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Diffusion and Implementation of Forensic Accounting in Countries of Business Opacity

Introduction

The increasing awareness of financial crimes is growing the demand for forensic accountants to help detect illegal financial activity by companies, individuals, and organized crime rings. No matter how much fraud activities increase, there must always be an anti-fraud scheme to shield against it. To provide availability of balance and protection from illegal business acts is the main reason why Forensic Accounting (FA) exists.

With the pressing need for Forensic Accounting as a tool to fight fraud, this article studies its applicability in countries of opaque business practices, probes the accessible means that would help in introducing it to the culture, and spots the areas where it is radically needed especially in the countries of financial cloudiness and opacity. The results are based on quantitative and qualitative studies in Lebanon for being perceived as an opaque country, sharing the same characteristics that define nations with fraudulent financial behaviour suffering from a high level of financial corruption such as money laundering, lack of transparency or adequate financial disclosures as well as corruption at the level of management, supervisory boards and even governments themselves.

The results of the studies reveal that Forensic Accounting is perceived as a means to overcome fraudulent behaviour. Most of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed on the need to incorporate it in order to prevent fraud and for detection purposes as a primary need. However, the respondents considered this to be new in Lebanon with a highest percentage of people (56.36%) reporting that it wasn’t used by Lebanese companies due to the lack of awareness, privacy issues, the nature and type of businesses (family businesses and SMEs), lack of guidance concerning the standards (local or international) that should be applied and lack for proper regulations. Yet respondents showed a positive attitude towards the implementation in Lebanon as financially corrupted country. Thus with such an encouraging perception amongst respondents, the issue remains in the introduction and diffusion of Forensic Accounting.

The outcomes of the studies also supported the idea of setting a law that mandates all sectors to submit a Forensic Accounting report. The idea of setting a law that enforces companies to file such a report was embraced by the majority of respondents who also considered that the best means of introducing this system in a country of opaque business country is through the educational curriculum via the graduate programs. DIFA (Diploma in Investigative & Forensic Accounting) as well as the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) were recommended as the certifications that should be granted in the corrupted countries as in the case of Lebanon.

Research Question and Hypotheses

The discussion of the study results are based on the research questions that investigated “To what extent is Forensic Accounting applicable? And how could it be introduced?” In order to answer these questions, there is a need to identify if such a scheme is known at any levels and sectors or if it is used or applied as a procedure by financially corrupted companies or governmental institutions.

The suggested hypotheses are analysed and evaluated according to the findings.

Hypothesis 1: Countries with Opaque Business Practices Need Forensic Accounting as a Tool to Fight Fraud and Corruption.

This study revealed that there is an eagerness to have Forensic Accounting in financially fraudulent countries due to the extensive corruptive acts that are committed and still are without any observation and punishment because the fraudster always gets away with it due to the absence the adequate and proper tool to identify and discover these acts. Hereby the urgent need to introduce it in countries with opaque business practices and to create awareness about this procedure in different fields and sectors mainly in the financial fields and governmental sectors.

This anti-fraud scheme was regarded as an appropriate tool to fight corruption since it has the legal accessibility and techniques needed to reveal fraud. An additional point is the positive perception towards it and the high acceptance to implement it in financially opaque countries, with a lot of encouragement to use it in institutions or companies.

Hypothesis 2: Forensic Accounting is Not a Common Practice at Present.

The findings indicate that Forensic Accounting is known in the countries of business opacity such as Lebanon, by practitioner accountants, educators, and auditing & accounting firms. Despite that the survey and interviews’ results proved that this practice is known, it is not commonly used or practiced by audit firms since it is not frequently requested.

On the educational level, there is no emphasis on the subject in the educational systems. FA is not given as a course or as part of a course in universities’ curriculum. Moreover, there are no certifications specialized in this field such as DIFA, but there are other well-known accounting certifications, such as CPA.

Therefore, what can be concluded is that there are no auditors or accountants, who are expert in this anti-fraud field in the countries where fraudulent business practices prevail. These countries lack the skills that could be acquired from the educational background and from the experience gained from working in this field.

The governmental and legal sectors suffer from a total absence of Forensic Accounting. That being the case, there is no regulation that imposes its use in solving financial issues or in evaluating financial statements, and there is no law that distinguishes the testimony of Forensic accountants from the testimony of any other audit. Forensic accountant in financially corrupted countries has no privilege on the credibility level inside courts, he/she is not used as an expert or reference inside courts.

Hypothesis 3: Different Means to Introduce Forensic Accounting in Countries with Opaque Business Practices

Respondents, as the results show, were very positive regarding introducing Forensic Accounting in countries with opaque business practices and they suggested many ways to be effectively executed in order to provide a good implementation of this new tool.

The suggested means involved many solutions and targeted different sectors. It even targeted the psychological factor, which was developed by cultural and social aspects, and which could play a major role in making the change to fight corruption and fraud in the financially corrupted countries.

Results and Discussion

Main changes should be performed to introduce Forensic Accounting in countries with opaque business practices. These changes must target four basic elements that would contribute in creating a solid ground and positive perception, the strategic plan includes:

I. Cultural & Sociological Changes:

“There Must Be a Change in the Culture of People in the Countries with Opaque Business Practices.”

The results of the conducted in-depth interviews showed that many respondents drew attention about the fact that the mentality of people in the countries with opaque business practices should be changed in order to increase the level of acceptance and consequently increase the commitment in applying Forensic Accounting.

