Read our recent interview with Nick Jennings, current Head of the Hertfordshire Shared Anti-Fraud Service, and learn about his background and role, and his opinions on the counter fraud industry.
Tell us about yourself and the work you currently do?
My name is Nick Jennings. I’ve worked in counter/anti-fraud roles for about 25 years. I’m currently employed as the Head of the Hertfordshire Shared Anti-Fraud Service which is a partnership of local authorities and social housing providers across Hertfordshire (and now beyond the County).
What tasks does your job entail?
As Head of Service, my job is to ensure that all the organisations we work with have the right strategies, policies, training, awareness & understanding of risk prevention methods. I also make sure that they have resources in place to protect themselves against fraud and when these defences fail, that there are staff in place who are skilled and trained in conducting investigations into external/internal allegations of fraud, corruption, and bribery.
What does a day in your working life look like?
Different and very long is the short answer! I attend lots of meetings with senior management, audit committees with reports on how particular organisations are managing to prevent and deter fraud, as well as attending meetings with my own management team to ensure that we have everything we need to do our work. My role also includes responding to high level service demands from our own partners or other organisations that need specific or immediate response as well as dealing with the numerous external partners that we work with, either by helping to develop our service through staff training/development or with our service delivery using data/systems/processes.
What does your average week look like?
See above and times by 7.
What is your favourite part of your job?
Seeing our team and our staff continually develop and improve.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The non-stop volume of work and the need to keep one step ahead of, or as closely behind, the fraudsters as possible.
What experience and qualifications do you have?
I’ve worked in the sector as an investigator, litigator, and manager for some years. I completed my Professionalism in Security (a precursor to ACFS) in the dark ages and since then have completed a variety of professional/post-grad courses to keep my hand in.
What drew you to the counter fraud industry?
I must be honest and say it was in large part about the higher salary as at that time there wasn’t a profession or the profile that fraud investigation has now. However, what attracted me other than the money, was the opportunity to develop something new, the freedom to do something different and the fact that no-one else knew much about fraud investigation in local government either. This allowed me to create a niche area of work that suited myself. I had no idea how much I’d love it at the time but that’s what’s kept me here ever since.
What skills did you develop in your career?
From being an investigator without any professional skills or qualifications initially my skills have developed as manager and head of service and over the years these have been narrowed to three…
- employ the best people
- give them the resources they need to do the job and
- delegate everything to them.
What advice do you have for someone new/ wishing to enter the counter fraud industry?
- Understand the sector you work in completely (Finance, Government, Local Government etc)
- Understand how fraud affects that sector (it’s not just about money)
- Understand how to influence people (upwards mainly but not always) so they understand their fraud risks
- Understand how to combat fraud through deterrence/prevention/investigation/ assurance
- Learn and network
- Share everything you know with everyone (you never know when you’ll need someone to help you)
- Learn from your mistakes
Best/ worst job decision you have ever made?
I regret not leaving my previous job sooner as my best decision was taking my current job which I love.
What is your greatest career strength?
Delegation which I only really learned to do in the last few years.
How has the counter fraud industry changed since you started?
It’s so much more professional. We have lots of resources to help us from decent training, data-analytics to powers to obtain and actual fraud offences. When I started, we had to knock on doors, go through bins and contact ‘mates’ in other organisations.
How do you think COVID-19 has impacted counter fraud training and investigations?
I’m not sure it has. We need training. The delivery methods may have changed, I’m a bit old school as I like to learn by doing things, but virtual and online training mixed with some face-to-face training is the way forward.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
There have been so many, it’s hard to pick one out. Currently it’s how do I continue to sell the shared anti-fraud service model to my Board and convince them, not only to meet the costs of the service but, increase their investment. And, beyond this, convincing those councils in our area that haven’t joined the partnership already that they should.
How do you see the counter fraud industry changing in the future? What suggestions would you make?
We need some general ‘powers to obtain’ that mirror those in Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act (POSHFA) and the Local Government Finance Act (LGFA). At present we have some draconian powers to access data when investigating council tax reduction fraud, but we don’t have any similar powers when we investigate all the other fraud types that affect local government service.
If we could extend the current legislation under the LGFA and add this to those under Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) that our Financial Investigators have, we would be able to provide a much more effective service.
We need to build on the good work that we have done with using data to prevent/detect fraud by building regional ‘fraud-hubs’ that talk to each other in real-time.
As a profession counter fraud in local government is still a bit of Cinderella service. We need some legislation that requires local government to have a robust counter fraud plan/response and external audit should provide opinions based on some measure of bench marking- but this should not be permitted to be a race to the bottom but rather to bring everyone up to the highest standards.