This article was first published in the January 2020 International edition of 
Accounting and Business magazine.

Of all the various assignments I have completed, from business process re-engineering and systems development to industry and salary reviews, the most interesting has always been forensic accounting.

At the heart of forensic accounting lies conflict. Unresolved workplace conflict leaves space for aggrieved employees to seek justice outside the legal process by engaging in corruption, theft and other undesirable activities. Companies without an established internal system for employees to seek justice, either through mediation or arbitration, leave themselves open to fraud.

When working on forensic cases, I always came in after the damage had been done, focusing my attention on uncovering historical evidence and reporting on things that I could not directly influence but sought to measure and clarify. It was only when I discovered mediation as an alternative form of dispute resolution that I began to help both colleagues and clients to resolve conflict as it happens, instead of studying its aftermath.

Accountants interested in expanding their skillset would do well to explore mediation. The market certainly exists – the UK-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reports that 38% of employees in the UK experience interpersonal conflict at work in an average year. Mediation is equally valid in intercompany disputes – a 2018 survey by the London-based Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution estimated that mediation saved businesses £3bn a year in legal fees, management time and wasted productivity.

Money is very often the critical issue. Accountants can quickly determine and accurately measure the financial aspects of disputes, and through their mediation avoid incurring extra legal and HR costs. They also have many of the skills for effective mediation – the ability to understand and track complex issues, keep meticulous notes, draft basic agreements and interact at board level. They also have detailed knowledge of how companies work, including tax structures, company law, compliance, systems design and operations – plus independence and a robust ethical code.

The legal profession has taken the lead in mediation services for businesses, but mediators do not have to be lawyers, as mediation is not a legal process. Accountants often make better mediators than lawyers because they can work the numbers, saving everyone’s time and money in the process.

In 2012 Lord Falconer in the UK publicly declared that mediation rather than litigation is the future for intercompany disputes, and warned that practising lawyers are not necessarily suited to the mediator role. ‘It’s not that easy to move from being an adversarial lawyer on one day of the week to a mediator on another,’ he said. ‘It is not just about training, but a cast of mind.’ It is a cast of mind that comes naturally to the accountant, though.

This will be my final column for AB. I have appreciated the support of readers of all kinds over the last few years. Thank you all for reading!

Alnoor Amlani FCCA is a director with the CFOO Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.