The participants stressed on the importance to modify the culture of financially disrupted countries because they believe that having someone to look into their internal operations is a violation to their privacy. Besides, they don’t trust someone outside the company or institution to come and scrutinize their financials.

Another problem that exists in the mentality of people in the countries with opaque business practices is that the employees, managers or business owners feel unfairly paid and are stolen all the times by the government. For that reason, they believe that they have the right to steal back having the permissible excuse to commit fraud.

These facts that were expressed by the interviewees are also compatible with the findings of previous researches indicating that the cultural and sociological factors provide a solid platform for fraudulent activities, which created an acceptance for the corruptive acts that are considered as norms and justified practices in the societies of financially corrupted countries (Brownsberger, 1983; Adra, 2006; UN, 2001).

II. Changes in Educational Systems:

“Forensic Accounting Should Be Introduced in the Educational Sector.”

Almost all respondents conferred a high degree of importance for introducing Forensic Accounting in the educational sector in financially corrupted countries. Almost all respondents believed that it should be taught in universities as a course or a graduate major or as case studies in an audit related course. Suggestions also included considering it as a specialty in educational institutions that grant CPA or any other certifications related to auditing or accounting.

Respondents and interviewees also suggested introducing Forensic Accounting through workshops and seminars with the assistance of experts and skillful forensic accountants.

They also showed an acceptance for the online educational programs since DIFA is not available in most financially corrupted countries while it is available in USA. Therefore online education could shorten the distance to people who cannot leave work and are interested to be specialized in this field.

The participants also recommended that employees and managers who are responsible for the financials of the company should be educated and submitted to an intensive training to develop their skills to enable them to detect fraudulent activities within the company.

III. Changes in Governmental System:

“Forensic Accounting Should Be Introduced in the Governmental Sector.”

The National Integrity System Study, published by LTA in 2011, shows that corruption governs all sectors and all branches of financially corrupted governments. But in order to expose corruption and fraud there must be a tool or a law that could help to point out where these activities are occurring and a legal path to assure that this tool is effective.

Most of the participants in the study thought that it is important to introduce Forensic Accounting to governmental sector where the latter should give more attention and care about this subject, even though they didn’t give an importance to the governmental role in the introduction process.

They also recommended that the ministry of finance should launch an awareness campaign about the subject through media, road panels, and social media.

More importance is granted to the syndicate of accounting, whereby the participants believe that training sessions, workshops, and seminars should be set in order to train skillful forensic accountants who could practice Forensic Accounting, when it is requested. It is the role of the syndicate to spread awareness since it has the power, the knowledge, and the interest.

IV. Changes in Legal System:

“Forensic Accounting Should Be Introduced in the Legal Sectors.”

Respondents believe that Forensic Accounting should be introduced in the legal systems since the testimony of the forensic accountant is acknowledged in courts in other countries.

LTA (2011) highlighted on the importance to ensure that the current laws are sufficiently robust to prosecute even presidents and ministers when corruptive acts are revealed. There should be a law that acknowledge it is a legislative tool to fight corruption.

The participants also emphasized on the need of having court experts in this domain in the legal system since the fraudster is able to get away with his/her acts due to the difficulty to reveal the manipulation that happened, the associates, or the level of involvement in the fraudulent activities. The interviewees also stressed on the importance of changing the law to ensure a real punishment for the fraudster.

The necessity to track financial information and overcome opaque business practices is becoming a pressing need. Financial crimes are prevailing in different sectors in a single country and are committed by different parties. Another important point demonstrated in this study is that countries of opaque business practices tend to share similar characteristics that make them a magnet for fraudulent activities such as money laundering, tax avoidance/evasion and related corrupt workings are the products of some distant regimes and countries titles as tax havens.

Opaque business countries tend to have secrecy laws, poor regulations, artificial taxes, lack of public accountability and poor corporate governance in countries such as Luxembourg, Austria, Singapore, Switzerland and many others that in return facilitate economic uncertainty, instability, crime, flight of capital and damage to citizen-state contracts all over the world of course not to mention the damaging the social well-fare of the countries. Fraud has its roots in different government and companies mainly in managerial positions such as CEOs.

Conclusion

Financial crimes and fraudulent behavior is not new and citizens, though are aware of the disadvantages of the such practices, are not well informed about the counter measures that might otherwise put an end to these practices. This in turn highlights the importance of forensic accounting as a means to stop fraudulent practices. However, the adoption and implementation is not an easy process that can happen immediately. An understanding of the techniques can assist forensic accountants in identifying fraudulent behavior. It is “the application of accounting knowledge and investigative skills to identify and resolve legal issues. It is the science of using accounting as a tool to identify and develop proof of money flow. These tools and techniques can be invaluable for fraud and forensic accounting investigators” (Houck et al., 2006). Houck (2006) also talked about two major components, “litigation services that recognize the role of an accountant as an expert consultant, and investigative services that use a forensic accountant’s skills and may require possible courtroom testimony.” According to the definition developed by the AICPA’s Forensic and Litigation Services Committee, “forensic accounting may involve the application of special skills in accounting, auditing, finance, quantitative methods, the law, and research. It also requires investigative skills to collect, analyse, and evaluate financial evidence, as well as the ability to interpret and communicate findings.” In other words, it includes the different areas of litigation support, investigation, and dispute resolution and, therefore, is the intersection between accounting, investigation, and the law.

