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A paper on Forensic accounting (A conceptual framework)

Miss Bhanuben N. Parmar, Research scholar of Ph.D., Faculty at M.J.College of commerce, Bhavnagar-364002

 


Abstracts:

            Forensic accounting has come into limelight due to rapid increase in financial frauds and white-collar crimes. But, it is a largely untrodden area in India. The integration of accounting, auditing and investigative skills creates the speciality known as forensic accounting. Before the latest economic downturn, the accounting profession had already undergone radical changes as a result of the Enron and WorldCom debacles, as well as other accounting scandals. With the spotlight on the accounting profession, a new market with a new breed of accountants — forensic accountants — has emerged. With the current economic downturn, we have seen an increased demand for forensic accounting services as the public deals with financial collapses, increased white collar crime and growing occurrences of occupational fraud. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) estimates that occupational fraud losses cost organizations $994 billion annually.         

            Being an effective accountant does not necessarily translate into being an effective forensic accountant. Being an effective forensic accountant requires the professional to possess a broad spectrum of skills and knowledge. In 2006, Bruce Dubinsky, a partner and director of forensic accounting and dispute analysis at the Bethesda, Maryland firm of Dubinsky & Company, PC, emphasized that: Although forensic accounting is currently on the “hot” list of client services, there are plenty of accountants getting involved who shouldn’t be because they don’t understand the ins and outs of the niche...Many accountants think it is simply fraud investigation, and it’s not. It is really much more than dealing with the numbers. It’s no longer just basic fraud work.

            The opportunities for the forensic accountants are growing fast; they are being engaged in public practice and are being employed by insurance companies, banks, police forces, government agencies, etc. This article seeks to examine the meaning and nature, activities and services rendered, core knowledge and personal skills required for forensic accounting as a specialised field in the accountancy profession. Indeed, there is a future in forensic accounting as a separate niche consulting.

 

Keywords: Forensic accounting, role of a forensic accountant, required skills and knowledge of an forensic accountant, niche consulting.

 

Introduction:

            Until recently, detecting fraud or whitecollar crime was thought to be part of the conventional accounting function. Fraud was something the internal or external auditors were supposed to guard against through their periodic audits. Now, we as accountants know that auditors can only check for the compliance of a company’s books to generally accepted accounting principles, auditing standards, and company policies. Thus, a new category of accounting was needed to detect the fraud in companies that suspected fraudulent transactions. This area of accounting is known as ‘forensic accounting’. Worldwide, we consider Sherlock Holmes to be the first forensic accountant. However, the contribution of some historic characters in India cannot be ignored. In India, Kautilya was the first person to mention the famous forty ways of embezzlement in his book Arthashastra during the ancient times. He was the first economist, who openly recognised the need of the forensic accountants. Similarly, Birbal was the Scholar in the time of King Akbar. He used various tricks to investigate various crimes. Some of his stories give the fraud examiner a brief idea about the Litmus test of investigation.

            Forensic accounting is the ‘speciality’ practice area of accounting that describes engagements, which result from actual or anticipated disputes or litigation. ‘Forensic’ means “suitable for use in Court,” and it is to that standard and potential outcome that forensic accountants generally have to work. The forensic engagement is distinguished by engagement objective, emphasis on gathering evidence, and the application of a variety of techniques often custom-developed to the requirements of the specific engagement. Forensic accountants often have to give expert evidence at the eventual trial.

            All of the larger accounting firms, as well as, many medium-sized and boutique firms have ‘specialist’ forensic accounting departments. Within these groups, there may be further sub-specialisations: some forensic accountants may, for example, just specialise in insurance claims, personal injury claims, fraud detection, construction, or royalty audits. Nearly 40 per cent of the top 100 US accounting firms are expanding their forensic and fraud services, according to Accounting Today. If this data is an indicator of Indian scenario, then the day is not far away when forensic accounting practice will contribute significantly to the total revenue of the Indian CA firms. In short, these services are in great demand and rendered at a premium in current context of flourishing business and rising instances of frauds and litigations.

            Forensic accountants, in fact, utilize an understanding of business information and financial reporting systems, accounting and auditing standards and procedures, evidence gathering and investigative techniques, and litigation processes and procedure to perform their work. Forensic accountants are also increasingly playing more ‘proactive’ risk reduction roles by designing and performing extended procedures as part of the statutory audit, acting as advisors to audit committees, and assisting in investment analyst research.

