A forensic accountant has to combine the roles of detective, examiner and witness in cases ranging from corporate fraud to personal injury claims, and as the financial regulation landscape intensifies, demand for forensic accountants is growing.
Samantha Perkin is an accountant at Matrix Forensic Accounting and Investigations, a firm that helps clients resolve legal disputes by analysing complex financial data. In our interview, she highlights the need to spot tiny details in a big pictures, the challenge of preparing lengthy and detailed reports, and the importance of ethics and impartiality in her profession.
What led you to a career as a forensic accountant?
I qualified as an accounting technician in 2008, and have worked as part of the Matrix Forensic Accounting team for five years now. I met Shaun Walbridge, managing director, when he gave a forensic accounting talk at AAT Cornwall while I was chair there. Shaun is a valuable mentor and taught me most of what I know about forensic accounting.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
No two forensic cases are ever the same, and what a day’s like depends on whether we’re working for the prosecution or the defence. But let’s say the police have supplied us with a backup of a computer owned by someone they think has committed fraudulent offences, for example. It’s our job to seek the critical documents used in preparing the accounts and pick out line by line what they’ve attempted to do. Sometimes we can see they’ve put a figure in as the opening and closing stock, but in the next sheet that figure’s changed, and that affects everything. We then look at whether there’s evidence anywhere else that would substantiate that change. Sometimes you can follow the logic through and sometimes you have to play the detective and go hunting for other information.
What are the main challenges and rewards associated with your role?
Most of us are drawn to accountancy because we like numeracy, but in forensic accounting, you find you’ve got to write really long, carefully-worded reports for everything. This isn’t a skill that accountants are naturally comfortable with. You’re not allowed to use lots of accounting terms because you have to remember the user of your report is somebody who doesn’t understand accounts.
Personally, I find working with the prosecution the most rewarding part. It’s fun working out the details of the case, following it through and knowing that you’ve done something productive to ensure that nobody falls victim to that crime by that person again. It’s definitely an exciting area of accountancy.
How much of your job involves dealing with courts and the legal system?
I take more of a backseat role while my colleague Shaun, who is a member of the Expert Witness Institute, mostly deals with the courts. I doubt that’s a luxury most forensic accountants get though! A critical part of the job is being able to stand in the witness box under cross-examination and communicate in a calm and concise way about where you’ve taken the numbers from and why you did so.
What unique aspects of the job do students need to prepare for?
People will be fascinated by what you do, but as you’ve a lot of sensitive information in your head you have to be careful not to breach confidentiality when answering questions. You also can’t express your personal views within the role. If we’re doing a prosecution case and find evidence that would help the defence, we disclose that too, whether or not we actually want to help them. Since we tend to take all our information from documents, though, our communications with any party are actually quite limited. It’s important we aren’t influenced by the opinions of others.
Ebony-Storm Halladay is editorial operations assistant at Flibl. She researches and writes about finance, business, sustainability and technology.