Even in the business world, such mischief is not uncommon—and it’s up to crime-fighting CPAs to sniff it out. Here are a few of the jobs you can find working for the good guys:
Forensic Accountant. Love to solve mysteries? As a forensic accountant, you’d be called in on legal investigations involving finances to help figure things out. You might study a trail of electronic transactions to prove or disprove fraud, help with witness interviews and review documents and electronic records for suspect information. You may even be asked to testify. The legal team would use your findings to help make their case.
Financial Auditor. In this gig, you’d also be a detective of sorts. You’d conduct reviews of financial statements and decide whether the information is consistent with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Should you find something not quite right, you could catch a potential criminal in the act.
You can begin work in auditing straight out of college while you work toward your CPA license. Many accounting firms and companies hire auditors, including the Big 4 firms.
FBI Agent. According to thesite, there are only five entry programs through which someone can become an FBI special agent, and accounting is one of them. As an FBI agent, you could investigate white-collar and financial crimes, including bank fraud, health care fraud and corporate fraud. You could also join the terrorism-financing unit, pursuing money trails that help fund terrorists and drug cartels. To solve crimes, you’d analyze complex financial statements, trace financial records or decipher complicated money-laundering transactions. You may also go undercover on some cases.
To become a successful crime-stopping CPA, you’ll need problem-solving and research skills as well as financial experience, especially a thorough knowledge of correct accounting procedures. In college, you may consider taking courses in criminal justice or law enforcement in addition to accounting. Post-college, you’ll be an even better candidate for the job once you pass the exam and get your CPA license.
In 8th grade, Elaine Leggett decided she should become a CPA, but for the wrong reason.
Elaine loved math and assumed that CPAs worked with numbers all day. “I did not know until my junior year of college that accountants are extremely analytical and that it’s more important to score better on the verbal section of the SAT than the math section to be a successful accountant,” Elaine says. “Luckily, I blindly made the perfect career choice.”
As a CPA, Elaine has held a variety of different jobs. She’s worked in a small office that operated like a small firm, in a mid-sized local firm doing consulting and as an accounting recruiter.
Now she’s with the American Institute of CPAs, where she spends a lot of her day working with forensic accountants. “In today's market place, the public is seeing this area as the 'hottest' job to have. And rightfully so,” Elaine says. Forensic accountants work on “large corporate breakups, murder cases, as FBI agents fighting organized crime and high profile divorce cases, just to name a few.”
Even though Elaine’s choice to become a CPA was because she bought into the stereotype, she knows now that CPAs can do almost anything they want. “Being a CPA will open any door you choose, even doors you cannot imaging while you are in school,” she says. “CPAs can drive the direction of their career down any path they choose, work in any industry, any size business. Accounting is a profession that is in demand and is not going away.”
“Accounting is a profession that is in demand and is not going away.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 15
BEST JOB: Current job
WORST JOB: Retail - I lasted eight hours one summer
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Watching college sports, beach trips
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “The only thing in the world you have the ability to change is your own actions. You create your own destiny.”
Meet FBI Special Agent Bob Herndon. If you don’t recognize him, just look for the CPA strapped with a .40-caliber pistol and a pair of handcuffs dangling from his waist.
Bob is currently in charge of investigating white-collar crime for the Kansas City Field Office of the FBI. Even in high school, he knew he wanted to be an FBI agent. He also knew that the FBI looks for people who have sharpened their thinking with challenging degree programs like accounting. He figured that even if he didn’t make it as a special agent, an accounting degree was a solid foundation for his professional life.
Of course, he made it into the FBI program. And he hasn’t had a normal day since. “I’ve worked on organized crime, drugs, public corruption, foreign counterintelligence and white collar crime,” Bob says. “I even spent three years undercover, living under a different name. As a Special Agent of the FBI, I do not have a daily routine.”
One day Bob could be conducting surveillance on a dangerous subject in jeans and a t-shirt, and the next he’ll be wearing a suit and tie to a meeting with the president of a Fortune 500 company. “Being a CPA will offer you job security, financial well-being, opportunities to travel around the world, and great relationships with grounded co-workers – interesting people who like to have fun, travel, and are in a position to buy cool stuff,” Bob says.
Sound like a movie? It is. The Informant, starring Matt Damon and released in October of 2009, is about a criminal case Bob played a central role in solving.
“I've worked on organized crime, drugs, public corruption, foreign counterintelligence and white collar crime.”
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Marathon runner, avid reader, head coach of his son’s baseball team
Michael Hietter has worked hard for years to earn his title – “Third-Funniest Accountant in Florida.”
