Usually the first thing I am asked when I say I am a Forensic Accountant is “is it anything like CSI*?” or even better “how do you cope with all that blood?”
Well there isn’t usually any blood (unless one counts the blood, sweat and tears that some jobs entail) and there is sadly a lack of film stars in most of the work I do. Having said that it does have some things in common, like eating pizza and drinking coffee at midnight during a busy job and quite a few “courtroom dramas.”
So what does a forensic accountant do? Well basically it involves detailed analysis of all things accounting or financial (very much like CSI but without the exciting machines). This can happen for a number of reasons:
The main one that most people think about is when wrong doing is suspected such as fraud, theft or kickbacks. As part of a team I will analyse accounting records and documents and also interview witnesses to uncover fraud or quantify what has been lost. Like CSI it is very like a jigsaw puzzle; putting together the pieces to create a better picture of what has happened. What we are generally left with is a hole, which represents the loss.
However a forensic accountant will also assist in disputes between companies. A company may sue another one for the non-performance / breach of a contract. As a forensic accountant I will be asked to assist in determining what the actual loss is, based on documents provided during discovery by both parties. This may be due to lost profits or additional costs that have been incurred due to the breach.
Regardless of the type of work, again very much like CSI, I will often end up testifying in court (or a court equivalent such as an Arbitral Tribunal) as an expert forensic accountant. Unlike most witnesses who must give factual answers, an expert can express their expert opinion on such things as whether the facts indicate fraud, or if it is a reasonable way to calculate the loss. However, as an expert, I also owe a duty to the court to be unbiased regardless of which side I am working for. That said there can certainly be some exciting court room battles and occasionally even TV cameras.
So yes, my job does have a bit of the CSI about it. That is what keeps it exciting.
By Jacqui Record is a Director with Deloitte Forensic Middle East. She is a chartered accountant and has over 20 year’s forensic accounting experience. She has acted as an expert / testified on numerous occasions in both criminal and civil matters around the world.
*CSI stands for Crime Scene Investigation, which is an American crime drama television series.