            Examples of forensic accounting objectives include: assessment of damages caused by an auditor’s negligence, fact-finding to see whether an embezzlement has taken place, in what amount, and whether criminal proceedings are to be initiated; collection of evidence in a criminal proceeding; and computation of asset values in a divorce proceeding. The primary orientation of forensic accounting is explanatory analysis (cause and effect) of phenomena—including the discovery of deception (if any), and its effects—introduced into an accounting system domain. The primary methodology employed by forensic accountants is objective verification. Forensic accountants, thus, are trained to look beyond the numbers and deal with the business reality of a situation.

            The opportunities for the forensic accountants are growing at a rapid speed. Collapse of the Enron Corporation and World Trade Center’s twin towers have led to lots of work opportunities for the American forensic accountants. In India the formation of Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO), however, is the landmark creation for the forensic accountants. Growing cyber crimes, failure of regulators to track the security scams, series of co-operative banks bursting— all point to the need of forensic accounting, irrespective of whether we understand the need or not. In the Indian context, the forensic accountants are most required in the wake of the growing frauds. The growing number of regulatory and administrative agencies will demand the services in the nature of forensic practice. The changing nature of the Indian and International accounting, and auditing & assurance standards also confirm this. Curriculum change will most likely occur if the written exams and practical industry training are revamped to more accurately reflect the “new knowledge base and skill set” required by the accounting profession in the new era. It is, therefore, recommended that the subject “forensic accounting and auditing” be incorporated in the ICAI professional examination curriculum, as soon as possible.

            It is most unfortunate that forensic accounting is by and large an unexplored area as far as India is concerned. Chartered Accountants (CAs) sporadically handle some of the aforesaid cases. At present, lawyers and police force, insurance companies, government and regulatory bodies, banks, courts and business community are increasingly utilizing the services of forensic accountants in the Western countries. Undoubtedly, the accounting professionals possess the skills to venture into forensic accounting and auditing arena but we must have the correct mindset to venture into the emerging field.

What is Forensic Accounting?

            The definition of forensic accounting is changing in response to the growing needs of corporations. Bologna and Lindquist had defined forensic accounting as “the application of financial skills, and an investigative mentality to unresolved issues, conducted within the context of rules of evidence. As an emerging discipline, it encompasses financial expertise, fraud knowledge, and a sound knowledge and understanding of business reality and the working of the legal system.” This implies that the forensic accountant should be skilled not only in financial accounting, but also in internal control systems, the law, other institutional requirements, investigative proficiency, and interpersonal skills.

            According to AICPA: “Forensic accounting is the application of accounting principles, theories, and discipline to facts or hypotheses at issues in a legal dispute and encompasses every branch of accounting knowledge.” Similarly, forensic accounting is defined by Horty as: “The science that deals with the relation and application of finance, accounting, tax and auditing knowledge to analyse, investigate, inquire, test and examine matters in civil law, criminal law and jurisprudence in an attempt to obtain the truth from which to render an expert opinion.”

            Simply stated, forensic accounting includes the use of accounting, auditing, and investigative skills to assist in legal matters. It consists of two major components: litigation services that recognise the role of an accountant as an expert consultant, and investigative services that use a forensic accountant’s skills and may require possible courtroom testimony. In legal matters, forensic accountants are often engaged to assist in investigations of theft and defalcation of corporate and individual assets using their education and experience to discuss the fact, patterns of the theft, or misappropriation. Forensic accountants are also called upon to review business accounting systems and, based on their experience, make recommendations as to how the system of internal control and internal check can be improved to prevent theft and fraud. Because of their education, background and experience, forensic accountants add an additional dimension to their work.

            Forensic accountants do not win or lose cases but seek only the truth in conducting their evaluations, examinations and inquiries, merely reporting the “true” result of their findings in an “unbiased” and objective manner. To be effective as a forensic accountant, one needs legal training in addition to education and extensive experience in the fields of finance, accounting, taxes and auditing. Since the work of the forensic accountant will many times be used in a court of law, expertise in litigation support and testimony in courts of law are also prerequisites of the forensic accountant. The knowledge of business valuation theory is most helpful because many times a forensic accountant is called upon to determine the damages, which have resulted from the criminal or civil wrongdoing.

What Does a Forensic Accountant Do?