Fraud detection is a methodology and process to resolve the different types of fraud from embezzlement to money laundry, disposition, obtaining evidence, writing report and testifying. Therefore, forensic accountants who can apply such a process professionally and are able to detect, investigate and thus prevent fraud occurrence are needed.

However, the introduction and diffusion process requires work at the macro level via culture and the government and legislations (the primary facilitator) and at the micro level via educational institutions and management. It is the work of the entire community.

At first, the culture must be altered to create a higher level of awareness regarding Forensic Accounting. As the results of the quantitative research proved, people might be aware of it however they are unaware of the different practices, the required diplomas, or even the characteristics that make a person an eligible forensic accountant. The qualitative research also assures the results of the quantitative one regarding, but not limited to the need of having a law that requires companies to submit a Forensic Accounting report. Thus the need to change culture implies acquiring new knowledge, hence a change in values, norms, and practices. This concept implies that if a change is made in cultures of financially corrupted and opaque business practices, it will result in changes in the people’s practices, norms, and values, hence their behaviors; at the end, it will create an awareness and knowledge about fraud and how to fight it and the tools that could be used to inhibit it.

Governments should also strictly organize and control financial practices and set a law that mandates the submission of an FA report. It is worth mentioning, that according to the results of both quantitative and qualitative research, interviewees tend to view governments as the sector with the highest percentage of fraud. Educational institutions can have a great impact in the adoption and implementation process.

Interviewees viewed forensic accounting education as being relevant and beneficial to accounting students, the business community, the accounting profession, and accounting programs. It is not only restricted to university programs, there is also a specialized certificate that is concerned in this field, which is the Diploma in Investigative & Forensic Accounting (DIFA) program. DIFA is designed to provide a broad range of knowledge and skills to carry out financial investigations. Employee and management fraud, theft, embezzlement, and other financial crimes are increasing, therefore accounting and auditing personnel must have training and skills to recognize those crimes. In addition, high-visibility corporate scandals, such as Enron and WorldCom, demonstrate the need to better prepare entry-level accounting graduates and practicing CPAs in the areas of fraud prevention, deterrence, detection, investigation, and remediation (Houck et al., 2006).

Managements should also apply their own internal controls and to have a well-implemented corporate governance to control the falsified reporting. This, in addition to the mentioned law that requires the submission of a report to the government will definitely put an end to any fraud committed. For instance, terrorists of the September 11 attacks used the international banking system to fund their activities, transfer money, and hide their finances (Houck et al., 2006). This highlights the need to for investigators to understand how financial information can provide clues as to future threats. Due to these fraudulent practices, public awareness of fraud and forensic accounting came to highlight the need for financial professionals demonstrating the necessary training and skills to sense and act at any important evidence generated from financial information.

The following summarizes the results of the surveys done revealing the age group of the Lebanese respondents, their work experience, educational background, whether or not they heard about it and whether they consider it as vital in Lebanon being a country of business opacity. Also summarized is what respondents consider as the best way to introduce and implement Forensic Accounting in Lebanon.

Most respondents were Lebanese, aged between 18 and 30 years old, held a Master degree and worked in Finance with 6 years of experience and more. Most respondents also heard and read about forensic accounting but didn’t know if Lebanese companies use it, however, agreed on the importance of using it in Lebanon benefiting all the work fields, especially financial institutions. They also agreed about its positive advantages in providing better future, positive impact on business, and safer business.

Moreover, most respondents supported the idea of having a law that requires all sectors to submit an FA report. It’s important to mention that 75% of the respondents who didn’t encourage this action worked in the field of finance.

Furthermore, educational programs were considered as the best way to introduce Forensic Accounting (few have given a role to governmental efforts) believing in its ability to maintain its integrity, but not in all sectors. Respondents also agreed on the importance of the DIFA certification and that DIFA diploma should be included in Lebanese universities’ programs. Finally, most respondents thought the best means to acquire FA is to outsource audit firms that perform such services.

References

[1] Adra, J. (2006). Discussions About Corruption in Lebanon, personal communication.

[2] Brownsberger, W. N. (1983). Development and Governmental Corruption, the Journal of Modern African Studies, 21, 215-233.

[3] Houck, M., Kranacher, M., Morris, B., Riley Jr, R., Robertson, J., & Wells, J. (2006). Forensic accounting as an investigative tool. CPA Journal. Aug2006, Vol. 76 Issue 8, p68-70. 3p,

[4] The Lebanese Transparency Association (2009). Campaign Finance Monitoring from monitoring to reform.

[5] UN (2001). Corruption Assessment Report on Lebanon. United Nations Center for International Crime Prevention.

Importance of Forensic Accounting in Countries of Business Opacity: A Means to End Fraud

Introduction

When hearing about Enron, Conrad Black, Kimberly Rogers or WorldCom, one will definitely think about theft, bribery and fraud. The key word here is “fraud”; where many studies have been conducted about this subject. What is fraud and how is it detected and dealt with, and how is it possible to be protected from it? Such questions and their answers are key terms in the domain of forensic accounting, since fraud has played a major role in the existence of accounting, hence forensic accounting. Understanding fraud is necessary for those who want to understand what Forensic Accounting is, how it has come into the system, how it exactly deals with the issues we face, and to what degree it has helped in certain issues of fraud, or even in strengthening the accounting system in general (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2007).

Research has been conducted on fraud and has been given different definitions, all which come in line with one another. Other researches were done to highlight the job of internal controls in minimizing the chance of theft or misappropriation. However, little research was done on forensic accounting diffusion and proper implementation.

