Tom Smith - Expanding existing skills

We spoke to CIPFA apprentice Tom Smith from LNER about his Counter Fraud Apprenticeship journey so far. Tom and his line manager, Paul Larder, both explain how they have gained a great deal from the experience so far.

Tom’s story

Tom Smith is the Investigations and Prosecutions Manager at LNER and is taking part in the Counter Fraud Apprenticeship with CIPFA. Tom started his current position in October 2022, having previously been a Fraud Prevention Manager at LNER. He manages two Investigators and two Prosecutors and his role involves managing the team’s case load, assigning cases to the investigators, and managing the team’s attention onto certain frauds. Tom’s role is a wide-ranging one and he works closely with Fraud Prevention Managers and Revenue Protection Officers. 

Tom is about 8 months into the CIPFA Counter Fraud apprenticeship and it is clear that he is thoroughly enjoying it, whilst developing his existing skills further: “I’ve found some of the areas really easy as they are things I’ve been involved in at LNER in some form or another, whereas some of the other areas have been completely out of my comfort zone and are areas I’ve known nothing about – such as housing, the NHS, and procurement. It has allowed me to have conversations with people in the business and to understand our own policies so much better; I’ve been pushed down that route to take an interest and find out. It has given me the ability to be a leader in my role and make critical decisions, as I’m confident that I know what I am talking about, rather than relying on others to direct me.”

New routes

Tom’s role of Investigations and Prosecutions Manager is a brand-new role for LNER, having come into existence in October following a restructure at LNER. Paul Larder, Head of Risk and Assurance at LNER and Tom’s line manager, explains that being able to create a new role within the Risk and Assurance team at LNER was largely due to Tom’s own skills and aptitude, explaining: “The learnings from Tom’s apprenticeship have helped influence the enhancements that have been made within LNER. In terms of skills and experience (including those secured through the apprenticeship) - once you’ve got someone who is capable and has got the relevant qualifications, or is working towards them, the business cases to support value-added changes to the business write themselves. It hasn’t been ‘we need someone to fit this mould’, it has been that [Tom] has been instrumental in creating a brand-new role, and the structure around this, to allow him to add as much extra value as possible to LNER.”

Paul goes on to explain: “[LNER] is a people-focused business: we’d much rather create the opportunities that our people are driving forward – people like Tom – rather than create an opportunity and try to attract people from outside the business to fit the mould. Our people [at LNER] are our greatest strength and our key aim is to invest in our colleagues and support their ongoing development. 

“As Tom mentioned, our biggest change in the past 12 months has been creating a team that has a clear focus on fraud, because if we simply attach this to someone else’s job it will get lost. We’re a fast-paced business and we work in an industry that operates almost 24/7 so it’s easy to get distracted, and so we needed to actively create this focus. We’re trying to be as effective and as efficient as possible with the resources we have available to us – in a similar way to every company at the moment – so we needed to be creative as to how we achieved this. This was an opportunity that didn’t need additional resources, just for us to repurpose the responsibilities of our great people, like Tom, to match their strengths to our needs and achieve the best outcome for all, our colleagues, our business and our customers.”

Tom’s journey

Tom’s journey to his current role has been an interesting one – at school he considered going into Policing but due to cuts when he was leaving school, Tom found that opportunities in Policing were limited. He ended up working on the railway through family connections, working as a train manager for the first four years and then moving over to join the Revenue team as a Revenue Protection and Fraud Officer, an area that had always interested him.

“For me,” Tom explains, “it’s the fairness – I don’t like seeing instances where people are abusing the system and other people are paying the price as a result, which is the case on the railway – fare evasion and fraud are what lead to the increase in fares for the fare-paying passenger.” Tom has completed six years in the team – after four years in the team he became a Fraud Prevention Manager. It is clear from speaking to Tom that he has had the opportunity to further improve his existing skills, as he explains: “During my time with LNER I’ve been honing skills around fraud and gaining knowledge of how it affects the rail industry. I think I’m now in a good place to understand all the weak points and the strengths, and what we need to do to help fight fraud within LNER.”

