Date posted: 16/01/2018

Why Forensic Accounting is the new black

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'Forensic accountant' is certainly one of the coolest job titles in the accounting world, but what does working in this area actually entail? We speak to three forensic accountants to find out.

Making a difference

When a real estate agent was accused of stealing money from investors, Natasha Milne, Senior Associate in the Vincents' Forensic Accounting division was put on the case.

The agent's records showed proper payment to each investor, but after analysing a range of bank accounts and transfer history Natasha discovered concealed funds were being shifted to the agent's personal account.

Cases like these - and the impact her work can have on people's lives - are what Natasha loves about her career. Forensic accountants apply accounting principles to a wide range of legal and corporate issues including business valuations, court matters, insurance claims, disputes and more.

"Every job that you get is different," Natasha says. "You're always getting an incredible view of a situation or what some person has done or what they've tried to get away with, so it's never dull."

Natasha started her forensic career in a three-person team and is now a manager within a division of more than 40 staff specialising in forensic accounting. They are sought out as financial and accounting experts to quantify losses and explain the complex issues and facts of a case that help to demystify the situation to non-accountants.

Opportunities to learn

The 'expert' tag is something that Tom Caldow also finds exciting and competitive. As Manager in Forensic Consulting at Grant Thornton, Tom says the strength of an argument determines a forensic accountant's reputation and ability to win future work.

"I would say most people choose accounting because they're good with numbers not words; forensic accounting is pretty much the exact opposite. You need to be as good with words as you are with numbers. Your writing is your weapon."

Forensic accounting is a broad brush for many different kinds of tasks. A typical day for Tom can mean tracking the validity of a loan in the morning to producing a business valuation for matrimonial property settlements in the afternoon.

Recently, Tom took on a job involving a premium potato farm that had lost produce due to faulty cool rooms. For Tom to quantify the loss, he needed to analyse the portion of spoilt produce, business contracts lost to domestic and overseas suppliers, and the effect on product price and market reputation.

Initially Tom didn't know anything about potato farming, but he now holds a comprehensive understanding of the business operations and the industry overall.

Tom discovered forensic accounting during university through participation in the CA ANZ Achiever Programme. He spent time experiencing audit and tax departments, before working with the forensic team. That's where he fell for the constant learning opportunities the work provides, as well as the potential to have a positive impact on clients.

"It's not like anything you've learned at university. It does help if you have strong accounting knowledge, because that's not something you get taught here. We run through a completely different set of guidelines that you won’t have come across before," says Tom.

"As long as you've got a willingness to learn, you'll be okay."

A future for you

Saleh Achrafi's university lecturer may have sent him on the road to accounting, but he chose the forensic lane because it was anything but traditional.

After seven years in the game, Saleh is now a Supervisor at MDD Forensic Accountants, a firm specialising in forensic practice. He tackles business insurance matters for a range of industries.

"My favourite part about the job is networking with clients and building relationships," Saleh says.

Saleh says he has been able to build a portfolio for his clients over seven years, using LinkedIn and the different industry events he attends to find possible contacts.

"There are so many events in the insurance industry, around five or six a month. We put on an event two days ago for the Chartered Forensic Accounting Specialists group at Chartered Accountants here in Sydney."

Saleh enjoys taking a deep dive into different businesses. He recently took a case for a recycling plant damaged from a fire breakout. The insurance company appointed his firm to assess the loss, requiring a total understanding of the business.

Over a period of 11 months Saleh analysed different customer types, waste types, cost per tonne, business overhead expenses, inbound tonnages, revenue streams and more. At the end of the process he felt like a part of the business.

"With my role, I tend to understand the respective business I work on inside out. This might sound a little too overwhelming, but at the end of a file, I usually would understand the business more than the majority of the stakeholders who work there."

Saleh says if you're looking for a different type of accounting career, there's never been a better time to get involved. For students interested in finding out more, reach out to people working in the industry and they'll likely offer you a helping hand.

"Put a list together of all the forensic accounting firms that you know. See what they do, then email or follow them on LinkedIn. Forensic accounting roles are rare, but when they become available and you've done your research and connected with these firms, you're ahead of the game."