Forensic Accounting – a New Paradigm For Niche Consulting

OBJECTIVES OF WRITING THIS ARTICLE: Forensic accounting(F.A.) has come into limelight due to rapid increase in financial frauds and white-collar crimes. But it is largely untrodden area in India.The integration of accounting, auditing and investigative skills creates the speciality know as F.A.The opportunities for the Forensic Accountants are growing fast;they are being engaged in public practice and are being employed by insurance companies, banks, police forces, government agencies etc.This article seeks to examine the meaning and nature, activities and services rendered, core knowledge and personal skills required for forensic accounting as a specialized field in accountancy profession. Indeed there is a future in F.A. as a separate niche consulting.

The lack of respect and belief in India’s law enforcement agencies and the rate at which white-collar crimes have increased has prompted the development of Forensic Accounting in India. The fraud detecting agencies seems to lack time and devotion needed for detecting and prevention of errors and fraud. According to a large global accounting firm, the market is sufficiently big enough to maintain an unit devoted entirely towards “forensic accounting”. Many large as well as small accounting firms as well as the tiny firms have inculcated or rather developed separate forensic accounting departments.

We were of the belief that detection and prevention of frauds or white-collar crimes is part of conventional accounting function. It was thought that the frauds, both internal as well as external has be to detected by the auditors through their periodic audit. Now it is crystal clear that auditors can only check for the compliance of a company’s books to generally accepted accounting principles, auditing standards and company policies. Hence the need was felt to detect the frauds in companies that are suspected to be engaged in fraudulent transactions. This field of accounting is known as “forensic accounting”.

The litmus test of investigation, first introduced by the ever great Sherlock-Homes(considered by many as the father of Forensic Accounting) is perhaps the first ever application of forensic accounting. Though, the contribution of the other few great historians to the field of forensic accounting cannot be overlooked. They used various tricks to investigate various crimes.

F.A. is a specialized a area of accounting practice that describes engagements which result from actual or anticipated disputes or litigation. The word “forensic” means “suitable for use in court”. The forensic accountants have to keep in mind this statement while they have to work or chalk out their programme. The F.A. work is tailor made according to the situation and need. The gathering of information and evidences is done according to the need and situation. We can say, it is customized according to the situation. The forensic-accountants give expert evidence at the ultimate trial. All the modern medium-sized as well as the large-sized accounting firms have specialized forensic accounting departments. Within these firms there may be specialized forensic accounting departments. Within these groups their may be further sub-specializations. Various sub-specializations include insurance claims, personal injury claims, fraud detection, construction or royalty audits. Nearly 40 percent of the top 100 US accounting firms are expanding their forensic and fraud services, according to Accounting Today. Now if we consider this data as significant then we can say that the total contribution of forensic accounting to the total revenue of the C.A. firms would be highly significant in the years to come. Under rising instances of frauds and litigation and flourishing businesses these services are considered to be very significant as they are rendered at a very competitive price.

The forensic accountants utilize the various information relating the business, utilizes financial reporting systems, various accounting and auditing standards and procedures, investigative techniques and litigation processes and procedure to perform their work. By acting as advisors to audit committees and assisting in investment analyst research, they are playing more “proactive” risk reduction roles.This is possible by designing and performing extended procedures as part of the statutory audit. The objectives of such an accounting include measurement of losses caused by an auditor due to his negligence, to look into the matter whether their has been any embezzlement of cash, the amount, necessity of criminal proceedings, computation of asset values in a divorced proceeding.

The primary approach technique of forensic accounting is explanatory analysis(cause and effect)of the phenomena-including the discovery of deception(if any), and its effects -introduced into an accounting system field. The primary methodology employed by the forensic accountants is the verification of the objective. They are trained to deal with real world business and do have the sufficient expertise to look beyond(behind) the numbers. The scope of the forensic accountants are growing at a rapid pace. The increase in their work opportunities have been accelerated due to the fall of the Enron corporation and the collapse of the American Twin Towers.

