Flagging potential fraudulent investment activity
Van Vuuren, Gary Wayne
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Purpose: This paper aims to investigate the use of the bias ratio as a possible early indicator of financial fraud - specifically in the reporting of hedge fund returns. In the wake of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, numerous hedge funds were liquidated and several cases of financial fraud exposed. Design/methodology/approach: Risk-adjusted return metrics such as the Sharpe ratio and Value at Risk were used to raise suspicion for fraud. These metrics, however, assume distributional normality and thus have had limited success with hedge fund returns (a characteristic of which is highly skewed, non-normal return distributions). Findings: Results indicate that potential fraud would have been detected in the early stages of the scheme's life. Having demonstrated the credibility of the bias ratio, it was then applied to several indices and (anonymous) South African hedge funds. The results were used to demonstrate the ratio's scope and robustness and draw attention to other metrics which could be used in conjunction with it. Results from these multiple sources could be used to justify further investigation. Research limitations/implications: The traditional metrics for performance evaluation (such as the Sharpe ratio), assume distributional normality and thus have had limited success with hedge fund returns (a characteristic of which is highly skewed, non-normal return distributions). The bias ratio, which does not rely on normally distributed returns, was applied to a known fraud case (Madoff's Ponzi scheme). Practical implications: The effectiveness of the bias ratio in demonstrating potential suspicious financial activity has been demonstrated. Originality/value: The financial market has come under heightened scrutiny in the past decade (2005 - 2015) as a result of the fragile and uncertain economic milieu that still (2015) persists. Numerous risk and return measures have been used to evaluate hedge funds' risk-adjusted performance, but many fail to account for non-normal return distributions exhibited by hedge funds. The bias ratio, however, has been demonstrated to effectively flag potentially fraudulent funds.