            Forensic accountants are trained to look beyond the numbers and deal with the business realities of situations. Analysis, interpretation, summarisation and the presentation of complex financial and business related issues are prominent features of the profession. A forensic accountant will also be familiar with legal concepts and procedures. Public practice or insurance companies, banks, police forces and government agencies are major employers of forensic accountants.

Activities usually carried out by forensic accountants involve:

·         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 courts, as an expert witness and reparing visual aids to support trial evidence.

            In a nutshell, the following services can be provided by a forensic accountant: quantifying the impact of lost earnings, such as construction delays, stolen trade secrets, insurance disputes, damage/loss estimates, malpractice claims, employee theft, loss of profits, financial solvency reports, disturbance damages, loss of goodwill, compensable losses suffered in expropriation determination, assessment of the potential business compensation costs, and consultation on business defalcation minimisation.

            Commercial damages include lease default damages, breach of contract, business interruptions, breaches of shareholder and partnership agreements, reconstruction of accounting records, investigation of misappropriation, assistance in establishing ownership and division of assets, commercial damages, professional negligence cases, partnership disputes, expert evidence, fair

value or fair market value, and personal injury damages. Tax matters include tax advocacy, ompliance and review of financial statements, tax reporting, and tax planning in such areas as income and estate matters.

            A forensic accountant has to analyse, interpret, summarise and present complex financial and business-related issues for investigation. Forensic accountant carries out investigative accounting and provides litigation support. The services of forensic accountants are in great demand in the following areas:

Detection of fraud committed by employees:

            Where the employee indulges in fraud, forensic accountants are engaged. They detect fraud, trace the asset (if any) created out of fund embezzlement, gather and review the evidence, and interview the employee alleged to have embezzled the funds.

Criminal Investigation:

            Where the matter under investigation involves financial implications, the services of a forensic accountant are availed of by the investigation department, law society, etc. The report of an accountant is very much useful in preparing and presenting evidence.

Settlement for outgoing partner:

            When the retiring partner feels that he has been unjustly settled with, he can challenge the settlement with the help of a forensic accountant, who can correctly assess the value of assets and liabilities due to his client.

Cases relating to professional negligence:

            Forensic accountants also take up cases relating to professional negligence. Whenever there is a breach of generally accepted accounting standards (GAAS) or auditing practices or ethical codes of any profession, forensic accountants are required to quantify the loss resulting from such professional negligence or deficiency in service.

 Arbitration service:

            Forensic accountants render arbitration and mediation services for the business community, since they undergo special training in the area of alternative dispute resolution.

 Facilitating settlement regarding motor vehicle accident:

            As the forensic accountant is well acquainted with intricacies of laws relating to motor vehicles, and other relevant laws in force, his services become indispensable in measuring economic loss

when a vehicle meets with an accident.

 Settlement of insurance claims:

            Insurance companies engage forensic accountants to have an accurate assessment of claims to be settled. Similarly, policyholders seek the help of a forensic accountant when they need to challenge the claim settlement as worked out by the insurance companies. A forensic accountant handles the claims relating to consequential loss policy, property loss due to various risks, fidelity insurance and other types of insurance claims.

Dispute settlement:

             Business firms engage forensic accountants to handle contract disputes, construction claims, product liability claims, infringement of patent and trade marks cases, liability arising from breach of contracts and so on.

 Matrimonial dispute cases:

             Forensic accountants entertain cases pertaining to matrimonial disputes wherein their role is merely confined to tracing, locating and evaluating any form of asset involved.

Core Knowledge of Forensic Accountant

            A forensic accountant is expected to be a specialist in accounting and financial systems. Yet, as companies continue to grow in size and complexity, uncovering fraud requires a forensic accountant to become proficient in an everincreasing number of professional skills and competencies. Here are some of the broad areas of useful expertise for a forensic accountant.

·         An in-depth knowledge of financial statements and the ability to critically analyse them. These skills help forensic accountants to uncover abnormal patterns in accounting information and recognize their source.

·         A thorough understanding of fraud schemes, including but not limited to asset misappropriations, money laundering,bribery, and corruption.

·         The ability to comprehend the internal control systems of corporations, and to set up a control system that assesses risks, achieves management objectives, informs employees of their control responsibilities, and monitors the quality of the programme so that orrections and changes can be made.

·         Proficiency in computer and knowledge of network systems. These skills help forensic accountants to conduct investigations in the area of e-banking and computerized accounting systems.