This has led to increase in the demand for American forensic accountants. So as far India is concerned, formation of Serious Fraud Investigation Office(SIFO) is a landmark creation so far as forensic accountants are concerned. Failure of regulators to track security scams, increasing cyber crimes, chain of cooperative banks bursting -all point to the ever increasing need for forensic accountants. Our understanding of the need for forensic accountants is immaterial here. In India due to the growing number of frauds the need for forensic accountants is ever increasing. The regulatory and administrative agencies will put pressure for greater demand of forensic practices. This has been initiated due to the changing nature of Indian and International accounting.Auditing and assurance standards also confirm this. A change in the curriculum can be initiated if the written exams and practical industrial training are boosted to show the “new knowledge base and skill-set” required by the professional accountants in the new era. It is therefore recommended that the “forensic accounting and auditing” be introduced as a paper in the various professional examinations conducted by the various accounting bodies in India. Unfortunately forensic accounting is largely an unexplored area as far as India is concerned. The chartered Accountants(CAs) deal with such cases in an irregular fashion. In the western counter-part(countries), the Lawyers, police, insurance companies, government and regulatory bodies, banks, courts and business communities are increasingly utilizing the services of the forensic accountants.The accountants and the auditors must have the skills and expertise to venture into the emerging field of forensic accounting.

What Is Forensic Accounting? The growing needs of corporations has changed the definition of forensic accounting. As per Bologna and Indquist, “the application of financial skills and an investigative mentality to unresolved issues, conducted within the context of rules of evidence.It is a new emerging field that encompasses financial expertise, fraud knowledge, and a sound knowledge and understanding of business reality and the working of the legal system.”It means that the forensic accounting should be skilled not only in financial accounting but also internal control systems, the legal matters, other institutional requirements, investigative blend of mind and interpersonal skills.

According to AICPA: “Forensic accounting is the application of accounting principles, theories, and discipline to facts or hypotheses at issues in a legal dispute and encompasses every branch of accounting knowledge: ‘ Similarly, forensic accounting is defined by Horty as:
“The science that deals with the relation and application of finance, accounting, tax and auditing knowledge to analyze, investigate, inquire, test and examine matters in civil law, criminal law and jurisprudence in an attempt to obtain the truth from which to render an expert opinion.”
In simple words, forensic accounting includes the use of accounting, auditing as well as investigative skills to assist in legal matters.It comprises of two major components: litigation services, that recognizes the role of an accountant as an expert consultant and investigative services, that uses a forensic accountant, s skills and may require possible court-room testimony.
Investigation of theft and defalcation of corporate and individual assets are part of legal matters.They use their education as well as experience to discuss the facts, patterns of the theft or misappropriation.Business accounting systems are reviewed by the forensic accountants.They suggest ways and means to solve and improve the internal control and internal accounting system.This is adopted to prevent theft and fraud. Because of their expert knowledge and educational background and experience their(forensic accountants) work is elevated to a new height.

Forensic accountants do not contest in cases.They act as fact finding devices, try trt to seek the real truth from the hidden facts.They conduct their work in an unbiased and objective manner.They need legal knowledge, expertise, training and experience to perform their work in an effective and real manner.Extensive knowledge in the field of commerce, legal, accounting as well an investigative blend of mind is needed to perform the work in a proper fashion.Expertise in litigation support and testimony in courts of law are also prerequisites of the forensic accountants.This is due to the fact that their work would many times be used in a court of law.The valuation of damages due to criminal and civil wrong-doings need to be done with perfection and for that reason knowledge of business valuation theory is the most essential.

What exactly do the Forensic Accountants perform? Answer: They are trained to deal with real life business situations and are trained to look beyond the numbers.
Analysis, interpretation and summarization of complex financial and business related issues are prominent characteristics of this accounting/auditing profession. Familiarity with legal concepts and procedures is a must.Insurance companies, public practice, banks, police forces and government agencies are major employers of forensic accountants.
The various field of work encompassing the arena of a forensic accountant can be stated in points format as follows:

1) Financial evidence investigation and analysis.
2) Development of computerized software to help in the analysis and presentation of financial evidence.
3) Sharing their findings in the form of reports, slide shows or exhibits and documents collected.
4) To support trial evidence they prepare visual slides, assist in legal proceedings, including testifying in courts as an expert witness.
If we want to say or rather point out the role performed by the forensic accountants in a nutshell, we can say as follows:

Measurement or to quantify the impact of lost earnings. Such as construction delays, stolen trade secrets, insurance disputes, damage/loss estimates, malpractice claims, employee theft, loss of profit, financial solvency reports, disturbance damages, loss of goodwill, compensation losses suffered in expropriation determination, assessment of the potential business compensation costs and providing consultation on business defalcation minimization. Lease default damages, breach of contract, business interruptions, breaches of shareholders and partnership agreements, reconstruction of accounting records,
Investigation of misappropriation, assistance in establishing ownership and division of assets, commercial damages, professional negligence cases, partnership disputes, expert evidence, fair value or fair market value and personal injury damages are included in commercial damages. Tax advocacy, compliance and review of financial statements, tax reporting and tax planning in such areas as income as estate matters are included in tax matters. Analysis, interpretation, summarization, presentation of complex financial and issues relating to the business for investigation is the role of a forensic accountant.
They carry out investigative accounting and provide litigation support.

