made you feel especially proud?
After moving to London in 2005, I worked at the headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat, an intergovernmental organization. It provides technical assistance in the promotion of the rule of law and good governance with a focus on sharing best practices and capacity building. I oversaw the organization of international anti-corruption and counter-terrorism conferences and training sessions in London, Jamaica and Malaysia. This entailed close collaboration with a highly diverse range of subject matter experts, including those at Scotland Yard, as well as government officials, criminal law experts and policy researchers in various nations. We worked towards very tight deadlines across three time zones, two of which were at the opposing ends of the globe. It was equally challenging, thrilling and rewarding. Germany is not a member of the Commonwealth, which meant I could only hold a temporary position (and was the only German), but having the opportunity to work with those high-caliber passionate fraud fighters and senior lawyers was deeply inspiring and presented a lasting influence.
How has earning the CFE credential benefited your career?
Initially, I actually encountered disadvantages resulting from the credential. However, I learned that the individuals who held this negative view were subject to internal investigations and I would assume that my newly earned credential represented a cause for their deep fear of detection. At the time, I was the only CFE in a large division of risk managers, but I am pleased to say that the outcome of investigations resulted in a change and their removal, as well as increased awareness.
I am, of course, absolutely positive about the many benefits the credential has for the career of a risk manager. I would also say that the CFE credential itself is a bold and clear commitment to fraud fighting and it may therefore trigger, not entirely surprisingly, adverse reactions in ethically challenged individuals.
What do you like about being an ACFE member?
While still nowhere near as widespread as it ideally should be, I see more colleagues in the financial sector considering undertaking the CFE Exam. I can only support them by highlighting the many rewards, stimulation and valuable exchange the ACFE offers its members. I enjoy promoting the cause and raising awareness as to what constitutes fraud and white-collar crime, and here in Iceland, being the only female CFE, is particularly interesting.
What activities or hobbies do you like to do outside of work?
I love swimming in outdoor pools here in Iceland, and of course, hiking in snow-covered landscapes, especially when contrasted by black sands and blue waters. I have also tried stand-up paddle boarding with the Arctic surfers here, but I do prefer Mediterranean waters for my favorite water sport.
Discovering a new talent, whether music, arts, theatre or some other endeavor, is something I enjoy. The same holds true for exploring local cuisines, cultures and landscapes. Learning, reading widely and sharing knowledge is something that invigorates me, and I especially enjoy sharing this with my large extended family who have been a source of support in my fraud-fighting efforts.
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