How Much Accountancy Is There In Fraud Investigation?

Although accountants are normally considered as dull and boring “bean counters”, accounting skills are necessary when trying to understand how a fraud was committed and when trying to trace where the assets have gone. Although many frauds are investigated by non-accountants, the accountancy expertise is necessary for successfully dealing with fraud.

It is certainly the case that the best financial investigators are those who have been trained as accountants, but have also picked up other skills including a knowledge of law and interviewing that are essential. A forensic accountant is an “expert accountant” who has additional investigation ability and can easily become a proficient fraud investigator.

So it is not just an ordinary accountant who audits companies, prepares tax returns and turns bank statements into financial statements that is required. It is an accountant who probably does none of these things once his formal training is over. It is an accountant who has an enquiring mind, a strong personality for interviewing fraudsters and who is flexible in his approach to each job which will be different in every case.

Forensic accounting looks for answers to the fraud, but it also involves being able to present those answers in a way that is irrefutable in court. The facts must be clearly understood in a succinct report which provides conclusions which are based on the evidence presented. Finding answers and presenting them properly needs a person who not only has financial expertise but also knowledge in areas of law and criminology.

Armed with a much wider skill set than an ordinary accountant, but probably unable to do most of the day to day “accounting work” done by traditional accountants, the forensic accountant must also present themselves as being robust and confident. Being robust is essential when fraudsters do not want to answer questions put by the investigator. The confidence is also needed when opinions are put to test in a court room situation.

Accountancy is the basis of any fraud, and without a good knowledge of double entry bookkeeping and other financial issues it would be impossible to investigate. However, the fraud investigator can work to some extent as a law enforcer, a legal advisor and a data analyser. Many persons with diverse skills such as accountants, lawyers, policemen and analysts will be involved in the biggest frauds. It is more than likely that an accountancy trained person will be, or ought to be, at the front of the investigation fieldwork – if not leading the whole investigation. Lawyers are often given the task of managing the whole investigation. This happens where the Serious Fraud Office is involved. Here, accountancy trained staff will still always be involved at the “sharp end” as principal investigators and sometimes are even employed as senior case managers.

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