The services rendered by the forensic accountants are in great demand in the following areas:

1) Fraud detection where employees commit Fraud:
Where the employee indulges in fraudulent activities:
Where the employees are caught to have committed fraud the forensic accountant tries to locate any assets created by them out of the funds defalcated, then try interrogate them and try to find out the hidden truth.

2)Criminal Investigation: Matters relating to financial implications the services of the forensic accountants are availed of. The report of the accountants are considered in preparing and presentation as evidence.

3) Outgoing Partner’s settlement:
If the outgoing partner is not happy about his settlement he can employ a forensic accountant who will correctly assess his dues(assets) as well as his liabilities correctly.
4)Cases relating to professional negligence:
Professional negligence cases are taken up by the forensic accountants.
Non-conformation to Generally Accepted Accounting Standards(GAAS) or non compliance to auditing practices or ethical codes of any profession they are needed to measure the loss due to such professional negligence or shortage in services.

5) Arbitration service: Forensic accountants render arbitration and mediation services for the business community, since they undergo special training in the area of alternative dispute resolution.

6) Facilitating settlement regarding motor vehicle accident: As the forensic accountant is well acquainted with intricacies of laws relating to motor vehicles, and other relevant laws in force, his services become indispensable in measuring economic loss when a vehicle meets with an accident.

7) Settlement of insurance claims: Insurance companies engage forensic accountants to have an accurate assessment of claims to be settled. Similarly, policyholders seek the help of a forensic accountant when they need to challenge the claim settlement as worked out by the insurance companies. A forensic accountant handles the claims relating to consequential loss policy, property loss due to various risks, fidelity insurance and other types of insurance claims.

8) Dispute settlement: Business firms engage forensic accountants to handle contract disputes, construction claims, product liability claims, infringement of patent and trade marks cases, liability arising from breach of contracts and so on.

9) Matrimonial dispute cases: Forensic accountants entertain cases pertaining to matrimonial disputes wherein their role is merely confined to tracing, locating and evaluating any form of asset involved.

Core Knowledge Of Forensic Accountants:
A forensic accountant is expected to be a specialist in accounting and financial systems. Yet, as companies continue to grow in size and complexity, uncovering fraud requires a forensic accountant to become proficient in an ever- increasing number of professional skills and competencies. Here are some of the broad areas of useful expertise for a forensic accountant:

” An in-depth knowledge of financial statements and the ability to critically analyse them. These skills help forensic accountants to uncover abnormal patterns in accounting information and recognise their source.
” A thorough understanding of fraud schemes, including but not limited to asset misappropriations, money laundering, bribery, and corruption.
” The ability to comprehend the internal control systems of corporations, and to set up a control system that assesses risks, achieves management objectives, informs employees of their control responsibilities, and monitors the quality of the programme so that corrections and changes can be made.
” Proficiency in computer and knowledge of network systems. These skills help forensic accountants to conduct investigations in the area of e-banking and computerised accounting systems.
” Knowledge of psychology in order to understand the impulses behind criminal behaviour and to set up fraud prevention programmes that motivate and encourage employees.
” Interpersonal and communication skills, which aid in disseminating information about the company’s ethical policies and help forensic accountants to conduct interviews and obtain crucially needed information.
” Thorough knowledge of company.s governance policies and the laws that regulate these policies.
” Command of criminal and civil law, as well as, of the legal system and court procedures.

Personal Skills Required:
So what does it take to become a forensic accountant? In addition to the specialised knowledge about the techniques of finding out the frauds, one needs patience and an analytical mindset. One has to look beyond the numbers and grasp the substance of the situation. There is a need for the same basic accounting skills that it takes to become a good auditor plus the ability to pay attention to the smallest detail, analyse data thoroughly, think creatively, possess common business sense, be proficient with a computer, and have excellent communication skills. A “sixth”sense that can be used to reconstruct details of past accounting transactions is also beneficial. A photographic memory helps when trying to visualise and reconstruct these past events. The forensic accountant also needs the ability to maintain his composure when detailing these events on the witness stand. Finally, a forensic accountant should be insensitive to personal attacks on his professional credibility. A fraud accountant (as forensic accountants are sometimes called) should also observe and listen carefully. By this, you can improve your ability to detect lies whether they involve fraud or not. This is so because”not all liars are fraudsters, but all fraudsters are liars”(Wells).

