“Mediation can be one of the quickest, cheapest, effective, and sustainable methods to resolve disputes, saving numerous hours of court’s time.” – “Bridging the Worlds of Accountancy and Law: Keval Sheth, Founder, Konvêrj-Zeûs

This interview has been published by Namrata Singh and The SuperLawyer Team

Your educational journey is quite diverse, transitioning from becoming a Chartered Accountant first and then an LL.B. What motivated you to pursue a diverse career in accountancy and law, and how has this multidisciplinary background influenced your approach to risk, forensics, and dispute advisory?

Though I have qualified as both, I have not practiced as either of them. I have been in consulting for all my professional career, right since my internship days back during 2002-05. I started with a lot of risk advisory and corporate governance work, working with various consulting firms. But it was when I started conducting forensic investigations and when I interacted a lot more with lawyers, I was intrigued enough by their role and wanted to, if not practice as one, but think from their perspective as well.

What this has done is that while I am conducting the investigations, it helps me wear a lawyer’s hat also and foresee, of course in my limited knowledge and capacity, certain aspects which are distant to someone who is just a forensic accountant. And needless to mention the extra help I get to interpret various documents in my dispute advisory work as well.

In this context and as an accredited arbitrator and an empanelled mediator, what unique insights do you think you bring to the table to resolve disputes effectively?

Globally, the arbitration practice as such is led by the legal fraternity and rightfully so. Having said that, in my view, there is good space for technical professionals other than lawyers. Technical experts like accountants, engineers, doctors, architects, etc. can immensely contribute as a neutral to resolve disputes.

If a technical professional is an appointed neutral on a case, be it as a sole arbitrator or as a co-arbitrator, I think there is a lot of merit in the process. Imagine a complex commercial dispute or a construction dispute, where you have a chartered accountant or an engineer as one of the arbitrators respectively; not to mention if they additionally are qualified lawyers as well. Not only is the arbitrator adept in the legal aspects but also aware of the complex technical aspects of the case, which may lead to a better conclusion on the case. It is also better to understand the prevailing entitlement, causation and quantum of a case.

With your extensive experience in forensics and dispute advisory, what are some common pitfalls you’ve observed in organizations regarding risk management, and how do you help them navigate these challenges?

The most common and critical one that I have observed is to not have a risk management framework at all or to have it led by a risk champion who is relatively inexperienced in the role or function.

Another pitfall is that a lot of corporates have failed miserably in integration of data, systems and people. Multiple fragmented systems and processes lead to inconsistencies and non-standard procedures.

Over emphasis on financial risks with no or limited attention to operational, reputational and strategic risks are leading corporates to last minute surprises and resort to course corrective actions.

Policies and procedures are often poorly drafted and hence lead to multiple gaps and loopholes being exploited by the perpetrators.

In my experience, we are usually brought in largely when there is a crisis in the company and our support is sought to investigate and course correct the situation. However, in a growing number of cases, management does realise that a proactive approach to have a robust fraud risk assessment will be more effective to save money, time and the huge energy that they are drained off of in a reactive approach. So, I would recommend that risk and fraud management frameworks are of utmost importance. These frameworks also help avoid various disputes and compliance issues that may crop up due to identified procedural shortcomings.

Founding Konvêrj-Zeûs represents a significant milestone in your career. What inspired you to establish your own consulting firm, and what unique approach does Konvêrj-Zeûs bring to the table?

Yes, it is. Back in September 2021, I thought that the timing was just right. Things were just starting to recoup post the Covid-19.  After working with various well-known accounting / consulting firms of global repute, I thought it made sense to take the plunge and explore new avenues. As a budding professional, you have always dreamt of having something of your own someday. I think the entrepreneurial bug bites you really hard.

At Konvêrj-Zeûs, we offer multiple consulting services to corporates, banks, other non-banking entities and law firms, which include Risk Advisory, Forensic Investigation, Dispute Advisory, Financial Advisory and Transformation Advisory Services.

I think being brought up professionally in some of the large consulting firms does develop a professional approach and attitude that is appreciated by clients globally. So, even though Konvêrj-Zeûs is still in its nascent stages of its journey to expand, the kind of work we do is acknowledged to be at par, if not better, with some of the leading consulting firms around.

