Forensic accounting expert Barry Draper shares his advice for getting into this highly specialised area of accountancy….
Forensic accounting remains a mysterious profession to many and is considered one of the most glamorous of the accountancy disciplines.
That is why we receive lots of requests from people who are interested in becoming a forensic accountant, asking how they should go about getting the knowledge and experience required to fulfil this role.
My own experience began in the mid-80s when I worked as an investigator with what was then the Inland Revenue’s Enquiry Branch, the department which was responsible for investigating and prosecuting the most serious cases of tax evasion. That gave me an excellent grounding in the whole gamut of investigative processes, from information-gathering (including ‘dawn raids’) to giving evidence before the criminal court.
But everyone who currently specialises as a forensic accountant has probably had an equally unique introduction to this fascinating area of accountancy. They will have honed their craft through long experience allied to some formal training in interviewing techniques, report writing, presentation and negotiating skills, and giving oral evidence.
I am aware that, nowadays, there is a more structured path which can be followed as there is an increasing need for forensic accountants, and this includes college and correspondence courses. However, the basic requirement must, clearly, be in accountancy and an accountancy qualification. Then qualifications must be merged with experience especially if one wishes to achieve the ultimate goal of becoming an expert who is able to advise the courts in accountancy matters.
When I was being initiated into the world of investigative accountancy all those years ago the term ‘forensic accountancy’ was not even in common usage. Today there are many opportunities for budding forensic accountants to gain experience in a wide variety of commercial and specialist organisations, as well as the larger accountancy firms, and these are probably the best places to start for an accountant who wants to specialise in this area. These should provide the necessary training and breadth of experience.
What Skills does a Forensic Accountant Need?
Well, apart from the aforementioned skills which can be taught, one also needs an incredible amount of patience, perseverance, attention to detail and optimism, together with people skills. This is because an expert witness report on a particular matter is frequently achieved only through painstaking, methodical, research and investigation. This is especially so in fraud cases because it invariably means having to trawl through copious amounts of documentary evidence in order to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant material and identify evidence or further lines of enquiry. The work can also be extremely satisfying professionally when one’s evidence is beneficial to the parties, the court or the tribunal in their decision-making process.