According to a forensic accounting expert, “the traits of a forensic accountant could be compared to a well-baked pizza. The base of forensic accounting is accounting knowledge. Size and the extent of baking decide the quality of the pizza. A middle layer is a dispersed knowledge of auditing, internal controls, risk assessment and fraud detection. It is like the spread of the cheese in pizza. The toppings of this pizza area basic understanding of the legal environment. The legal environment is essential in order to support the litigations. The cherry on the toppings of the pizza is a strong set of communication skills, both written and oral. It is just the beautification part. Perfect combination of the pizza base, cheese spread and good toppings makes the pizza delicious and the of company’s the laws that Forensic Auditor perfects. It is a combination that will be in demand for as long as human nature exists.”

In addition to these personal characteristics, accountants must meet several additional requirements to become successful forensic accountants, say a Certification, acknowledging his competence. One can learn forensic accounting by obtaining a diploma given by Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) in the US. Indian chapter of ACFE offers the course based on the white-collared crimes prevalent in US, based on their laws. However, there is no formal body that provides formal education of the frauds in India. Besides the formal certificate, one can deepen one’s knowledge and sharpen one’s skills in forensic accounting by undergoing training under an experienced forensic accountant, participating in various international conferences, reading relevant journals, books and other literature on forensic accounting.

To combat the frauds effectively one needs the active support of government at every stage. There are three-four such agencies in India, which are dedicated to the mission of combating frauds. Serious Fraud Office looks into violations of Income Tax, FEMA, RBI Act, etc.; CBI (Economic Office Wing) deals with big financial frauds; Central Vigilance Commission deals with corruption. These are the major government agencies that combat frauds of different types. Unfortunately, there is no specialised education provided by any of the Universities in the country. Recently, TCS has also come out with software to combat money laundering and Subex Systems have designed software to combat the telecom frauds. Thus, combating the frauds with software has started picking up in India, with few big companies like ACL and IDEA, joining the race.

The Need For Niche Consulting:
The CPA Vision Statement states: “The CPAs are trusted professionals who enable people and organisations to shape their future. Combining insight with integrity, CPAs deliver value by: (a) communicating the total picture with clarity and objectivity, (b) translating corn plex information into critical knowledge, (c) anticipating and creating opportunities, and (d) developing pathways that transform vision into reality1 It reflects the trend towards providing a broader range of assurance services. However, recent corporate accounting scandals and the resultant outcry for transparency and honesty in reporting have given rise to two disparate yet logical outcomes. First, forensic accounting skills have become crucial in untangling the complicated accounting manoeuvres that have obfuscated financial statements. Second, public demand for change and subsequent regulatory action has transformed corporate governance. Increasingly, company officers and directors are under ethical and legal scrutiny. Both trends have the common goal of responsibly addressing investors’ concerns about the financial reporting system. Indeed, there is a future in forensic accounting as a separate”niche” consulting area in India. The need to specialise, otherwise known as Niche Consulting, is imperative to practising accountants because the fast-paced developments in business thereby demand specialised knowledge and skills. While a majority of CAs have excellent analytical skills, they need to acknowledge that ‘forensic’ services require ‘specialised’ training as well as real-life ‘practical’ corporate experience. There is a need for specialised information, not just audit and tax service. What clients seem to want are people with unique sets of skills and experiences. With the maturing of the audit business, and the rapid development of technology that makes existing services low cost and cheap, it appears that it is the right time now to acquire those unique skills. To help practitioners move into ‘niche’ consulting, some professional organisations in the US have concluded that: “Future success for the profession depends, in part, on how the public perceives the ability of CPAs. New efforts in consulting, specialisation and understanding global business practices and strategies are considered crucial. We go out into the niche market, examining our strengths first. We go where the action is, only then we know we can adequately service our clients and make money doing it.” One area where ‘niche’ consulting is becoming the global trend is in “Forensic Accounting and Auditing’ But the major question facing the Indian accountancy profession is: Are we ready to plunge to where the challenging action is?

