Ed. note: Welcome to the first edition of Going Concern’s Guest Blogger series. We’ll be featuring both seasoned and new bloggers to share their views on various accounting topics. If you’re interested in participating, email us your submission to [email protected]. Please include “Guest Blogger Submission” in the subject line.
Imagine being able to take tens of thousands of pages of financial data and get it into a database in a matter of hours. Those mounds of paper are quickly turned into something useful to the forensic accountant, without spending hundreds of hours manually inputting the data. Financial data is suddenly transformed and the forensic accountant can quickly map the flow of funds, search for transaction patterns, create charts and graphs that show entities and transactions of interest, and create customized reports.
Doing things the old way, such a result is only a fantasy. For decades, forensic accountants have spent their time manually sorting documentation, deciding which transactions are important, and doing data entry.
It sounds painful because it is. It takes a long time, there is a high risk of inaccuracy, and there is a great chance that an important transaction will be overlooked.
So if there is technology out there to change all of this (and yes, there is!), why aren’t forensic accountants using it?
The only real answer is that they’re afraid of changing their business model. Most accounting firms charge their clients hourly fees, so they are invested in a business model that is dependent on forensic accountants taking more time to perform work which results in more revenue.
Technology that nearly eliminates the need for teams to spend hundreds of hours analyzing financial documentation is not a welcome addition to the firm; it just causes them to lose money.
Of course, it’s not really true that such advances really cause forensic accountants to lose money. All that needs to happen is firms have to find different ways to bill their clients, rather than simply adding up the time of staff and multiplying by a big number.
In addition to this paradigm shift related to billing clients, technological advances also fundamentally change the way forensic accountants investigate fraud. That makes lots of them (especially the old timers) uneasy. After all, we’ve always done it this way! How can we rely on technology over our own hands and eyes?
Here’s the thing…. those forensic accountants who resist embracing technological changes are going to be left behind. I currently use a proprietary system to complete large forensic accounting engagements, making it possible for me to single-handedly do more investigative work in a few days than a team of 4 or 5 investigators can do in several weeks or months.
This is not a fantasy; it is my reality. And my clients are getting better results much faster, allowing them to plan their litigation strategy much sooner, and ultimately be more successful in finding fraud, defending regulatory actions, and competing in litigation.
Yet I am currently the only forensic accountant in the private sector using this system, or anything like it. The government has been using a similar system for years, and if a client is being investigated by a federal agency in a financial matter, there’s a good chance the government is using the latest technology to aid in their investigation.
The future is not going to wait just because so many forensic accountants don’t want to change how they investigate fraud or earn their money. Those who are unwilling to change are going to be left behind. Those, like me, who want to be on the cutting edge, will make more money and win more interesting engagements that previously may have been too large or complex for me to handle alone.
Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF is a forensic accountant and fraud investigator with Sequence Inc. in Milwaukee and Chicago. She has conducted hundreds of high-stakes investigations involving financial statement fraud, securities fraud, investment fraud, bankruptcy and receivership, and criminal defense. Tracy is the author of Expert Fraud Investigation: A Step-by-Step Guide and Essentials of Corporate Fraud, and has been qualified as an expert witness in both state and federal courts. She can be reached at [email protected] or 312.498.3661.