What does Forensic accounting within a public practice involve?
Forensic accounting is the integration of accounting, auditing and investigative skills. It can be summarised as quantifying losses arising from incidents such as floods, fires, motor accidents, thefts and earthquakes.
Forensic accounting ranges from helping investigate fraud allegations to assessing the financial impact of a disaster. The two main areas of work are litigation support and insurance.
Forensic accountants are trained to look beyond the numbers and deal with the business reality of the situation.
What does a forensic accountant do?
A Forensic accountant is often retained to analyse, interpret, summarise and present complex financial and business-related issues in a manner that is both understandable and properly supported. Forensic accountants can be engaged in public practice or employed by insurance companies, banks, police forces, government agencies and other organisations.
A forensic accountant is often involved in the following:
- Investigating and analysing financial evidence
- Developing computerised applications to assist in the analysis and presentation of financial evidence.
- Communicating their findings in the form of reports, exhibits and collections of documents.
- Assisting in legal proceedings, including testifying in court as an expert witness and preparing visual aids to support trial evidence.
In order to perform these properly, a forensic accountant must be familiar with legal concepts and procedures, as well as being able to identify substance over form when dealing with an issue.
How can a forensic accountant be of assistance?
As pioneers of investigative accounting, forensic accountants:
- Review the factual situation and provide suggestions regarding possible courses of action
- Assist with the protection and recovery of assets
- Co-ordinate other experts, including private investigators, examiners and consulting engineers
- Assist with the recovery of assets by way of civil action or criminal prosecution
Forensic accountants also specialise in litigation support, which requires them to:
- Assist in obtaining documentation necessary to support or refute a claim
- Review the relevant documentation to form an initial assessment of the case and identify areas of loss
- Assist with examination for discovery, including the formulation of questions to be asked regarding the financial evidence
- Attend the examination for discovery to review the testimony, assist with understanding the financial issues and to formulate additional questions to be asked
- Review the opposing expert's damages report and report on both the strengths and weaknesses of the positions taken
- Assist with settlement discussions and negotiations
- Attend at trial to hear the testimony of the opposing expert and to provide assistance with cross-examination
What types of assignments does a forensic accountant perform?
Forensic accountants typically lend their expertise to:
- Criminal investigations
- Shareholders' and partnership disputes
- Personal injury claims/motor vehicle accidents
- Business interruption/other types of insurance claims
- Business/employee fraud investigations
- Matrimonial disputes
- Business economic losses
- Professional negligence
- Mediation and arbitration
What characteristics should a forensic accountant possess?
A successful forensic accountant will exhibit:
- Organisational skills
- Sound professional judgement
A forensic accountant must also be open minded when it comes to considering alternatives, scrutinising the fine details without losing sight of the bigger picture. In addition to being attentive listeners, forensic accountants must also be able to communicate their opinions clearly and concisely.
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