Forensic Accounting In India:
It is in an infancy state in India.It is still an untrodden area in India.But due to ever increasing cases of bank & cyber-frauds its growing importance cannot be denied.
One immediate landmark creation is “Forensic Research Foundation”.They provide support for investigation of fraud.They publish one bi-monthly journal named as “White Crimes”.It relates to forensic and economic crimes. Another international organization named as KPNG has set up investigation detection centre in India.. Networks Limited, a Delhi based organization, working in the similar field, they are also trying to innovate ways and means to detect financial irregularities and crimes in India.Serious Investigation Fraud Offices(SIFO), has been established in India for the same reason, i.e. detection and prevention of economic irregularities and crimes. The need for such bodies and the importance of Forensic Accountants have been highlighted by L.N.Roy Committee.Lenin Parekh Committee has also expressed the view that one “fraud detection committee”need to be established. The main aim of such boards should be to prevent the interest of the stakeholders.

Conclusion:
Forensic accounting in India has come to limelight only recently due to rapid increase in white-collar crimes and the belief that our law enforcement agencies do not have sufficient expertise or the time needed to uncover frauds. A large global accounting firm believes the market is sufficiently large to support an independent unit devoted strictly to ‘forensic’ accounting. All of the larger accounting firms, as well as, many medium-sized and boutique firms have recently created forensic accounting departments.

Forensic accounting, in fact, integrates accounting, auditing, and investigative skills to conduct an examination into a company’s financial statements. Broad-based knowledge (within the themes listed above) is crucial to the success of entry-level forensic accountants. Because forensic accounting is relatively a new area of study, a series of working definitions and sharing of corporate experiences should be undertaken and encouraged to ensure a common understanding. Indeed, there is great future in forensic accounting as a separate”niche” consulting.

While the forensic accounting and auditing practice had commenced in the US as early as ‘1995, the seed of this specialisation has yet to take off in India. Forensic accountants are only dealing with financial implications of the cases entrusted to them and not engaging in auditing exercise. On account of global competition, the accounting profession must convince the marketplace that it has the “best-equipped” professionals to perform such services.

Forensic accountants are also increasingly playing more ‘proactive’ risk reduction roles by designing and performing extended procedures as part of the statutory audit, acting as advisors to audit committees, and assisting in investment analyst research.

While majority of CAs have excellent analytical skills, they need to acknowledge that ‘forensic’ services require ‘specialised’ training as well as real-life ‘practical’ corporate experience.
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References: –
1)Journal Of Forensic Accounting: Editor-In Chief: Crumbley D. Larry, Publisher: Inc.Edwards. R.T.
2)Journal Of The Chartered Accountant 2007, Pages: 1000-1010.Dr. Madan Bhasin, The Author is Head, Accounting Department, Mazoon College, Muscat, Sultanate Of Oman.
3)Referential Notes Of Prof. Dutta Kr. Uttam, Reader Deaprtment Of Commerce, Reader, University Of Burdwan.
4)Website access: http://www.wikipedia.com, accessed on 4th, February, 2008.

Silent Witness – A Forensic Accountant’s Tale

Forensic accounting is neither glamorous nor nearly suspenseful enough to rate a Friday night TV slot, however it is an exacting science in its own right and is often critical in the litigation process. Few forensic accountants have the spookily perceptive eyes of Silent Witness’ Professor Sam Ryan, however many forensic accountants would joke that their job is, like hers, about counting dead bodies.

Bad jokes aside, good detective work and accurate analysis are what it’s all about, and attention to detail can obviously make or break a case. Silent Witness turns on expert witness in the courtroom, and the analogy extends to Professor Ryan’s examining decaying bodies whilst forensic accountants examine decaying businesses and finances. But let’s skip the moonlit nights, the owls in the forests and the spooky music and get down to the fundamentals of what is a forensic accountant, when you might need one, and what to look out for in order to put your best case forward.

What is forensic accounting?

Forensic accounting is the use of investigative techniques, accounting skills and business skills to aid in the collection and formation of information to be used as evidence in court cases. As a discipline, it encompasses financial expertise, fraud knowledge, and a strong understanding of business reality and the working of the legal system.

