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What's it really like to be a forensic accountant? Navigant checks in

Forensic accounting is a combination of accounting, auditing, and investigative skills, all used to probe the financial records of individuals and businesses. But what, exactly, does that mean? And what, exactly, does a forensic accountant really do on a day-to-day basis?

We asked Jodie Wolkoff, associate director of disputes and investigations at Navigant, for answers.

Can you tell me how does the CA designation provide you with the skills necessary to get into forensic accounting?

I think the CA designation teaches students'people going through the program'how to think with a sceptical mindset and use judgement. It also provide young CAs with a knowledge and understanding of business processes and accounting systems, which are very important when you get into forensic accounting. 

And how does the CA designation train young accountants to enter the niche of forensic accounting? How did you enter that field?

So, once I completed my audit training'my required hours'I worked with a large firm and was given the opportunity to work within the forensic accounting group and was given exposure to some of their files.

And how did your CA designation prepare you for that, and support you in excelling in that niche?

I think it really gave me a good understanding of business processes and accounting systems, learning how to ask the right questions from clients to solicit the information I need to'in a certain sense'to conduct an audit. But a forensic audit is a more detailed audit than a financial statement audit. It's a step up, I'd say, from an audit in the sense of getting deeper information. It gave me an understanding of working in teams.

What's the day in the life of a forensic accountant?

It's hard to answer this question because every day is different. I would say [that] in the life of a forensic accountant, cases that we work on differ. Different facts, different cases. A day could be reviewing numerous documents, I'd say.

Maybe it's easier to ask what a week in the life's like, then.

With any case, we start off with a planning process'understanding the facts, figuring out who's the appropriate team  approach the matter, putting the team together, and then really starting to dig in to whatever it is we're required to do, whether it's reviewing key documents, pulling together financial information, conducting research, interviewing key people to the case at hand, and then putting it all together in a way that would make sense and be helpful to our clients, whether that would be a lawyer or a corporation or ultimately a judge in the matter.

And who are your clients? Who usually instigates these investigations?

There is no "usual." Again, it can come from a variety of sources. Typically what is needed on the case is an independent expert on the case who understands accounting as well as the law and is able to provide expert evidence and possibly testimony depending on what the matter is at hand that needs to be done.

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