Fraud activities have been manipulating, stealing, and destroying many businesses and industries. To face such harmful trends, fraud examination has been created; and great efforts have been exerted to detect, investigate, and prevent similar acts from encountering. These preventions have shed lights on a new concept and practice known as “Forensic Accounting (FA)”, which has become a common notion to fight against fraud and similar unethical acts. No matter how much fraud activities increase, there must always be an anti-fraud scheme to shield against it. To provide availability of balance and protection is the main reason why FA existed.

Nonetheless, the legal, supervisory, and regulatory systems of financially corrupted countries create significant opportunities and tools for the laundering and protection of the proceeds of crime, and allow criminals who make use of those systems to significantly increase their chances to evade effective investigation or punishment. A country’s commitment to bank secrecy and the absence of certain key supervisory and enforcement mechanisms aimed at preventing and detecting money-laundering increase the possibility that transactions involving the country’s entities and accounts will be used for illegal purposes.

Since one of the most powerful tools used today is forensic accounting, it is advantageous to study its possible implementation in countries with business opacity, and to probe the essential methods needed to establish the implementation of this procedure in different sectors and at many levels. Therefore, in order to achieve these objectives, there is a need to investigate the following research question: “What are the conditions of possibility for implementing FA in a country characterized by an opaque financial sector?” More specifically, this research has two objectives:

1. To identify the best way to highlight the importance of using forensic accounting activity in order to clear the roads of the future of business activities; by learning from past mistakes such as Enron and WorldCom and by using other cases of financial fraud similar to the international ones.

2. To identify the way to diffuse and implement forensic accounting as a vital tool that, when used professionally, can greatly help fight against fraud activity.

Moreover, the gap is that forensic accounting is not known in many countries. FA is not so much spread in the world, it is only known in USA and some developed nations. The study is contributed in finding the best way to implement FA especially with the existing gap, with the objective of covering it mainly because it is so hard to implement forensic accounting especially that it is not diffused worldwide. The objective is to arrive at an answer to the research question and to show how forensic accounting can be implemented in the countries characterized by an opaque financial sector; the overall aim is to achieve this goal.

Literature Review

Different research has been conducted to define fraud including the types of fraud such as that of Gilbert (1997, p. 124) who defined “fraud” as: “an act using deceit such as intentional distortion of the truth of misrepresentation or concealment of a material fact to gain an unfair advantage over another in order to secure something of value or deprive another of a right. Fraud is grounds for setting aside a transaction at the option of the party prejudiced by it or for recovery of damages.”

Farrell & Healy (2000) revealed about fraud that is increasing worldwide and is becoming more costly to businesses every year as fraudsters use intricate methods to commit and cover their criminal acts. Consequences of fraud can vary from public morality corrosion, weakened faith in the organization, to loss in market valuation and confidence of stakeholders.

With the various definitions attributed to fraud, other research done highlighted the importance of having internal control that would limit the continuous fraudulent behaviors. External audits are also undertaken to ensure that internally instituted fraud control mechanisms are adequate in scope, effective in application and complied with. However, it is quite unfortunate to note that the complexity of the human brain and its dynamic method of reasoning have tremendously diversified present-day scams away from the hitherto known modes of fraudulent activities that now render true corporate governance ideals almost unworkable.

It is thus worth mentioning that in an attempt to prevent fraud, the Auditing Standard Board (ASB) in 2002 issued the Statements of Auditing Standard 99 (SAS 99) which introduced a “Fraud Triangle”. Fraud Triangle indicates that the probability of committing fraud is high in situations when managements or other employees have incentive or are under financial pressure, the conditions that provide opportunities for management or employees to commit fraud exists, or the ethical values or characteristics that cause management or employees to rationalize the fraudulent act exists (Maranjan, 2010).

Fraud can be detected and investigated to prevent the possible damages the activity can cause. So what advice would a forensic accountant give to a company suffering from fraud activity? A professional can list four things that can be done to mitigate the occurrence of fraud and they include fraud prevention, fraud detection, fraud investigation and follow-up legal action or resolution. The anti-fraud program of any company should focus on all four.

The past two decades have witnessed significant changes in the business environment including globalization, technological advances and now with reported high-profile financial scandals, ways to improve public trust and investor confidence in financial reports. Emerging regulatory, social, economic, ethical, and legal challenges facing the world of businesses contribute to an increasing demand for FA that encourages accounting.

A study done in October 2003 assures that the demand for an interest in FA will continue to increase in the future and more accounting programs are being planned to provide FA education, The business community and the accounting profession are deeply concerned with reported financial and accounting scandals. However, few to none research were conducted to study the proper diffusion and implementation of forensic accounting in the countries of opaque business practices.

Research Framework

Many factors in a country’s business mechanism contribute to the fraudulent behavior in the financial sectors. For instance, being considered as a tax haven country with banking secrecy regulations, money laundry activities and low corporate governance, fraudulent activities become easy to commit. All of this results in a national wide corruption triggering the need to introduce FA. However, due to the opaque financial nature of the country and prior to the introduction of FA, major changes has to be done to prepare the country for the diffusion and implementation of FA on both the macro and micro levels discussed earlier.