The process includes:

o Reviewing the factual situation.

o Providing assistance in obtaining documentation necessary to support or refute a claim.

o Reviewing the relevant documentation to form an initial assessment of the case and identify areas of loss.

o Providing assistance with examination for discovery, including the formulation of questions to be asked regarding the financial evidence.

o Co-ordination with other experts.

o Reviewing the opposing expert’s damages report and reporting on both the strengths and weaknesses of the positions taken.

o Providing attendance at trial while hearing the testimony of the opposing expert and also providing assistance with the cross-examination.

Forensic accountants become involved in the assessment of economic loss damages in personal injury; assessment of damages in commercial disputes; business valuations for family law and commercial disputes; family law superannuation valuations; professional negligence claims; fraud investigation and fraud risk assessment; and business interruption claims.

When do I need a forensic accountant? As a general rule, you should get a forensic accountant involved whenever there is an issue of value that requires accounting analysis and expertise. A forensic accounting report should bring far more value to the case than its cost.

Unraveling tax planning and corporate structures Tax planning often significantly complicates an understanding of a plaintiff’s affairs. The plaintiff may be saying that he was earning $100,000 per year but his personal tax returns are only showing $20,000 per year. Most people in business will employ a number of tax planning strategies to minimise the incidence of tax. These strategies include use of corporate structures, discretionary trusts and unit trusts, superannuation, salary packaging, fringe benefits such as motor vehicles and car repayments, and splitting of income with other family members. In the assessment of damages and business valuations, it is necessary to look through the corporate entities to determine a plaintiff’s true position. The plaintiff claiming that he is earning $100,000 a year may have a $20,000 salary for himself, $20,000 for his wife, $20,000 in superannuation contributions, $20,000 in fringe benefits such as motor vehicle and personal expenses and $20,000 in profit left in the company.

Independent assessment of the issues People often have poor financial understanding either of their business itself, accounting terminology, or both. Plaintiffs will often say that they are earning, say, $100,000 per year, but they are actually referring to turnover, not profit. They have not considered the expenses incurred in operating that business.

A forensic accountant will independently examine the plaintiff’s losses or claims based on the evidence presented. They will examine the issues based on the available evidence. A forensic accountant’s investigation may include analysis of other companies associated with the plaintiff to ensure the income or expenses have not been diverted to other entities.

How to find a forensic accountant

One of the best ways to find a forensic accountant is to ask around. Ask your colleagues and other solicitors whom they use and why. Ask barristers whom they would recommend.

Forensic accounting requires a different set of skills and knowledge from general accounting. Forensic accountants will have knowledge of the rules of evidence, common law, the relevant legislation, the expert code of conduct and obligations. Forensic accountants will be experienced at giving evidence in court and preparing reports for court.

It is important to establish a relationship with the forensic accountant. An ongoing relationship enables you to ask questions about a matter and get a feeling for the issues and reduces the time required to brief the accountant. The instructions that we receive are often one page, briefly detailing the important facts of the case, contact details for the client and enclosing copies of financial documentation available. Due to our ongoing relationship with the solicitor, we arrange a conference with the client, obtain further financial details and in turn provide our expert report.

Things for lawyers to look out for

In providing critical review and analysis of other accountants’ reports, we have encountered a multitude of problems and errors. We have detailed below some of the most common errors that cause the most pain for lawyers.

Beware of one- to two-page reports

We often encounter the simple one- to two-page report valuing a business or calculating damages. These reports often have little value and can be a hindrance. The characteristics of a typical one-page report are:

o There is often little evidence to support the opinions given.

o There is insufficient detail to explain what tests or investigations have been made.

o They often do not contain the Expert Witness Code of Conduct.

o They often have significant errors in methodology.

o The opinions put forward often crumble under critical investigation and examination.

o Initial opinions and views are often changed following a more detailed examination of the issues.

Beware of complex financial models

Often forensic accountants will develop complex financial models of a business to illustrate the effects of an event of damage (personal injury, breach of contract, fire etc). Upon initial examination, these models will often appear to be well argued and considered. Complex models often have assumptions based on other assumptions and it is often only necessary to attack one or two assumptions based on logic or common sense and the model will show losses rather than profits. The more complex the model, the easier it is to discredit.

In one case, the plaintiff’s accountant developed a complex model showing the expected earnings and actual post damage earnings in a wholesaling company. The company showed a significant decline in turnover and profits in the month, post-accident. The company subsequently recovered from its damage. The plaintiff’s solicitors also allocated considerable resources to the case on the basis of the expected losses as detailed in the accountant’s report. We were able to show that the loss was the result of a loss of a major client that happened pre-damage. The massive losses put forward by the accountant were significantly reduced and the report was discredited.

Complex financial models will often produce results that deliver unexpected large damages claims. In the calculation of damages, there is a simple test that can be applied. Add the loss to post-damage earnings and compare to pre-damage earnings. If there is a significant difference, then the reasons need to be explained. A good, experienced forensic accountant should be able to show a number of different ways to approach a problem. The simplest approach is often the best. A simple approach often examines the real drivers of the business and the principles are more easily understood by all.

Ask where the weaknesses are

Every report will have some weaknesses. The weakness might be minor or significant. Ask the forensic accountant where the weakness is in the report. The accountant should know where the weaknesses are, which assumptions are solid and are supported by evidence and which will be susceptible to critical examination. Examples include basing earnings on one year’s trading or three to four years’ trading. The accountant may reason: “There is an argument that gross profit should be based on the average of the last three years, which would reduce the claim, but the recent changes in the product mix support using the most current data,” or “The evidence supporting this assumption is poor and will be dependent upon the plaintiff’s testimony.”

Get accountants involved early

In many instances we get involved too late. Damages may be assumed to be significant and legal resources are allocated accordingly, only to find that the actual damages are minimal and the opportunity to recover a settlement or verdict in excess of the legal fees is impossible. Getting forensic accountants involved early will also give the accountant the opportunity to request further information and gather evidence such as witness statements and property valuations.

Check for mathematical accuracy

Always ask the accountant if the mathematical accuracy of the report has been checked. A mathematical error can substantially affect the credibility of the report and the plaintiff’s claim. We were asked to assess a personal injury claim for a professional footballer. The accountant’s report for the plaintiff was well argued and the plaintiff’s earnings were supported by leading coaches and agents. Whilst the question of probability is always an issue for professional sports people, the quality of statements and testimony of the coaches and agents may have outweighed any statistical analysis of probability. We carried out a simple check of the mathematics of the report and found that the plaintiff’s gross loss rather than net loss was used to calculate future loss. The claim for future economic loss was halved. A simple independent check of the mathematical accuracy with a calculator by the accountant for the plaintiff would have prevented this error.

Reports should be readable first time

A forensic accountant’s report should be able to be understood and absorbed on the first reading. If you have to read a report three or four times before you can understand what it is trying to say, judges and counsel will have the same problem. A good report will contain an executive summary that introduces all the major issues and states the conclusions so that the reader will understand the direction and focus of the report. A business valuation that explains in the executive summary the total valuation, the basis of valuation used, the main assumptions in that valuation (such as capitalisation rate and future maintainable earnings) and a brief explanation of the important factors behind the assumptions will provide an excellent introduction to the report.

Forensic accountants provide a valuable resource for the solicitor in litigation. The investigative and analytical ability to examine financial and business matters complements the legal skills of solicitors. Maybe one day there will be a gripping, suspenseful TV show about forensic accountants. Maybe not.

What Separates the Good Business Broker From the Bad?

Over the years, I’ve heard a million horror stories from business owners about their experiences with some of the “fly by night” business brokers out there. It’s always the same names and it always makes me wonder, “How did you get hooked up with these people? Why did you hire them?” I mean, I’ve seen some of their work and it’s TERRIBLE!

So, of course I feel bad for the business owner and I begin to question my ability to market my business brokerage services. If only I had been there first. If only these folks knew to call me or one of the other good credible brokers out there rather than the yahoo they ended up using. Yes, you heard me right; there are a lot of good credible business brokers out there. The problem is, there are a lot of bad, unqualified brokers out there as well. I’m in the business so it’s easy for me to tell the difference. But how can you, as the business owner, tell the difference?

Well, that’s a tough question to answer but I’ve been giving it some from thought and I’ve decided that the most important factors that separate the good business brokers from the bad are:

1. Ethics – most horror stories I hear are a result of a lack of ethics by the broker. This is unfortunate and disgraceful in my opinion. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to test a broker’s ethics. My best recommendation is to make sure they’ve achieved their CBI (Certified Business Intermediary) designation from the IBBA (International Business Brokers Association). All CBI’s agree to adhere to the IBBA’s Standards of Professional Conduct and the Code of Ethics. I know acceptance of a code doesn’t guarantee anything, but it’s a good start. The second thing I would recommend is to check references. This can be tricky. Like any good job applicant, when you ask for references you will get handed the happiest and most satisfied clients that the broker is confident will put in a good word. So, to me this is a waste of time. Instead, why not call the other professionals in your area. It takes more than just the broker to do a deal. It’s takes an accountant and attorney as well. Call your accountant, have your friends call their accountants, same with your attorney and their attorneys. Not all accountants and attorneys will be close to the transaction marketplace (they tend to specialize) but they will ask around. Chances are they probably work with, know of, or went to school with another accountant or attorney that is involved in transactions. If you’re willing to put some time into checking credentials, sooner or later you will find your answers.