Whether he’s doing stand-up comedy (check out his picture from the 2008 South's Funniest Accountant contest), playing rugby or racing his Honda S2000 in weekend autocrosses, Michael basically makes a joke out of the traditional numbers-guy stereotype. And while people in the audience are thinking, “CPAs just don’t do stuff like that,” to Michael it all makes perfect sense.
His life philosophy is based on “learning as many new things as you can,” and Michael’s CPA credentials come in mighty handy. “I often do not know what will come to my desk each day. I could be helping a business with its balance sheet in the morning, when a lawsuit over a patent could come my way in the afternoon. That’s when I start calculating how much profit someone may have lost because someone else stole their idea.
Or he might find himself assessing a claim over a collapsed warehouse, helping decide on whether the property owners deserve the $14 million they’re asking for. It’s no walk in the park, but it sure isn’t boring.
How does Michael keep a light attitude when dealing with such heavy issues? A little humor always helps. And a rich assortment of extracurricular activities certainly helps keep things in perspective.
“Success is what you make of it. Don't have a picture in your mind of what life should be like. Like they say, ‘Life is what happens while you are making other plans.’” Pretty deep for a funny guy.
“Success is what you make of it.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 27
BEST JOB: Personal Property Auditor for a Georgia county
WORST JOB: Busboy in a Mexican Restaurant
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Singing/Songwriting, Stand-Up Comedy, Autocross
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Ad Hoc, Ad Loc, Quid Pro Quo. So little time, So much to know!"
Becoming a CPA is great for people who like having lots of options, but Emily Flinn would say that sometimes you have to narrow down your options just to get there in the first place.
“I wish I could say I always knew that I wanted to be a CPA,” she admits. “I started college having no idea what I wanted to do. I jumped from major to major until I took my first accounting class.”
A great professor and a knack for the course material convinced her that the CPA path was for her, and from there it was just a matter of doing the work. She studied hard in her classes, which helped her pass the CPA exam. Now she’s back to having lots of options again – as a forensic accountant, tomorrow’s assignment is anyone’s guess.
Like all forensic accountants, her work all has a common set of goals – assisting in investigations, helping form legal opinions, and uncovering the truth. But that can mean almost any day-to-day activity for Emily. “Some days I'm reviewing documents, attending depositions, going to trial…” she says. “My day’s always changing.” Her spare time is just as variety-packed: Emily runs marathons, goes golfing, plays tennis and teaches Pilates classes.
“What I like most about my job,” she says, and this surely applies to her life as well, “is that if I don't like what I'm working on today, I don't have to worry because there will be something new tomorrow.”
The options are wide open – just the way Emily likes it.
“If I don't like what I'm working on today, I don't have to worry because there will be something new tomorrow.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 8
BEST JOB: They’re all good - every day brings a new challenge
WORST JOB: Being buried under documents
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Golf, tennis, running
PETS: A pug named Sparky
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Set realistic goals and work hard to achieve them!"
Dan Dehner thinks CPAs need to set things straight. “To this day, most people ask me about doing taxes,” he says, “and when I tell them what I actually do they’re fascinated.” He believes that if more people knew what CPAs really do, they’d look at the profession in a new light.
Dan took to accounting in college, where he realized that an accounting career would open doors. “I learned that a career in accounting would open many doors” he says. “Most young people who want to be in business don’t know what discipline they are truly interested in. Starting in accounting will expose you to every aspect of how a business operates, giving you the best opportunity to discover who you are as a person and a professional.”
Dan started at one of the Big 4 accounting firms, where he was exposed to all types of industries and companies. From there, he moved to a smaller forensic accounting firm, where he’s able to combine the skills of an auditor and a trained investigator. “Every day in forensic accounting is different,” he says. “That’s because every investigation is unique. Some days I’ll be at a client site, digging into their financial information, and others I’ll be working with our team here in the office to solve complex fraud-related issues. There’s never a dull moment.”
“I help clients through really difficult periods – usually fraud investigations,” he says. “My work as a CPA is extremely rewarding” (and it’s not at all what most people think). “What I really love about my job is the opportunity to give back to students and other young professionals, to help inspire the next generation of CPAs. I had great mentors that helped me get to this point.” Dan hopes he can do the same for someone else.
“What I really love about my job is the opportunity to give back to students and other young professionals.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 11
BEST JOB: Caddy at a golf club
WORST JOB: Retail (Abercrombie)
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Golf, skiing, travel
PETS: Pomeranian/Maltese named Bella
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "No matter how hard it gets, stick your chest out, keep your head up and handle it."
As a CPA focused on financial forensics and valuation in Brooklyn, NY, Roman Matatov doesn’t just hope for interesting days at work – he expects them. That’s because his work often throws him into the middle of complex lawsuits. “On any particular day, I could be interviewing someone’s spouse to find out if they have any ‘hidden’ income or assets as part of a divorce,” he says. “Or I could be searching for insider transactions in a bankruptcy proceeding. You never know.”