·         Knowledge of psychology in order to understand the impulses behind criminal behaviour and to set up fraud prevention programmes that motivate and encourage employees.

·         Interpersonal and communication skills, which aid in disseminating information about the company’s ethical policies and help forensic accountants to conduct interviews and obtain crucially needed information.

·         Thorough knowledge of company’s governance policies and the laws that regulate these policies.

·         Command of criminal and civil law, as well as,of the legal system and court procedures.

Personal Skills Required

            So what does it take to become a forensic accountant? In addition to the specialized knowledge about the techniques of finding out the frauds, one needs patience and an analytical mindset. One has to look beyond the numbers and grasp the substance of the situation. There is a need for the same basic accounting skills that it takes to become a good auditor plus the ability to pay attention to the smallest detail, analyse data thoroughly, think creatively, possess common business sense, be proficient with a computer, and have excellent communication skills. A “sixth” sense that can be used to reconstruct details of past accounting transactions is also beneficial. A photographic memory helps when trying to visualise and reconstruct these past events. The forensic accountant also needs the ability to maintain his composure when detailing these events on the witness stand. Finally, a forensic accountant should be insensitive to personal attacks on his professional credibility. A fraud accountant (as forensic accountants are sometimes called) should also observe and listen carefully. By this, you can improve your ability to detect lies whether they involve fraud or not. This is so because “not all liars are fraudsters, but all fraudsters are liars” (Wells).

            According to a forensic accounting expert, “the traits of a forensic accountant could be compared to a well-baked pizza. The base of forensic accounting is accounting knowledge. Size and the extent of baking decide the quality of the pizza. A middle layer is a dispersed knowledge of auditing, internal controls, risk assessment and fraud detection. It is like the spread of the cheese in pizza. The toppings of this pizza are a basic understanding of the legal environment. The legal environment is essential in order to support the litigations. The cherry on the toppings of the pizza is a strong set of communication skills, both written and oral. It is just the beautification part. Perfect combination of the pizza base, cheese spread and good toppings makes the pizza delicious and the Forensic Auditor perfect. It is a combination that will be in demand for as long as human nature exists.”

            In addition to these personal characteristics, accountants must meet several additional requirements to become successful forensic accountants, say a Certification, acknowledging his competence. One can learn forensic accounting by obtaining a diploma given by Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) in the US. Indian chapter of ACFE offers the course based on the white-collared crimes prevalent in US, based on their laws. However, there is no formal body that provides formal education of the frauds in India. Besides the formal certificate, one can deepen one’s knowledge and sharpen one’s skills in forensic accounting by undergoing training under an experienced forensic accountant, participating in various international conferences, reading relevant journals, books and other literature on forensic accounting.

            To combat the frauds effectively one needs the active support of government at every stage. There are three-four such agencies in India, which are dedicated to the mission of combating frauds. Serious Fraud Office looks into violations of Income Tax, FEMA, RBI Act, etc.; CBI (Economic Office Wing) deals with big financial frauds; Central Vigilance Commission deals with corruption. These are the major government agencies that combat frauds of different types. Unfortunately, there is no specialised education provided by any of the Universities in the country. Recently, TCS has also come out with software to combat money laundering and Subex Systems have designed software to combat the telecom frauds. Thus, combating the frauds with software has started picking up in India, with few big companies like ACL and IDEA, joining the race.

The Need For Niche Consulting

            The CPA Vision Statement states: “The CPAs are trusted professionals who enable people and organisations to shape their future. Combining insight with integrity, CPAs deliver value by: (a) communicating the total picture with clarity and objectivity, (b) translating complex information into critical knowledge, (c) anticipating and creating opportunities, and (d) developing pathways that transform vision into reality.” It reflects the trend towards providing a broader range of assurance services.

            However, recent corporate accounting scandals and the resultant outcry for transparency and honesty in reporting have given rise to two disparate yet logical outcomes. First, forensic accounting skills have become crucial in untangling the complicated accounting manoeuvres that have obfuscated financial statements. Second, public demand for change and subsequent regulatory action has transformed corporate governance. Increasingly, company officers and directors are under ethical and legal scrutiny. Both trends have the common goal of responsibly addressing investors’ concerns about the financial reporting system.