Networking and learning

It's fair to say that Tom is finding the apprenticeship programme very rewarding so far and is finding the extra experiences that it brings very beneficial. As he explains: “It’s the people that you get to interact with – the tutors and the mentors. They come from all different backgrounds. There are people that have worked in Counter Fraud for as many years as I have been alive – it’s the experience and the stories and the things they can tell you; the wisdom that they can impart on you. You’re not just learning the contents of the course, you’re getting the best practice, they’re telling you stories of things that have happened in their experience. They are also there to advise you if you’ve got something that is live in your own workplace, they are happy to discuss things outside of specific details – they are happy to discuss the main gist of the issue and to give advice.”

Tom also finds the opportunity to network and work with other apprentices a big plus point too, as he explains: “It has been great to work with the other apprentices as well. We all get along really well and we’re all there to help each other. Even though we’re all on an apprenticeship course, everyone is at a different stage of their career – people have different experiences and different viewpoints – it’s refreshing and it can really help to speak about what’s going on in each other’s industries. There is overlap – even though we are a rail company, there are things that we see happen that may overlap with other industries.”

Learning alongside the day job

So would Tom recommend the CIPFA Counter Fraud apprenticeship to other people? “Yes, definitely,” Tom explains. “Firstly, the people delivering it are brilliant. Some of the course is heavy and it can be draining, but [the CIPFA tutors] always find a way to keep you engaged by telling stories of their own or making learning interesting. I’d definitely recommend it. They are always looking for feedback – so even for the short time I’ve been on the course, they’ve changed some of the key Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours material so that you can reference it in your portfolio – they’ve also changed some of the module work. I think that’s really smart because if something’s not working to its best potential, [they] take the feedback on board and make the changes because it makes it easier for us to learn. The people delivering it have been really accommodating and they are really open to feedback. 

And Tom is managing to fit his apprenticeship workload in alongside his day job, as he explains: “I don’t feel rushed – I find that in the industry we work in, things are quite fast paced. We might have a day that’s really hectic and everything needs to be done that day, so spreading the workload across the month is good. It really helps when your day job doesn’t quite fit with sitting down and doing your apprenticeship coursework – it’s good to be able to spread it out.”

A bright future ahead

Tom is full of wisdom from his experience of the Counter Fraud Apprenticeship so far: “[The apprenticeship] is a huge commitment and it’s a lot of work. It can be overwhelming and you will feel nervous about the tests, but there’s a lot of support on hand so don’t let that put you off. The mentors and the tutors are great. Don’t be afraid to rely on the other apprentices as well because no-one is looking for someone to fail – everyone is trying to help each other succeed.” 

Speaking to Tom, it is clear that he has a real grasp of the potential for Fraud teams, and he has the skills and the knowledge to be able to be a future leader in the area. As he explains, “We’ve now got more data than ever and there’s more collaboration than ever. I’m young enough to go on for a fairly long time, and I think there’s an opportunity to be at the forefront of how the rail industry combats fraud and fare evasion. I’ve got the skills and the knowledge and I want to shape things too – I don’t just want to go with the flow and find the faults, I want to shape the environment we work in.

“With fighting fraud, it only really works if everyone is on the same page because otherwise you’ll just move them onto somewhere else. If you stop the fraud in the rail industry they’ll just go somewhere else, so we need competent Counter Fraud professionals in every industry that are happy to collaborate and know how to collaborate properly – the apprenticeship really helps with this as you meet people from different industries and working in different roles and at different levels; you learn how to work together and how to share information and to get the best out of each other so you can achieve what you want to achieve.”

We wish Tom all the best for the rest of his Counter Fraud Apprenticeship course, as well as his further career aspirations ahead. 

Contact us 

CIPFA has two Counter Fraud Investigator Apprenticeship intakes a year, one starting in the spring and one in the autumn. If you have any queries, including how to go about recruiting an apprentice, contact the apprenticeship team: