The choice of a forensic accountant for your case is an important one. There are over 20,000 forensic professionals in the US, and sifting through stacks of names and credentials can be overwhelming. While I cannot tell you which forensic specialist to call for your case, I can offer you a decision blueprint. I hope it can guide you as you think about your options!
Understand your options when it comes to expertise.
Not all forensic accountants come with the same set of specialties. There are certain core parts of training and exposure that they all share, but specifics and depth of experience will vary greatly depending on the professional.
Consider that there are three broad categories of skills that fall under the umbrella of forensic accounting. There are investigative accounting skills that are required for uncovering the facts of partner disputes or dealing with allegations of fraud. There are business valuation skills that are necessary to support a buy/sell agreement or a divorce process. Then there are economic damage calculation skills for cases that involve allegations of fraud or breach of contract. Be clear on the needs of your particular case, especially if it requires deep expertise – not just general knowledge.
Decipher those abbreviations
There is a variety of forensic accounting certifications, and certain professionals have more than one. Need some help making sense of that alphabet soup? Here is a quick cheat-sheet.
- The Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) designation is offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). The exam requires at least two years of applicable professional experience in internal auditing, criminology, fraud investigation, or loss prevention. There are four big subject areas covered by the exam: fraud prevention & deterrence, financial transactions & fraud schemes, investigation, and law.
- Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) is a designation offered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The exam for this certification is open to CPAs with at least 1,000 hours of experience in forensic accounting over the previous five years.
- Master Analyst in Financial Forensics (MAFF) is a designation awarded to professionals who pass the exam administered by the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NACVA). The exam covers many specialty areas including matrimonial litigation, business valuation, lost profits and more.
Assess the need for specialty skills.
Certain cases require that the forensic specialist have additional skills that are more unique than exposure to certain investigative techniques. Consider a case that involves documents in a foreign language: a forensic accountant who is fluent in that language can be a valuable asset. If a case involves a specific technology, you might seek out a professional who understands that technology and has expertise in forensics. Finding that needle in a haystack may well be worth the effort!
Choosing the right forensic accountant: due diligence steps for attorneys.
When it comes to selecting the right professional to support your case, begin with defining your needs first. Once you have narrowed down your search criteria, you can make the decision by following a simple checklist. Does the professional have the knowledge you need? Will he be an effective expert witness if necessary? Has he testified in the past?
I also recommend taking the extra step of getting references from other attorneys who have worked with that professional. It does add to the amount of legwork, but the extra effort has the potential to boost the value you get in return. A great-fit forensic accountant can go beyond analyzing data and reports by offering insights into the opposing expert’s position. You may also benefit from his or her advice and guidance on technical questions to ask during depositions. Remember that time spent on due diligence is always a good investment!