Back to Basics
We were in a rut. It was 2009 and the Hong Kong Chapter had been in existence for 10 Years. We had a loyal member base of about 300 CFEs and were organising about five training events a year. Our problems were declining income against rising costs for our presentation venues, a static member base and a training offering limited in scope and availability. We needed new ideas and a new direction.
We went back to basics. We quizzed ourselves and our members.
We started by asking ourselves why the Chapter existed. The answer to that was very close to home. It's in the ACFE Chapter Handbook. The Chapter has two big functions; to "serve the community” and “training”.
We got the same answers from our members, who are our community. They wanted training to be up to date in fraud risk management and they wanted to maintain their accreditation. They also wanted the opportunity to develop their networks through formal and informal events.
Our members liked the breakfast events; they ended early enough not to cut into the working day and by choosing locations convenient to our members we could ensure that we’d get a good turnout and break-even. In 2009 these were our chief source of income. Through our internal board contacts we knew that we could attract outside speakers with expertise in either a topical area of fraud or specialist knowledge in emerging local or global legislation. The breakfast meetings had to stay. So what else could we do?
The social aspect of this was easy. We would build on our record of informal evening social events by organising these more often and at venues that would attract members and their guests working in the main business district. We could manage the cost of these events by charging a flat fee to our members and negotiating package deals at the selected venues.
For training we decided that we could expand our training to attract prospective Associate members. Our training plan would retain the aim of presenting at least four breakfast seminars per year, but we would now add something new.
In 2010 we experimented with a half-day conference, leveraging our industry connections to provide speakers and inviting our members to make a modest contribution to fund the event. The event was a success, attracting about 60 participants and generating enough funds to carry us through to 2011. But we needed to do more.
We knew that we weren’t offering training to aspiring CFEs; our breakfast meetings dealt in areas that would interest those already holding a CFE. The talks couldn’t help them prepare for the exam and didn’t cover local legislation or practices peculiar to Hong Kong and outside the core syllabus. Our first thoughts were to invite ACFE headquarters to run training courses locally. We are half a world away from Texas and we found that the cost of running a course like this with visiting tutors was too much for individual candidates to bear. Our Chapter funds were limited and we weren’t able to part sponsor such a course. Our second idea was to run an exam training course ourselves. We soon realised that creating and presenting a course covering all the required disciplines adequately was beyond the capacity of our volunteer board. We just didn’t have the time to prepare the materials and it would require a big time commitment from both the board and the prospective students. We eventually decided to narrow our focus. We would concentrate on providing locally focused training that catered to both candidate and qualified CFEs. But how?
Our lightbulb moment was to link this idea to expanding this training beyond the narrow field of financial and legal services. In 2009 our member base was drawn from banks, accounting firms and companies employing a security or compliance professional. But what about those with a professional interest in studying criminal behaviour? We approached Centre for Criminology of the University of Hong Kong and we found like minded people who wanted to expand out of their academic envelope to understand white collar crime in one of the world’s major finance centres. We partnered with the university to offer two training packages a year. We called these courses “Foundation Training” and “Advanced Training”. There were clear benefits for both sides that went beyond the financial stability this arrangement offered. It would burnish the reputations of both participants by showing initiative to move out of the comfortable limitations of their professional existences. Each course would run for three hours on four consecutive Saturday mornings in the purpose built lecture theatres of the university with a capacity for about 100 students. We aimed to recruit specialists from across the broad spectrum of fraud topics who would have sufficient time in a three hour window to explain their subject in detail. Our contributors included university law and criminology professors, IT specialists, forensic accountants and forensic scientists and representatives from government departments handling specialist fraud and money laundering prosecutions. We opened up the courses beyond our member base to university students, local security associations like ASIS International, and other financial services associations, like HKICPA (Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants). The courses were priced at a level that covered our costs, while staying well below commercial rates for similar local training events. We didn’t limit or pre-qualify attendance, but those outside our magic circle paid a slightly higher rate. Each student would receive a certificate of attendance jointly certified by the Chapter and the University of Hong Kong. With the approval of ACFE HQ we were able to offer CPE points for these courses, just as we would normally do for our established breakfast seminars.
There were now a potential 24 CPE points available to members through our two university partnered training courses, plus an additional 8 CPE points from our breakfast events. This supported our community with relevant training offering more than a full yearly quota of CPE points at an affordable price, and had the potential to place the Chapter’s finances in a more healthy position.
The plan was a hit. It was clear within the first year that we had a good recipe. We have now been running this training model very successfully for ten years. Each event has been over-subscribed (limited by the safe seating capacity of our venues) to the extent that we have had to introduce waiting lists. The quality of our events has now attracted speakers from outside Hong Kong, and overseas presenters are now willing to plan business trips to Hong Kong to coincide with our events.
The success of our training plan has allowed us to fine tune our internal management structure. We can now afford to employ a part-time (and very efficient) administrative assistant, who manages course and event registrations, venue arrangements and certifications. We previously levied a nominal membership charge for the local chapter and have now scrapped this. It was a source of friction with local members. Why pay for something that I have already paid for in joining ACFE? A fair point and it was always an uphill task to explain that we were a group of volunteers operating an association without financial support from our parent organisation. It was an easy decision to give up a charge that cost nearly as much to administer as the income it produced. And the biggest change is that we can now afford to fully subsidise our social events, including social drinks three to four times a year plus an annual end of year dinner and AGM. All at no extra cost to our members.
We now approaching 1000 local members and celebrated our 20th anniversary in 2019 by organising a half-day conference at which we were able to attract senior representatives from commercial and government organisations as key speakers. Again a sell-out event.
The Future’s so Covid
What’s next? Our plan for 2020 envisaged an expanding level of connection with other local universities and commercial organisations, looking to partner beyond our existing arrangements and offer training and development that would benefit our member base and their professional development. Except...except....along came Covid-19. Our plans have been put on hold. We can’t expect to develop our connections at a time of very limited social inter-action. We have fallen back on technology. We can still offer breakfast seminars and our signature twice yearly Saturday training courses, but these are now run using web conferencing. Another hit, and without the constraints of seating capacity limits we can accommodate all comers.
We are surviving in a virus hit world. We know we have a model for success that can cope with disruption and can adapt to unpredictable events. It isn’t what we expected or wished for this year, but we now know that we can survive financially and that we have the support of our Chapter community. We are optimistic about 2021.
ACFE Hong Kong Chapter