The causes for corruption of which several exist in most corrupted countries as it was previously noted, are attributed to the absence of dysfunctional key anti-corruption institutions, the lack of awareness on corruption, its causes, consequences and the weak legal framework and the absence of proper legal implementation mechanisms. Adding to these are the confessional and feudal mentalities, inefficiency of supervisory bodies, low salaries of public sector employees, political influences on the judiciary, the absence of civic education, foreign interference in domestic affairs, selective or lenient enforcement of the law, and the inefficient media. In other words, the factors contributing to the fraudulent business practices can be categorized under four notion; culture, education, management and government and legislation. Whether it is the lack of awareness regarding FA (culture and education) and the advantages it can bring, corrupt practices of management and the inefficiency of supervisory board or absence of a law that enforces FA (government and legislation), the four categories should be tackled to put an end to the continuous fraudulent acts.

For instance, the lack of whistle-blower protection laws prevented citizens from reporting on political corruption in the legislature or other sections of government. In the private and public sectors, the lack of an access to information law, a whistle-blowers’ protection law, conflict of interest law and other disclosure and transparency mechanisms is a major obstacle to integrity.

Results and Discussion

The literature review explained the different meaning of fraud, forensic accounting, and the characteristics of an opaque business country and how can FA help in limiting fraudulent behavior that is making it easy for money launderers to continue their illegitimate practices. Furthermore, FA can serve as a liberator for countries with opaque business practices such Luxembourg, Austria, Lebanon and many others, putting an end to all the business corruption taking place at the different sectors of the country, be it government or any other private or public sector. However, to reap the best results of FA, a proper diffusion and implementation process must take place that requires the work of the parties in a country, be it government itself, people’s view and awareness of FA on the cultural basis, the companies that must require from its employees to be aware of FA and to employ forensic accountants as well and universities and other academic institutions that bear on its ability to teach FA.

Countries with opaque business practices tend to share similar characteristics that justify the prevalence of fraudulent activities. As it was mentioned earlier, the factors that contribute to the fraudulent behavior in the financial sector can be categorized under four categories; culture, government and legislation (macro-level), management, and education (micro-level).

The importance of adopting forensic accounting is thus highlighted, however, the process of introduction is not an on the spot process. On the contrary, it requires time and effort in terms of shifting cultural awareness to realize the importance of FA. That being said, the government as a primary facilitator and the educational systems should take part in creating awareness and shifting cultural mentality towards FA. Managements must also educate employees on FA and to adopt it as part of its system.

A. Forensic Accounting in Culture

Koh et al., (2009) conducted a study to examine the acceptance level of the public in Malaysia regarding forensic accounting. The study revealed that problems arise from the fact that FA service is still new to most of the businesses and even to the public in Malaysia. This leads to confusion among the public and some may even be unaware of the existence of the system. Therefore, the importance of the service is disregarded (goes unnoticed).

Two variables affect the acceptance levels of the public for the practice of forensic accounting as the main tool in investigating a company’s account to detect fraud. The variables include the public’s understanding level on forensic accounting functions and the perception regarding the implementation of forensic accounting in the investigation. The understanding level of the public and the functioning of forensic accounting will determine whether the public in Malaysia will accept it as the main tool in investigating a company’s account in case of fraud. The perception of the public on the implementation of forensic accounting in the investigation of a company’s financial statement also determines the acceptance level of forensic accounting in the country.

This study shows the importance of two basic components that should be available to create a ground for forensic accounting implementation; these elements are awareness and knowledge of forensic accounting as an anti-fraud tool and the perception of implementing forensic accounting, whereby these two elements are considered as major factors for the level of acceptance of such tool.

In other words, if a change is made in cultures of financially corrupted and opaque business practices, it will result in changes in the people’s practices, norms, and values, hence their behaviors; at the end, it will create an awareness and knowledge about fraud and how to fight it and the tools that could be used to inhibit it. In addition, this process similarly applies to forensic accounting.

B. Forensic Accounting in Education:

Although there is a growing demand for fraud and forensic accounting globally, much of its advancement and adoption in the accounting curriculum in the universities are taking place in the developed economies. The adoption of forensic accounting into the universities accounting curriculum has a huge potential to enhance students’ skills and competencies and could be used as a veritable resource from which fraud could be mitigated.

Many cases reveal that those who commit fraud are not necessarily geniuses or have a creative mind. They are typical accountants who copy fraud schemes from the past. Therefore, the importance of the programs for fraud prevention/detection education and training is emphasized, and the question is raised about whether the business school at universities offers enough programs to educate accounting and auditing professionals for fraud prevention/detection.

Forensic Accounting is not only restricted to university programs, there is also a specialized certificate that is concerned with forensic accounting, which is the Diploma in Investigative & Forensic Accounting (DIFA) program. DIFA is designed to provide a broad range of knowledge and skills to carry out financial investigations. This range includes accounting, audit, income tax knowledge, fraud knowledge, knowledge of law and rules of evidence, an investigative mentality and critical skepticism, understanding of psychology and motivation, and strong communication skills.

The DIFA program focuses on knowledge and skills that can be best taught and examined in person: such as handling a face-to-face meeting with a client, interviewing skills, and testifying in court as an expert witness.

In conclusion, the base of forensic accounting is a knowledge in accounting, auditing, internal controls, risk assessment and fraud detection, a basic understanding of the legal environment since the legal environment is essential in order to support the litigation, acknowledging their competence, obtaining a diploma specialized in forensic accounting which could be given by educational institutions that grant certifications such as DIFA. These formal certificates can deepen the students’ knowledge and sharpen their skills in forensic accounting.

