Forensic accounting is the integration of accounting, investigative and analytical skills so as to resolve financial issues and provide litigation support where necessary. The forensic accountants should therefore be able to integrate their accounting, auditing and investigative skills in providing an analysis suitable for criminal investigations involving fraud in the financial or insurance sectors. This paper discusses the skills needed in a forensic accountant, the legal roles of the forensic accountant in the court room and in providing their services to the businesses organizations.
Forensic Accounting Skills
Forensic accountants require training in various skills so as to be able to deal with the situations effectively. Some of the skills needed by a forensic accountant include the accounting skills, analytical skills, investigative skills, computer skills, litigation skills and communication skills.
Accounting skills is very significant to these professionals. Such skills equip them in their evaluations, analysis and reporting of the findings. Their understanding on issues such as the ratio analysis, effects of debit and credits on account balances, analysis of the over and understatements and the knowledge of the ‘Generally Accepted Accounting Principles’ (GAAPs) is very critical in detection of fraud schemes and the manipulation on any financial statement (Kranacher, Riley & Wells, 2010).
Investigative skills would be important to the forensic accountants since they have to collect information especially the audited financial reports from the financial auditors. The investigative skills help the accountants in gathering evidences needed. In criminal cases for example, the accountants investigate the evidence based on motive, opportunity and the benefit of such fraud. This is to say that the accountants must then have the full understanding of what viable evidence is (Singleton & Singleton, 2010). Lack of proper knowledge of evidence and the investigative skills may render evidence inadmissible in a competent court of law.
The forensic accountant should be well endowed with analytical skills. This enables them to effectively perform their role involving manipulation of whatever information gathered especially in the crime scenes so as to reach a solution by simplifying the rather complex problems. Singleton & Singleton (2010) cites that the interpretations should be viewed from all aspects so as to ensure the information fits the test of a business reality.
The litigation support skill is also essential in terms of the assistance that the forensic accountants provide to the attorneys in the prosecution or defending a case in the court of law (Singleton & Singleton, 2010). This skill is specifically important to any business organization in terms of quantifying the economic losses that may arise, for example, as a result of a breach of a legal contract. Additionally, they have the ability to carry out activities such as the valuation of the losses and damages and accurately interpret the findings before relaying the same information professionally. These accountants are able to calculate the losses in many contexts including lost earnings, lost profits, lost business or physical loss of a given property (Silverstone, 2012).
The forensic accountants must be very competent in computer skills. The accountants use their computer software knowledge to analyze evidences. Silverstone (2012) cites that the accountants use the computer applications to preserve and recover electronic information for evidence purposes. They may also use electronic discovery for litigation purposes. This skill is important in the businesses since the business transactions are often completed electronically and most of the financial statements have the electronic format (Silverstone, 2012).
The forensic accountants’ communication skill is very significant. These accountants have to present their analyzed findings and conclusions in a simplified and comprehensible manner. Therefore, forensic accountants should be very competent and well endowed with report writing skills. The skill is also important to businesses since it enables the employees to carry out effective interviews pertaining to the fraud investigations. The accountants are supposed to be competent in both oral and written language, have good interpersonal and listening skills and be able to simplify the issues at hand making them more comprehensible (Singleton & Singleton, 2010).
Roles of the Forensic Accountant in the Court
One of the roles of the forensic accountants in the court is assisting the attorneys in the litigation process, specifically the civil litigation. The accountants help the jury in a number of cases such as testifying in the court as an expert and other supports including preparation of the evidences to be used in the court (Singleton & Singleton, 2010). The forensic accountants are always independent professionals who stand for and render trustworthy and unbiased opinions. For this reason, they assist in evaluating the evidences presented in the court of law to establish their viability and admissibility. According to Kranacher et al (2010), the forensic accountants ensure that the conclusions are grounded in the evidences.
In testifying in the court, the accountants are evaluated professionally by the jury to test their competence. They may be used by the defendants or the plaintiffs in a given case. In all situations, the testifying expert witness participates in the cross-examination taking care of the moves and goals of the opposing lawyer. Kranacher et al (2010) cites that the forensic accountant may also educate the jury or the judge on the possible schemes to be utilized by the opposing lawyer. Generally, the accountants come in handy in the court room in case the damages are hard to prove. They utilize their knowledge on economic damage calculations to review and refute the damage calculations presented by the opposing party (Silverstone, 2012).
Being that accountants are professionals, they make use of such skills in interpretation and analysis of the accounting jargons in cases which proper interpretation of an accounting or contract information is required in the court. For example, the terms of a given contract may be complex to be understood in the court by the judges. Therefore, the forensic accountants may perform such roles especially during the depositions (Kranacher et al, 2010). Besides, the interpretation of the jargons, the presence of these accountants may also be helpful to the attorneys in terms of analyzing the development of the case and formulation of the cross-examination questions.
