Member Spotlight

Natina Thalien, CFE

French and American CFE spreads anti-fraud message globally

Natina Thalien, CFE, did not initially set out to fight fraud but found herself deeply interested in the field after moving from an internal audit role to compliance. Now a global compliance auditor for an international life science research and clinical diagnostics company, her dual citizenship in the U.S. and France, along with bilingual skills, have helped her spread anti-corruption and anti-fraud education in Europe, Eastern Europe and Africa. She is active in the ACFE France Chapter and is spearheading a campaign to teach children and teens how to protect themselves against identity theft and cybercrime. When she’s not fighting fraud, she enjoys horseback riding, table tennis and gourmet meals. 

How did you become passionate about fighting fraud? 

The position of fighting and preventing fraud actually chose me! I have lived in France since 2009, and leaving the U.S. as a director of internal audit left me to start over as an internal audit manager in France. I worked for a couple of international companies before landing my position as an internal audit project manager for an American company. In 2015, the American company wanted to create a compliance department where the commercial, legal and compliance departments would collaborate. A former colleague who worked in internal audit with me had already been a CFE for several years and they were asked to create the compliance department. Several months later, I was asked to assist on a compliance audit in a French-speaking territory to help translate. During this audit, I was asked to transfer from internal audit into compliance. I found the compliance audit interesting and inspiring. 

Helping to educate others and raise awareness of anti-corruption, or preventive fraud measures, within a workplace has been both a personal and professional privilege. There is so much room for growth and improvement, and it feels that I am making a difference, even if it is “one grain of sand at a time.” Fraud-fighting became my real focus and passion in 2016 when I became a CFE and became more involved with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). It is vital in this profession to continue to grow, learn and network. The laws are more and more enforced, technology is becoming faster and companies are getting smarter with knowing what auditors are looking for. 

What steps led you to your current position at your company? 

I have  American and French dual citizenship, and I met my husband in France while performing a SOX internal audit. My job at the time was as an internal audit director for a metallurgy company based out of northern Indiana. It was four years later after long-distance dating that my husband proposed and we agreed that I would try living one year in France. I gave, sold and simplified my belongings into a 20 by 20 container to be shipped to La Havre, France. 

Once I obtained my "authorization de travail" on my citizen's card (Carte de Sejour), I found my first job as an internal audit manager, where I audited the commercial team all across Europe. This company closed and I accepted a position with a pharmaceutical company that eventually moved its finance department to Barcelona, Spain — and I decided I wouldn’t be changing countries again anytime soon! A headhunter called me for a position that was originally based in the U.K. for an internal auditing position that required frequent travel to France. Since I was already based in France, I proposed that the position be based in Paris because I am bilingual and this would save on travel costs. The company accepted my proposal and made me a job offer. 

I originally worked in internal audit (performing audits on in-house departments), but was later asked to be transferred into the compliance department to begin performing third-party compliance audits for our channel partners in Africa, Europe and Eastern Europe. This role required the CFE credential and I knew that there were already an increasing number of anti-fraud and anti-corruption laws across the globe which required organizations to control fraud and corruption internally. My role is monitoring and conducting audits on our business partners and helping to manage our third-party risk on a global basis. In addition to performing ad-hoc investigations, I help to establish controls for detecting and mitigating third-party fraud and corruption risks across all of the company’s external relationships. 

Do you face any unique challenges in your role as a global compliance auditor? 

The  unique challenges I face as a global compliance auditor are not only performing audits and reporting my findings, but educating people in different countries and cultures how to conduct business based on an international compliance platform. The message, understanding and capability level can vary greatly. The common denominator of high fraud risk can usually be narrowed down to weak internal controls. Additionally, there is also the culture and behavior within the organization to consider. These aspects can vary dramatically, and there is not a cookie-cutter solution on how to detect and handle these incidents. It takes a combination of experience, expertise and flexibility. 

Helping to educate others and raise awareness of anti-corruption, or preventative fraud measures, within a workplace has been both a personal and professional privilege. Natina Thalien, CFE

Global Compliance Auditor


Science and Technology


Paris, France

What is one of the biggest lessons you have learned since entering the fraud prevention field? 