C. Forensic Accounting in Management:

Poor corporate governance will lead a certain individual or a group of people with the same interest to act upon it to commit fraudulent activities in the company. This can be reinforced by the fact that top-level management should follow the policies of the firm, which will help the company to perform better.

Even if a company applies good internal control systems, the management will still be the major factor influencing the implementation. Companies should look towards new approaches rather than follow the traditional approach, as forensic accounting may be the next best alternative in resolving problems.

Loebbecke and Willingham (1998) conclude that the probability of material financial misstatements due to fraud is a function of three factors. The factors include the degree to which those in authority in an entity have reason to commit management fraud, the degree to which conditions allow managerial fraud to be committed, and the extent to which those in authority have comply to ethical values that would facilitate fraud commitment. These three factors show that the management could simply commit fraudulent activities since the public including shareholders are unaware of the countermeasure to be taken to prevent financial crimes. It argues that there should be a set of guidelines created for the public and management to ensure that actions should be taken when financial fraudulent activities occur.

The main problem or issue is the constant misunderstanding of the role and responsibility of the auditor as the public expects auditors to detect financial asset misstatement or even fraudulent activities from the financial statements. This has been the long perception of what an auditor’s responsibilities are. Therefore, this perception should be regenerated and corrected. Auditors with forensic accounting background would be allotted as forensic accountants specifically to investigate the company’s financial statement. These people would be responsible for detecting financial misstatements. With the proper education given to the public, this perception of auditors could be enhanced.

D. Forensic Accounting in Government and Legislation:

Forensic accounting has played a major role in the improvement of detection, investigation, and representation of all cases at hand in law courts in judicial formalities.If companies wish to utilize information regarding a fraudulent activity in a court law, they may acquire the skills of forensic accountant because they can handle investigations in a way that is completely acceptable in a court of law.

Forensic accounting is the specialty practice area of accountancy that describes engagements resulting from actual or anticipated disputes or litigation. “Forensic” means “suitable for use in a court of law,” and it is to that standard and potential outcome that forensic accountants generally have to work. Forensic accountants often have to give expert evidence at the eventual trial.

Forensic accounting should be part of criminal investigation, for the matters relating to financial implications where the report of forensic accountants must be considered as evidence and proof to be presented in court trials.

Countries that established forensic accounting in their legal system, have forensic accountants who work with law enforcement and the district attorney’s office. Just as with other types of evidence, the prosecution obtains search warrants to locate financial information and compel knowledgeable people to conduct or hold interviews about the situation in question.

Forensic accountants can also provide litigation support. Attorneys engage the services of forensic accountants to review existing documentation and testimony and explain their financial significance. A forensic accountant can tell the attorney about the additional information needed to prove the case and questions to ask the witnesses. The forensic accountant may also review damaged reports and state whether the report was put together accurately and supports the case.

Government agencies like the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have forensic accountants to investigate everything from money laundering and identity-theft-related fraud to arson for profit and tax evasion. Law firms often use forensic accountants to help divorcees uncover their exes’ hidden assets.

Conclusion

This article deals with the importance of having an investigative system that would limit the frequent financial frauds and business opacity taking place worldwide. In this context, forensic accounting has been presented as a tool to inhibit the prevailing frauds, money laundry and theft. However, to the reap better results forensic accounting must be properly diffused and implemented with a great emphasis on enhancing public (cultural) awareness, attributing a major role to managements, education and governments/legislation.

For instance, the public may be unaware of the significance of forensic accounting and may lack the needed knowledge for implementing it in investigative matters. Thus, the need to incorporate forensic accounting in the culture of financially corrupted countries in order to create awareness of forensic accounting as an anti-fraud tool and the means of implementing it in the investigation of financial statements. This step can be handled by government and legislation as primary facilitators.

Furthermore, the importance of adopting forensic accounting in the universities’ accounting curriculum is highlighted especially that the demand for it is increasing gradually. Such adoption has a huge potential to enhance students’ skills and competencies and could be used as a veritable resource from which fraud could be mitigated. Fresh graduates can as well attain a diploma in Investigative & Forensic Accounting (DIFA) program that provides a broad range of knowledge and skills to carry out financial investigations.

As for managements, there is a need to develop a proper corporate governance and internal control systems in which those of high authority are held liable and responsible for any fraudulent and unethical misbehavior.

In sum, it is somehow a long process to start incorporating forensic accounting in academic curricula. A first step that needs to be established is creating awareness on ethical issues. As it was discussed, cultural shifts towards the importance of FA is must be maintained, governments, legislation, educational systems as well as managements should share their part in the diffusion and implementation of forensic accounting.

References

Farrell, B. R., & Healy, P. (2000). White Collar Crime: A Profile of the Perpetrator and an Evaluation of the Responsibilities for its Prevention and Detection.

Gilbert (1997), Law Dictionary, Harcourt Brace Legal and Professional Publications.

Kohl A. N., Arokiasamy L., Ah Suat C.L. (2009). Forensic Accounting: Public Acceptance towards Occurrence of Fraud Detection

Loebbecke, J.K, Eining, M.M. Willingham, J.J. (1989). Auditor’s experience with material Irregularities.

Maranjan, S. (2010). The surprising plaque killing retailer profits.

Introducing Diploma of Investigative and Forensic Accounting: A Case Study in Lebanon

DIFA, Diploma of Investigative and Forensic Accounting, is gaining acceptance due to its importance in facing corruptive business practices and financial theft. However, the absence of Forensic Accounting (FA) is still noticed in countries of opaque business practices. Furthermore, only few universities across the world are introducing DIFA, thus a major work has to be done to shed the light on the importance of the diploma in the first place and then offer it as an official diploma with courses relating to FA whether in universities or financial institutions.

