Monday, November 24, 2008

Article: Accounting CSI

I came across this article... it caught my attention because the college (Bus & Acc Dept) proposed to have a similar program....


If you think accounting is merely bean counting, think again. A forensic accountant proves that this is more than just a numbers game.
FOR a good five years, Tan Chee Wai, 32, was playing the role of any other external auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the Big Four accounting firms, handling the books of his clients.

However, all that changed when his company’s directors saw something in Tan and recommended him for forensic accounting — a specialty practice area of accountancy that describes engagements that result from potential fraud and irregularities, detected and actual, or anticipated disputes or litigation. He has not looked back since and with the multiple roles he now has to play — investigator, interviewer and even peacemaker — one sometimes wonders whether what he does is really accounting anymore.

My job involves ...

... asking the five Ws (why, where, when, what and who) and how. I ask those questions to compile evidence for clients.
The process requires me to dig through a lot of documents and even email of those suspected of criminal breach of trust, misappropriation of assets or abuse of power, among others.
Sometimes, we conduct searches at night while the suspect is away. There was one case where the suspect was summoned elsewhere for a “business meeting” to enable us to conduct an investigation.

I have to be very careful on the job. A messy investigation might make the suspect suspicious. Apart from documents and email, we also make copies of a suspect’s hard disk using special equipment.

Conducting a thorough investigation and linking evidence is a key element too as fraud is sometimes hard to commit individually and some form of collusion is often involved.
A recent case I was handling had a staff who kept mum even though she suspected her boss was siphoning the company’s money.

My job sometimes requires me to act as an arbitrator when two-party contracts are concerned. Both parties may interpret things in their own way and I have to settle their differences.
It also involves searching for missing evidence. Missing documents are a major problem especially in high profile investigations where experienced or smart individuals in high positions do their best to cover any loopholes.

My morning starts with ...

... going to a client’s place if I’m handling an investigation. I arrive early and I may have to read email, dissect documents and analyse clues — sometimes for the whole day!
I also talk to various people to get more evidence. They range from van drivers and factory workers to senior staff and management.

To qualify, you need ...

... an accounting degree or professional qualification like ACCA. However, that is not the sole criteria as those with degrees in computer science or computer forensics are also considered.
The best person for the job is ...

... someone with the above qualifications coupled with work experience.
Experience in the audit line in particular, helps a lot as it enables one to spot irregularities faster.
Communication and interviewing skills are vital as forensic accounting requires one to liaise frequently with clients, IT experts, lawyers and law enforcers.
Good interviewers have the advantage when a suspect is put on the spot. Extracting information is an art.

One must also have a clear mind. Sometimes, suspects break down in the middle of an interview and begin to cry. The tears could be genuine but more often than not, they are sympathy tears.
Prospects for the future ...

... are very bright. With more businesses going global, fraud is becoming more pertinent and the PwC Global Economic Crime Survey in 2007 indicated that the use of forensic accountants and fraud investigators had risen sharply. About 44% of cases involved forensic accountants in 2007 compared to only 20% in 2005.

It is also harder to detect fraud nowadays as people are more careful and employ better tools and practices to cover their tracks. Hence, specialised fraud busters are employed when internal audits are not enough.

I love my job because ...
... no two cases are the same. Every investigation has its own uniqueness and for a forensic accountant, finding and piecing together evidence is very satisfying.
A simple thank you from clients also makes my day. It gives me great self satisfaction when I see a job well done.
In truth, forensic accountants may hold glamourous titles but the job requires a lot of sacrifice. Clients normally want a small team to avoid arousing suspicion and with the short deadlines involved, one has to work very efficiently. I enjoy the responsibility.
Also, there are less rules and regulations in an advisory line and my colleagues are open and dynamic — creating a good working environment.

What I dislike ...

... is losing a case after all the hard work. Sometimes, we believe that we have sufficient evidence but court decisions may go the other way.
It is frustrating when I can’t detect a suspect’s secrets as the client can’t take action without them.

Will I be a millionaire by 30?

Unlikely. Fresh graduates rarely get into this line as given the choice, employers will almost always opt for someone with working experience.
Time is not on your side in this case and face it, hired professionals rarely become millionaires in any field.

Taken from

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