The forensic accountants may play a role in managing and organizing of the databases that appertains to a specific case in the court. According to Silverstone (2012), the forensic accountants are able to use computer applications in preservation of information for evidence purposes. In some situations the information and documents may be bulky and thus it necessitates the use of the databases to manage such information. In such situations the forensic accountants play an important role in the court in assisting the attorneys to gather the facts, organize them and summarize for simple understanding. They may also assist in the initial discovery of the relevant information pertaining to a particular case by the use of electronic discovery for the litigation process (Silverstone, 2012).
Legal Responsibility of the Forensic Accountants’ Services
One of the key legal responsibilities of the forensic accountants in providing services to the business is the investigation of fraud. These professionals actively engage in criminal investigations, interviews, writing of reports and may also testify in the courts as an expert witness on behalf of the business organization (Singleton & Singleton, 2010). In most cases, the forensic accountants would appear in the crime scenes later than the fraud auditors. Their main aim in such situations is to simplify any complex financial and numerical data to a level that can be easily understood by lay persons (Singleton & Singleton, 2010).
The responsibilities may be either proactive or reactive. For example, an accountant may be retained by an organization so as to proactively evaluate its systems of internal controls and financial policies (Silverstone, 2012). However, in some cases, as earlier mentioned, they may render reactive services after the fraud. In the latter case, the forensic accountants investigate and determine what happened, the involved persons and how the scheme was launched.
The forensic accountants may conduct business valuation. In case of a dispute by the shareholders or a need for divorce, the forensic accountant has a legal responsibility to carry out the valuation of the business so as to ensure fair distribution of the assets or the profits in accordance with the business practice and or the measurement methods agreed on by the parties (Silverstone, 2012).
The forensic accountants may also be involved in the legal interpretation of contracts and the breach of the contracts. The breach of contract often ends up with a lawsuit in a competent court of law. These professionals have to ensure that there was breach of the contract on behalf of the business taking into consideration the basic elements such as the foreseebility, the proximate cause and reasonable certainty. The reports done by the forensic accountants are very important in the resolution of the case in the court since they detail the findings of the investigation (Kranacher et al, 2010).
While providing their services, forensic accountants have a responsibility to defend their organization or the business against claims of bankruptcy, insolvency or damages. Silverstone (2012) cites that these professionals may be retained by the plaintiff or the defendant to advocate for justice. Their knowledge on economic damages is instrumental in the proof of the causations and the effective damages. Besides, these professionals are very competent in the calculation of losses in the contexts of earnings, profits, lost business and the physical property losses. They also advice the organization or the business in a bid to refute any of the claims advanced on the damages or insurance clams (Silverstone, 2012).
The knowledge of the forensic accountants on financial analysis reveals any misrepresentations in the financial statements of the business. They are able to identify the improprieties such as the overstatements or the understatements and any other accounting principles (GAAP) that may have been violated. Furthermore, during the investigations on issues pertaining to financial statement misrepresentations or in carrying out the financial auditing, they compile reports. Such reports may be used in the court of law in filing of a lawsuit against the employees involved in such frauds. In this case, these professionals engage in deep gathering of the forensic evidences (Singleton & Singleton, 2010).
Cases in which Forensic Accountants provided Vital Evidences
The forensic accountants experts have been engaged in various cases especially those that involve retrieval or discovery of electronic information. For example, the case of Go2Net Inc. v. CI Host Inc., in which after the discovery commenced in a suit to collect payments due under a contract, the parties exchanged the document requests. However, the plaintiff provided only part of the documents since one of the servers had crashed and was being rebuilt and so the plaintiff was to submit the remaining document on a later date. The jury granted a verdict in favor of the plaintiff despite the appeal by the defendant that the plaintiff used “newly discovered evidence.” In this case the appellate court ruled that the email messages were not newly discovered (Lange & Nimsger, 2004).
The forensic accountants can also present evidences in the cases of investigation of a white-collar crimes. An example is the case of Daniels v. Daniels in which the married couples were the directors and majority shareholders in a company. In this case, the company bought a piece of land costing ?4,250 but later sold the same land at the same price to the female director. The female director subsequently sold it for ?120,000. In this case, the investigations and evidences were admissible in the court of law and they were charged of fraud (Jentz, Miller& Cross, 2010).
Role of the Forensic Accountant in the Cases
In the first case involving Go2Net Inc. v. CI Host Inc., the forensic accountants applied their knowledge of the computer application in establishing the authenticity of the retrieved messages via the electronic re-discovery. Their professional skills and competence in computer assist the jury in their verdict in such cases that involve the electronic evidence re-discovery. However, in the second case the major role involves investigation of the schemes and establishing the facts about the entire fraud. In investigations, the forensic accountants carry out interviews and compile reports to prove their evidences.
The forensic accountant has a number of roles to play in various fields such as in the court, in businesses and other organizations. In these cases, the forensic accountants are supposed to be endowed with various skills such as investigative skill, analytical skills, communication skills, litigation skills and computer skills. It is such skills that enable them to be of value for example to the court to carry out criminal investigations and table evidences that are admissible in any competent court of law. However, it is imperative that the forensic accountants remain objective, truthful and unbiased in their noble profession.