The major concern lies in the fact that Forensic Accounting is neither provided in universities as a diploma, nor at financial institutions to detect fraud and make legal court reports. In many universities of Canada and the United States, the DIFA, is being included in the curriculum in order to recruit new students and provide skills set for career advancement through development of a specialized niche. One of the objectives of the Alliance for Excellence in Investigative and Forensic Accounting (Alliance), established by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA), is to develop and manage a specialist certification program. This diploma is designed as a comprehensive program for someone who wishes to practice in this area. CPA, CFA, CIA are examples of certificates granted in Lebanon, however, no diploma is available related to Forensic Accounting. Therefore, it could be a diploma given in educational institutions that grant CPA or any other certification related to auditing or accounting.

Furthermore, the importance of adopting FA in the universities’ accounting curriculum is highlighted especially that its demand for it is increasing gradually. Such adoption has a huge potential to enhance students’ skills and competencies and could be used as a veritable resource from which fraud could be mitigated. Fresh graduates can as well attain the DIFA program that provides a broad range of knowledge and skills to carry out financial investigations. This range includes accounting, audit, income tax knowledge, fraud knowledge, knowledge of law and rules of evidence, an investigative mentality and critical skepticism, understanding of psychology and motivation, and strong communication skills (Stott, 2005).

The program focuses on knowledge and skills that can be best taught and examined in person: such as handling a face-to-face meeting with a client, interviewing skills, and testifying in court as an expert witness. DIFA supports accountants with the knowledge and skills needed to bridge the gap between existing quantification models and principles and different litigation contexts (Stott, 2005).

Based on descriptive statistics of survey results conducted in Lebanon, being a country of opaque business practices, to identify the certificates that a forensic accountant must possess showed that:

  • 59.09% of the respondents thought that a forensic accountant should have a DIFA;
  • 31.82% proposed that CPA is the needed certificate (Certified Public Accountant);
  • 20.91% thought that CFA is the appropriate one (Chartered Financial Analyst);
  • 10.00% mentioned other types of certification.
  • 2.12% of the respondents didn’t find it necessary to have any certification to become a forensic accountant.

Furthermore, the relation between occupation and the respondents’ opinion about the types of certifications that a forensic accountant must possess was also studied. The following breakdown shows the percentages of respondents who proposed that DIFA is the important certification based on job occupation.

  • 69.10% of the respondents working in banking or insurance
  • 51.60% of the respondents working in finance
  • 72.70% of the respondents working in education
  • 80% of the respondents working in management

However, most of the respondents in the accounting field thought that CPA is the type of certification that should be possessed by the forensic accountant with a 77.10%. People working in accounting usually tend to pursue a CPA degree for the help it provides in this domain.

In addition to the above, the relation between experience and the respondents’ opinion about the types of certification that a forensic accountant must possess was also studied. The results, based on those who choose DIFA as the needed certificate, were as follows:

  • most respondents with more than two years’ experience thought that DIFA is the needed certification to practice FA
  • 51.90% of respondents with 2 years’ experience and less thought that DIFA is the needed certification to practice FA;
  • 68.80% between 2 and 6 years of experience thought that DIFA is the needed certification to practice FA;
  • 55.40% of those with less than 2 years or no experience at all thought that CPA is the type of certification that should be possessed by the forensic accountant.

Moreover, the surveys conducted answered the question whether the respondents approve that the DIFA should be included in the Lebanese university programs. It demonstrates that:

  • 97.88% of the respondents accepted having a DIFA in the universities;
  • 2.12% of them didn’t accept having a DIFA in the universities;

This is especially important since most of the Lebanese people are in the stage of pursuing their educational degrees of which the highest percentage is studying finance.

Supporting the results of the surveys, interviews were also conducted to know about the type of certificates that a FA must hold. Most respondents approved that there should be a certification granted to a forensic accountant. This can be illustrated by what the accounting manager at “Malia Group Multinational Company” (with 5 years of experience) stated by saying: “It should be taught in universities and the business owners should request in their vacancies for an accountant with a certain certifications such as DIFA”

The interviewees’ answers stressed that it should be introduced in all universities and educational institutions leading to a certificate (DIFA), and candidates should have knowledge and a degree in accounting and auditing. As one interviewee, a partner at Bureau d’Analyse et de Revision Comptable (BARC) for auditing and taxation (with 33-36 years of experience) puts it: “It is a way to prevent corruption this is why I specify that it should be taught in universities because I strongly agree that it is implemented”. Relating interviewees’ recommendations to include FA in university programs, the head of audit department at “professional auditors” (11 years of experience) states: “FA is important for cheating methods, it can be introduced in universities“.

Interviewees gave different responses and suggestions about what is needed to perform Forensic Accounting. One interviewee coded that: “There are specific teaching programs such as CPA and there are special programs for certified financial forensic and DIFA”(Partner of an audit and taxation firm “Bureau d’Analyse et de Revision Comptable with 33-36 years of experience). Thus interviewees thought that a forensic accountant should be an experienced auditor or has a deep knowledge in laws; the type of certification needed could be CPA (certified public accountant), or have a license in accounting, a certification or a diploma from the LACPA (Lebanese Association of Certified Public Accounting). For instance the head of the audit department at professional Auditors indicated that: “Of course you need to have a license in accounting and maybe CPA, for example in our LACPA Lebanese association of certifies public accounting maybe you can get this diploma there”.