I think the ‘attention to detail’ that we pay on each of our projects helps us give our clients exceptional service experience. At the end of the day, we immensely value the trust that our clients place on us.

Could you elaborate on the intersection between forensic accounting and economic damages assessment, and how this expertise aids in resolving disputes and providing expert witness testimony and also uncovering financial irregularities and providing expert testimony in legal proceedings?

Forensic accounting is actually a combination of accounting and investigative techniques used to discover financial crimes and as Forensic accountants; we explain the nature of a financial crime to the courts. Many cases, where we are on-boarded, require us to quantify the damages due to certain breaches, for example, or quantify the losses due to fraud or misrepresentation, or value IPs like Trade Secrets / Brands in cases of IP infringements or data theft and so on. So, the investigation does not end at authoring a report and concluding whether a fraud was committed or not, but also goes ahead and quantifies the losses / damages.

Likewise, in case of disputes, the Tribunal relies more upon and takes into consideration an expert’s report than that from the parties to a dispute, while they decide and award the damages or lost profits as it is from a neutral standpoint. Once the legal tenability is proven, often the question of ‘How Much’ is core to the Tribunal to decide upon, which is where our quantification helps them.

So apart from the economic analysis, I think the forensic accounting skill set does play a crucial role in setting right the facts and figures of the case and eventually also limiting the assumptions and extrapolations used in the quantum exercise.

Similarly, in cases where financial irregularities are concerned, we analyse financial data and identify discrepancies that may indicate fraud or other financial crimes. We work closely with law enforcement agencies, attorneys, and other professionals to investigate financial irregularities and provide evidence to support legal proceedings. For doing the same, we use different techniques, tools and technologies to unearth the financial irregularities.

Your role as a mediator at the High Court of Bombay indicates your involvement in alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. How do you see the role of mediation evolving in the legal landscape, particularly in complex commercial disputes?

We all know that mediation can be one of the quickest, cheapest, effective and sustainable methods to resolve disputes. It adds advantages to the case, for being informal and of a flexible nature while maintaining confidentiality.

While a lot of parties do attempt mediation on the first go, a lot of courts have also resorted to mediation before litigation. Also, for a majority of people, the prospect of going to court is daunting both emotionally and in terms of the financial strain it can pose, and it can mean that proceedings take a considerable time.

When widely accessible, mediation can be a successful way of keeping cases away from the stress and expense of court. This saves numerous hours of court’s time, which can be useful for cases that are not resolvable through mediation.

Even in complex commercial disputes, it may sometimes be at the parties’ advantage to use mediation as a channel to resolve the dispute. The complex nature of dispute can be simplified by seeking help of technical experts, while the legal aspect can be taken care through mediation. This not only saves the parties huge amounts of effort and money, but it can also give the parties that critical time to decide and make critical decisions after the resolution that they would have lost in a long-standing dispute.

Given your wealth of experience in the field, what advice or suggestions would you offer to the upcoming generation of professionals aspiring to make a mark in risk management, forensics, and dispute resolution?

I genuinely believe that there are numerous avenues where one can practice and expertise apart from the traditional fields of professions of a Chartered Accountant and a Lawyer.

A dual qualification or skill set is always going to be an added advantage, be it of any specialized profession. So, I would always advise one to be on the lookout for opportunities where one can expand the horizon to add the necessary skill set to one’s profile.

In my case, internal audit led me to risk and corporate governance, which led me to forensics, which led me to expert report & evidence and currently I also support resolving disputes. So, one has to hold on to the leading strings to explore new avenues of consulting.

Branching out to this particular niche practice area has worked for me until now. For someone else, it can be a different combination. But one has to explore into various formats and see for themselves what suits them. We often are bound to one particular field observing our mentors or seniors or partners around us, but in my view, one has to take some risks in early years to establish a strong foundation.

For practicing in forensics and dispute resolution, I would finally advise to be qualified or acquire the requisite skill set where one understands the legal and one technical side of things.

Get in touch with Keval Sheth-

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