It all comes with the territory of being a forensic accountant. “To paraphrase one of my mentors,” he says, “most litigation is about money, and any time money is at stake, you need a forensic accountant.” Roman says his mentors have been one of the best parts of the job, and after learning so much from others, he’s giving back as a teacher in his spare time. He’s an adjunct professor and teaches a graduate-level course on forensic accounting at Baruch College.
Roman says that anyone wondering where a career as a CPA can lead should just think of anything that excites them. “As a CPA you are trusted to lead a business that makes that thing or delivers that service you’re excited about,” he says. “You’ll stay excited about the life you lead and the work you do.”
“As a CPA you are trusted to lead a business.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 7
BEST JOB: Manager - Forensics
WORST JOB: Door-to-door sales
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Films, teaching
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Embrace your mistakes and errors. They are usually your best teachers."
When companies are involved in an accounting dispute, they look to Eric Holzman to get to the bottom of things.
And when beer-lovers are investigating new beers, they visit Eric’s blog.
By day, Eric is a senior manager for Veris Consulting, an accounting firm that specializes in uncovering fraud and settling corporate disputes. By night, he’s a home brewer and writes a blog about all things beer.
For Eric, it’s all about the people he meets along the way. “Forensic accounting allows you to work with professionals from all types of industries like engineering, economics and law” he says. “And with my interest in brewing, I get to meet people from all over the brewing industry. My wife and I travel all over the US to research new beers and meet the people who make them.”
Eric advises anyone who is self-motivated and enjoys solving complex problems to consider becoming a CPA. “You’re constantly faced with new challenges in this career,” he says. “And people who can think creatively will be rewarded.” Take it from a guy who knows how to fill his spare time. He must be doing something right.
“Forensic accounting allows you to work with professionals from all types of industries like engineering, economics and law.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 9
BEST JOB: Veris Consulting
WORST JOB: Moving company (in college)
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Homebrewing, cycling, playing guitar
Casey Mangano has seen her share of fraud.
When she was a college student at Miami University, she saw several major corporate scandals. “They had a serious impact on people’s finances, and created a greater need for accountants,” she says. “That’s why I chose accounting as my major – it’s a versatile career, and one that’s in demand.”
After school, she became a forensic accountant for KPMG where her job was to sniff out accounting fraud. Casey chose a unique niche in the accounting field. Being a forensic accountant is a little like being a detective – and the job changes constantly. “One day I could help a client with a major fraud investigation, and the next I could travel overseas to analyze a company for corrupt practices,” she says. Wherever there was a hint of corruption, Casey was on the scene.
After a few years in forensics, Casey decided to try a different side of accounting. She wanted something with a little more flexibility. “Every day is a new adventure,” she says. Now she works primarily with public sector, higher education and not-for-profit clients. “We help these clients with their end-to-end business processes, including assessing their current state business processes, identifying their future state (where they want to be) and coming up with a plan and recommendations on how to get them to their future state,” she says.
Who knows what her next move will be? One thing’s certain, she knows that being a CPA means constantly having a variety of job choices and always being in demand. “Regardless of the economy, CPAs will always be necessary, and the profession is very secure. There will be a constant need for CPAs to determine the reasonableness of financial information.”
“There will be a constant need for CPAs to determine the reasonableness of financial information.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 8
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Volunteering with the Indiana Sports Corporation, running, tennis, softball, reading, going to the movies
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Life is too short. Do what you love."
When you think of going undercover in the FBI, running an undercover CPA firm probably isn’t the first thing you think of. But that’s exactly what Ron Durkin did, fake name and all. He was also a member of the FBI SWAT team and was even involved in three shooting incidents. “I had exciting times there for sure,” he says.
Ron’s work today is just as exciting to him. He runs his own forensic accounting firm. “I love solving problems for our clients,” he says. “And these problems usually involve some sort of fraud or misconduct. A lot of our clients are victims of fraud and need someone to help them – or they’ve been accused of fraud and need help defending themselves.”
Ron says that forensic accounting is a great field for anyone just starting their CPA career. “Today it’s the most exciting practice area in accounting,” he says, “and it’s a potentially lucrative career choice.” Maybe best of all, it’s a choice that’s allowed Ron to use his real name.
Well, as far as we know, that is.
“A lot of our clients are victims of fraud and need someone to help them.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 37
BEST JOB: Special Agent for the FBI
WORST JOB: Washing dishes in a bowling alley
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Working out, golfing
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Be a leader, a giver and a doer."