2. Candor / Honesty – Again, this can be difficult to judge for the untrained eye. But, what does your gut tell you? Are you receiving vague answers to your questions? Or, is the business broker you’re interviewing willing to sit down with you and answer every question that you have to the best of their ability, sometimes going above and beyond? If this is the case, usually it’s because they have nothing to hide. And, as a result, don’t have to tiptoe around your questions.

3. Pricing Ability – Being open, honest and ethical is only part of the game. It’s equally as important that the business broker be educated on matters of business valuation. One of the most important factors in selling a business is pricing it right. A mispriced business will either never sell (if overpriced) or fly off the market (if underpriced). Both situations are bad news for you as the business seller. If it’s overpriced it will sit on the market, get stigmatized and be difficult to sell even with a different broker. If it’s underpriced you will not maximize your retirement money. Make sure you ask the business broker you are interviewing if they know how to price a business. Moreover, make them prove it. Ask them to explain the three different approaches to value (Asset, Income and Market). If they don’t know what you’re talking about, RUN!! Ask for samples of the broker’s pricing analyses. Don’t settle for a broker that answers, “I can’t provide that it’s confidential”. Every broker can cleanse some samples and make them generic. Take them home. Review them, see if you would buy the business they present to you. Show it to your accountant and your attorney. Get their thoughts. If you’re not sure whether you’re looking at quality work or not, chances are your accountant or attorney will.

4. Marketing Ability – Remember at the end of the day, your small business is a non-marketable entity. You can’t go online, click a button and get rid of it. Someone has to actively create a market for your business. Ask the broker you are interviewing, “How do you plan to market my business?” Sit back and listen. If all they say is, “I’m going to post it on the internet,” RUN!! You can post it on the internet. For the fee the broker is taking, make sure they’re adding value. Dig deep on this subject. You won’t need to be a marketing guru to determine if the broker has a developed process that works.

5. Reputation – Part of investigating the reputation of the broker is requesting references. Not only client references but asking around for input and insight from other professionals about what business brokers they know and what they know about them. Also, go to the broker’s website; go to industry sites such as http://www.ibba.org. Look up the broker; see what other people are saying about them. Do the TV, newspaper, radio and trade publications value the broker’s opinion? It’s not easy to get quoted in articles, written about in papers, invited to be a guest on TV or radio shows. Professional media outlets do their homework. They can’t afford to put their name next to a non-credible source. A business broker that is taken serious and considered a credible source by mainstream media deserves consideration. Credibility is not bought, it is earned.

6. Courtesy / People Skills – Take the time to interview the broker in person. Never hire a business broker without meeting them. If they’re not willing to take the time to meet with you, chances are they won’t put much effort into selling your business either. Once they’re in front of you, see how they interact with you. Are they personable? Do you trust them? Are they friendly? Are they educated about your business and the business brokerage industry? Make no mistake, this is a people business. People buy from people they like. If you don’t like the person you’re interviewing, chances are neither will a potential buyer for your business.

7. Education / Experience – Business brokers are professional service providers, like accountants, attorney, financial planners, etc. Make sure the person you hire to sell your business (or help you buy one) continually invests in their own education and professional development. Would you hire an attorney that doesn’t keep up with current laws? Would you hire an account that isn’t updated on the tax code? Your business is the largest and most valuable asset that you own. Make sure the person you hire to turn it into cash is someone that stays current on industry trends, government regulations, new pricing methodologies, marketing strategies, etc. Business brokerage is a full time profession. If your broker doesn’t invest in their own professional development, chances are there’s someone else out there that does and will do a better job at selling your business for the highest possible price.

The suggestions above are not fool proof but, they will get you pointed in the right direction. Don’t take the sale of your business lightly. Make sure you do your homework. If you do, the wheat will quickly separate from the chaff.