Kicking the tyres

With firms more keen to clean up their inner workings than ever before, London start-up Tyrian is proving a useful first port of call

Kicking the tyres

Whilst few positives could be taken from the conduct of some banks in recent years, it has at least made companies from all sectors sit up and take note. If the financial crisis has taught UK industry anything, it is that the consequences of not keeping one’s house in order are potentially catastrophic. 

The introduction of new anti-bribery powers by the serious fraud office (SFO) in 2011 has also served as something of a wake-up call. Its director general, David Green, last month proclaimed that companies should be prepared to either self-report internal criminality or face the music.

Suffice to say, it is not easy for a company to go public with such matters. The temptation is generally to brush them under the carpet and hope for the best. Yet, with the climate having changed as it has, businesses of all sizes now have every incentive to clean up their act. Fortunately enough, help is at hand for those that have been compromised financially or simply want some peace of mind. 

Founded last year by Brian Stapleton and Richard Abbey, fledgling London firm, Tyrian, is one source of such assistance. Specialising in forensic accounting and financial investigation, Tyrian’s day job is to gather facts, recover assets and minimise loss for its clients, which range from law firms to private equity houses, high net worth individuals to sovereign states.

Yet, despite being established a matter of months ago, describing Tyrian as fledgling doesn’t seem all that appropriate. After all, Stapleton and Abbey had previously run the financial investigation team at global consultancy giant Kroll and were left to untangle the fallout from – among other events – the collapse of Barings Bank and a major fraud within Italian dairy group Parmalat Spa. With this experience behind them, the pair decided the time was ripe to put their skills – and those of their colleagues – to better use. “It became clear that a small targeted service of specialists looking at specific types of situations can sometimes suffer when it is part of a broader organisation,” explains Stapleton. “You get inevitable conflicts of interest in terms of clients.”

There were other factors at play too, including a sense that there was money to be made. “We knew that whatever we were doing for our clients, they were liking it, there was a market for it,” Stapleton adds. “Even though they didn’t like us coming to see them because it meant they had a problem, we had a lot of repeat business and we felt sure we can carry this on for ourselves.”

However, to suggest that personal rewards are the driving force behind Tyrian would be wide of the mark indeed. Underlying the enterprise’s existence is a recognition that times are changing. “Companies are realising that the concept of good corporate governance is now not-so-much thought of as a boring also-ran in business, but actually as an enhancer of value,” says Stapleton. “If businesses are able to show that they have got good corporate governance and are also prepared to invest in outside help if they feel that their good corporate governance is being compromised, they realise that actually adds value to their business in the eyes of shareholders and the market.”

As uncomfortable as it may be for Tyrian’s clients to have to call upon their services, they can take considerable comfort from the independent eye the firm casts on proceedings. Whilst its aim is primarily to uncover the root cause of any damage and repair it, most clients crave and will ideally be left with knowledge of how to prevent it in the future. “It is going to be, quite rightly, a real wish for those clients to put into place systems and controls, and added checks and balances in order to try and avoid this happening again and we are very happy to offer advice on that,” says Stapleton.

But it is not only companies with concerns about their own health that are getting Tyrian on board. The firm also works with investors in need of some peace of mind about their potential investments. “We call it ‘kicking the tyres,” remarks Stapleton. “It is actually becoming a much more prevalent part of our offering. We can produce a pretty good snapshot without being allowed in through the front door of a potential investment.”

This is just scratching the surface of the work that Tyrian does. However, the fact that it is already competing with the world’s leading accountancy firms – as well as the likes of Kroll – is very impressive. As far as Stapleton is concerned, they are doing something that hasn’t been seen before. He explains: “We think we are creating a specific standalone industry in terms of financial investigations where you bring the best of intelligence-gathering and old school investigative techniques with all the technical rigour of forensic accounting.”

Of course, one could easily assert that for each client that receives the ‘Tyrian treatment’, the world will be freer of the types of activity that only serve to tarnish the business landscape. However, Stapleton is nothing if not a realist. As much as he would probably like to think that this could be the start of a positive turning of the tide, things are likely to get worse before they begin to get better.

“It’s a funny one because if we do a really good job, you could mathematically work down the line and say there will be no business left in the end,” comments Stapleton. “But that honestly does depend upon how much you believe in the philosophical argument of the triumph of good over evil.”

It’s dirty work that’s for sure, but Tyrian is eager to make it as clean as possible. “We don’t feel like undertakers at the beginning of a battle rubbing our hands together with glee,” Stapleton stresses. “Of course, we are happy when a client is happy with what we have done and comes back and says ‘we have ironed that out’. But we are also confident that there will be a need for what we do long past the time that we have retired.” 

Adam Pescod
Adam Pescod

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