One of the biggest lessons to share from my experience is knowing that there are criminal codes, penal codes, and local and national laws which are not taken seriously or enforced in many different countries. There are superficial policies in relation to codes of ethics, anti-corruption policy and even ISO qualifications that document all the procedures within a company. There are many audits — such as quality, financial, internal controls (SOX), environmental, compliance and tax audits — and they all work as independent islands with different scopes and agendas; but many people gather and review the same information. The impression portrayed by many companies is that it’s not possible to have corruption because one of the references listed above is taken seriously within the company. However, you will walk out into the streets and you can visually see the corruption in the economy. 

For example, when I am in some countries, you will see a big gap between the government and the people. The government is rich and the people are poor. There is not a middle class, per se. This is a huge red flag to me that corruption and fraud are embedded in the system. It is not particularly the preference of the people, but they’re forced to participate with the corruption or else the “buyer” will just find another company who is willing to participate. It is more like a virus that is just infecting the economy. The cure isn’t to just detect the problems, but to try and weed out the toxic people in the system and really dominate with preventative measures against fraud and corruption. It’s a matter of mentality, not just law. 

What is a memorable case or project that you have worked on? 

During my years in internal audit, I can proudly say that I am responsible for setting up an internal audit department for a 100-year-old, newly publicly-held company on the NYSE. This consisted of creating, implementing and controlling all aspects of the department — from narratives, flowcharts, test plans, risk assessments, an ombudsperson and board of directors reporting. 

Since my time as a compliance auditor, there have been many instances where the audit has been unsatisfactory and I’ve seen the resulting business activity cease. I wouldn’t say that it’s a proud feeling because it’s understood the repercussions that follow are just plain sad. 

The most sensitive case for me was a company in Africa where cash envelopes were given to a Minister's office to several different people in different amounts. The amounts were drawn from the petty cash and delivered by the company’s driver. The reason from the financial department was that they were thank you gifts for the assistance provided throughout the year, and the reason from executive management was a donation to an Islamic religious holiday. There were many people working for this company and this transaction caused many people to lose their jobs. It caused severe hardship to the company and put it in the direction to go out of business. Africa is a very hospitable continent and the people are educated, capable and hardworking, so I found it unfortunate that such activity must exist in order to be able to be competitive in the marketplace. 

How has becoming a CFE impacted your career? 

The most important aspect of my professional development is being able to learn, be inspired and  make a difference. The ACFE provides an abundance of information and a network of individuals available for all comments, questions or concerns. There are numerous opportunities that have emerged since I’ve become a CFE. It was a small sacrifice to study and pass the exam, but the material was so interesting that it didn’t even seem like I was studying. I was already familiar with the information, and the CFE just helped me to organize and use the information in a structured format. I am proud to hold this credential, and I am thankful for the ACFE organization and its purpose. I honestly feel responsible for helping to educate and grow this organization in France. 

What activities or hobbies do you like to do outside of work? 

In my spare time, I am trying to speak and write about “Fraud Training & Awareness #TEENS” to minors. It discusses fraud and corruption, social media presence, cybercrime (webcam hacking, cybersecurity, cyberbullying), identity theft, free Wi-Fi, public charging stations, false documents, teen wellness and other “how to protect yourself” topics. This is a topic that I would like to be more involved in both Europe and the U.S., as it is a neglected subject. Adolescents eventually transition into the workforce and it is only then that they can begin to understand. There needs to be a way globally that anti-corruption activities such as integrity and transparency can be learned correctly. This education would begin as early as 13 — which is the legal age to begin using social media websites. 

As you can see, my personal and professional life are interwoven. In my personal life, I take into consideration the things I have learned about fraud and corruption — from using an alias name at Starbucks, to password security and limited use of social media. Aside from that, I love to be near water or in the mountains with family and friends. As a teenager and young adult, I was a competitive rider in horse rodeo events such as barrels, poles, flags and kegs, where we were active in 4-H and in a traveling circuit. I continued riding in France for pleasure with my daughter, but having livestock is certainly busy, so now we’ve decided to give our horse to an equestrian center. I enjoy playing sports such as softball, swimming and table tennis, and always appreciate a good wine with a gourmet meal! If I am traveling, I always opt for local food. 

ACFE membership is open to individuals of all job functions, industries and levels of experience who are interested in the prevention, detection and deterrence of fraud. If you want to level up your anti-fraud career, we can help.

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