            Indeed, there is a future in forensic accounting as a separate “niche” consulting area in India. The need to specialise, otherwise known as Niche Consulting, is imperative to practising accountants because the fast-paced developments in business thereby demand specialised knowledge and skills. While a majority of CAs have excellent analytical skills, they need to acknowledge that ‘forensic’ services require ‘specialised’ training as well as real-life ‘practical’ corporate experience. There is a need for specialised information, not just audit and tax service. What clients seem to want are people with unique sets of skills and experiences. With the maturing of the audit business, and the rapid development of technology that makes existing services low cost and cheap, it appears that it is the right time now to acquire those unique skills.

            To help practitioners move into ‘niche’ consulting, some professional organizations in the US have concluded that: “Future success for the profession depends, in part, on how the public perceives the ability of CPAs. New efforts in consulting, specialisation and understanding global business practices and strategies are considered crucial. We go out into the niche market, examining our strengths first. We go where the action is, only then we know we can adequately service our clients and make money doing it.” One area where ‘niche’ consulting is becoming the global trend is in “Forensic Accounting and Auditing”. But the major question facing the Indian accountancy profession is: Are we ready to plunge to where the challenging action is?

Conclusion

            Forensic accounting in India has come to limelight only recently due to rapid increase in white-collar crimes and the belief that our law enforcement agencies do not have sufficient expertise or the time needed to uncover frauds. A large global accounting firm believes the market is sufficiently large to support an independent unit devoted strictly to ‘forensic’ accounting. All of the larger accounting firms, as well as, many medium-sized and boutique firms have recently created forensic accounting departments.

            Forensic accounting, in fact, integrates accounting, auditing, and investigative skills to conduct an examination into a company’s financial statements. Broad-based knowledge (within the themes listed above) is crucial to the success of entry-level forensic accountants. Because forensic accounting is relatively a new area of study, a series of working definitions and sharing of corporate experiences should be undertaken and encouraged to ensure a common understanding. Indeed, there is great future in forensic accounting as a separate “niche” consulting.

            While the forensic accounting and auditing practice had commenced in the US as early as 1995, the seed of this specialisation has yet to take off in India. Forensic accountants are only dealing with financial implications of the cases entrusted to them and not engaging in auditing exercise. On account of global competition, the accounting profession must convince the marketplace that it has the “best-equipped” professionals to perform such services.

            Forensic accountants are also increasingly playing more ‘proactive’ risk reduction roles by designing and performing extended procedures as part of the statutory audit, acting as advisors to audit committees, and assisting in investment analyst research. While majority of CAs have excellent analytical skills, they need to acknowledge that ‘forensic’ services require ‘specialized’ training as well as real-life ‘practical’ corporate experience.

References:

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2.      Black law Dictionary (1997). 5th Edition

3.      Bologna J. and Lindquist, R. (1995). Fraud Auditing and Forensic Accounting, New York, Wiley and Sons

4.      Brink, V. Z. (1996). Modern Internal Auditing: An Operational Approach, New York, the Ronal Press Company

5.      Eze, J.C. (2005). Principles and Practices of Auditing; Enugu, J.T.C Publishers

6.      Michael, B. (2004). Forensic Accounting: Its Positively Ancient, Rosenfrab, M & K Publisher.

7.      Oliver, R. (2004). What is Transparency? New York, McGraw-Hill

8.      Arnoff, N.B and Sue, C.J. (2001). ‘‘Forensic Accountant’s Role and Expert before and during Trial’’ New York Journal, 226

9.      Courlber, J.L. (2004). ‘‘Forensic Accountants: The Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOA), and Audit Standards’’ The Forensic Examiner, Vol. 13, No. 2.

10.  Dandago K.I. (1997). ‘‘Fraud Detection and Control at Local Government Level’’ Journal of the Association of National Accountant of Nigeria, Vol. 7, No. 4

11.  Houck M., Kranacher, M., Moris B., and Robertson, J. (2006). ‘‘Forensic Accounting as an Investigative Tool: Developing and Model Curriculum for Fraud and Forensic Accounting (ethnics)’’ The CPA Journal, Vol. 12, No. 5

12.  Jenfa, B.I. (2002). ‘‘Internal Control and Fraud Prevention: Accountant perspective’’ Journal of ANAN, Vol. 10, No. 4

13.  Krell, E. (2002). ‘‘Will Forensic Accounting go Mainstream?’’ Business Finance Journal, October Vol. 8. No. 5

14.  Nurudeen, A.A. (2006). ‘‘Role of the Accountancy Profession in Tacking Fraud’’ Journal of ANAN, Vol. 10, No. 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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