Other interviewees said that FA should obviously have a degree in accounting besides the needed experience to be able to detect suspicious acts, or have a BA degree with issues related to fraud and disclosure, CPA is a plus, or maybe have CFE. A lecturer and former partner at KMPG (with 15 to 17 years of experience) commented on this matter by saying: “On the educational level the best certification would be CFE if anyone wants to be involved in that topic he must go for such certification specialized in fraud examination”.

If anyone seeks to be involved in this domain he must go for such certification specialized in fraud examination. Others said that FA already has CPA or long experience. Furthermore, a forensic accountant, as an auditor have stated: “should have investigative skills and you should do the proper training in order to be competent”. Other interviewees also noted that a forensic accountant should have investigative skills and undergo proper training in order to be competent or be a certified accountant with certain skills and experience; the certifications needed are an accounting degree or a law degree since the forensic accountant may have to testify in courts. Or have a formal education in fraud; certifications could be CPA or CFE.

Another important statement coded from the interviewees is that “To become a forensic accountant, you need to be a certified accountant with certain skills and experience, the certifications needed are accounting degree or law degree since the forensic accountant could testify in courts” (Accounting Manager at Malia Group, with 8 years of experience).

In other words, FA accountants should be accountants in the first place, no specialized certification, but should be involved in training workshops or seminars that help enhance his knowledge and skills, or be an accountant or audit with knowledge about relevant laws. An accounting degree is enough but it would be better if he could take courses in investigative accounting if they are available in Lebanon. In addition they should have a degree in accounting with a profound experience and analytical skills; a certification would be a plus such as CPA or any other certification in accounting and auditing field.

Interviewees also reported that the certification that could be held by forensic accountant to practice FA is CPA since it is well known because it is available in many educational institutions. Almost all respondents conferred a high degree of importance for introducing FA in the educational sector in the financially corrupted countries.

Almost all respondents believed that FA should be taught in universities as a course or a graduate major or as case studies in an audit related course. Suggestions also included that FA could be a specialty in educational institutions that grant CPA or any other certification related to auditing or accounting.

Respondents and interviewees also suggested introducing FA through workshops and seminars with the assistance of experts and skillful forensic accountants. They also showed acceptance for online educational programs since DIFA is not available in most financially corrupted countries while it is available in the USA. Therefore online education could shorten the distance to people who cannot leave work and are interested to be specialized in forensic accounting.

The participants also recommended that the employees and managers, who are responsible for the financials of the company, should be educated and submitted to an intensive training to develop their skills to enable them to detect fraudulent activities within the company.

In sum, DIFA is designed to provide a broad range of knowledge and skills to carry out financial investigations. Employee and management fraud, theft, embezzlement, and other financial crimes are increasing, therefore accounting and auditing personnel must have training and skills to recognize those crimes. In addition, high-visibility corporate scandals, such as Enron and WorldCom, demonstrate the need to better prepare entry-level accounting graduates and practicing CPAs in the areas of fraud prevention, deterrence, detection, investigation, and remediation, Houck et al., (2006). Universities and educational institutions, as will be discussed later on, play a vital role in introducing DIFA and other FA related courses, certificates and diplomas. These formal certificates can deepen the students’ knowledge and sharpen their skills in Forensic Accounting through trainings under the supervision of an experienced forensic accountant, participating in various international conferences, reading relevant journals, books and other literature.

  1. Universities:

Universities play a constituent role in introducing FA since they can control the materials that could be taught to the students. Introducing it as a degree, Forensic Accounting could be one of the majors that exist in universities; the study proved that there are some educators who are knowledgeable in the field since most of them did their doctorate degree in the USA and UK. Therefore it could be an undergraduate or graduate degree in the universities.

Concerning the courses, Forensic Accounting could be given as a course in the university instead of being a major; it could be included as part of accounting, CCE, Law or any other major but customized for each specialty.

Regarding the case studies, in case FA is not considered as a major or given as a course, it could be highlighted through case studies where the students analyze many international fraudulent cases and the methods and the logics that were used by forensic accountants to detect and reveal the fraud.

  1. Educational Institutions:

Educational Institutions complete the role of the universities by covering the gap when some of the courses and degrees are not granted by the universities; they would be available in educational institutes or academies. The major course of actions that could be taken by these institutions is granting DIFA which must be an official certification given to the experts that want to practice Forensic Accounting in their countries. Yearly or monthly sessions must be announced through specialized means of marketing. Moreover, the certification could be incorporation with the government where certified accountants working in their departments and institutions could be sent to acquire it from a reputable educational institution. This certificate should be officially recognized and certified from the ministry of education, finance, and justice. The syndicate must hire qualified forensic accountants capable of studying, analyzing, suggesting policies, and training others.

Houck, M., Kranacher, M., Morris, B., Riley Jr, R., Robertson, J., & Wells, J. (2006). Forensic accounting as an investigative tool. CPA Journal. Aug2006, Vol. 76 Issue 8, p68-70. 3p,

Taha, N. (2014). Forensic Accounting in Countries of Business Opacity (1. Aufl. ed.). Saarbru�cken: LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing.

Stott, M. (2005). “The Role of Investigative and Forensic Accountants and their Importance in Maintaining and Enforcing the Integrity of Canada’s Capital Markets”