Forths Forensic Accountants

Largest specialist Forensic Accountancy practices in the UK market.

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The Interview: Nailing A Financial Analyst’s Interview

A career as a financial analyst is both challenging, and rewarding. It is also highly competitive, with experienced analysts competing among each other for supervisory, and senior positions. The competition begins even before you reach the interviewer’s door. It begins with yourself, and your preparation to nail a financial analyst interview. You must prepare by gaining an understanding of the analyst’s responsibilities, and of their function within the company you will be interviewing for. Enough preparation will give you a competitive advantage by giving you pre-packaged answers to the questions you will face. This article will help you prepare for the questions you will likely be asked, and present the answers, or suggest the answers, that will garner you the most positive reactions.

Why do you want to become a financial analyst?

This question is free, and one you are likely to encounter in the interview. A lot of people have a lot of different reasons to become an analyst. From compensation to a passion for numbers, figure out your strongest four reasons, and answer with them.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Ah, the five-year plan. Why do interviewers like this question so much? It separates the conscientious from the unfocused, the goal-oriented person from someone who goes with the flow. According to career writer Alison Green (2013) “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is another way of saying, “”How does this position fit in with your overall short-term and medium-term career goals for yourself?”

This position, then, will teach you this skill or that. It will serve to license you to do this profession. With the qualifications you receive from your experience you will be able to advance in your career in this way. Being a financial analyst will help you advance in your career goals because . . . Go into the interview with confidence in your motivations because they are not looking for someone who absolutely knows where they will be in five years. They are looking for someone who has a plan for their career, and this position is part of it.

What qualifications do you have beyond academics that qualify you to make a successful transition into this business?

Financial analysts are competent at a few precise skills. One of these desirable skills is staying informed, utilizing the newest information as it comes available to make decisions regarding investments. A good answer to this question would involve your love of reading, your passion for information, and your skills at calculating odds. The financial analyst works as long as she is awake, whether it be watching the latest financial programming, surfing the web for information, or perusing the mobile for the latest happenings in the financial world.

Financial analysts are essentially researchers. A knowledge of forensic accounting would definitely sound good while answering this question. Being able to dig into a company’s books and make accurate conclusions based on your research, will strengthen your candidacy for the position.

Give me an example of how you work under pressure.

Not a question, but a request. Financial analysts work under tight deadlines. They must make snap decisions. They must compose detailed reports complete with spreadsheets, graphs, and clippings, and they must be able to present this information to upper management, and the decision-makers. If you know pressure, you can answer this question honestly, and candidly.

Do not squirm under the question. Answer it honestly, and openly. Share one specific scenario in which you performed well under pressure. Be prepared to have another experience should you need it. Your aim is not to impress, it is to give an impression of how you operate under pressure.

What is your working style?

Do you work well independently? Do you work well as a team member? Can you lead when it is needed, and follow when you must? No doubt you have worked several different ways throughout your career, share these styles and compare and contrast them to the financial analyst position. You may use nearly any experience. Think about situations in school, at work, as a volunteer, within your family, or other relationships. They will apply, and they will elicit a sympathy response in the interviewer.

What do you think it takes to be successful in our organization?

This is a question that will challenge your own personal research. As mentioned previously a financial analyst works both on and off the clock. Most off-the-clock work is personal study, and research. Be careful to explain what you mean if you answer with words like “dedication” or “education.” What does it mean to be dedicated? What do you do to be educated in this particular profession? Be specific, and be confident in your answers.

As A Matter Of Course

It is common to go through several sets of interview questions. You get the questions that fill you out as a candidate. You will experience behavioral questions (What was the biggest mistake you made in a job?), experience (What did you enjoy the least/most about your last/present job?), competence (How well do you handle conflict?), and technical, or knowledge questions (What courses did you take to prepare you for this position?). Expect a lengthy interview at nearly 100 questions. The more you prepare for common, and unexpected questions, the more likely you are to succeed at your interview.

References

Common Interview Questions for Financial Analysts. (2012, December 18).

Retrieved December 30, 2013, from http://www.askdeb.com/career/common-interview-questions-for-financial-analysts/

Green, A. (2013, April 13). How to Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?” – On Careers (usnews.com). Retrieved December 30, 2013, from http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2013/04/29/how-to-answer-where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years

23 Dec 2013
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Settling contract disputes

How to go about settling a contractual dispute
Unfortunately, it is often the case that people only consider the terms of a contract in detail if something goes wrong between them and the other party. When this happens, settling a dispute successfully and with the minimum of fuss is beneficial to both sides. Prolonged feuds do nothing for the reputation of a business or their clients, so it’s in everyone’s interests to maintain a civil relationship at this difficult time and to push for a swift resolution.

What can cause a contractual dispute?
There are many factors which can cause a contract to fall into dispute. The most common problem is a lack of detail, this can give rise to ambiguities; provisions which are interpreted in alternative ways by each party. The situation can become even more complex if there is no written agreement in place, if it was not correctly signed, or if the document is incomplete.

How will a forensic accountant investigate your claim?
When you instruct a forensic accountant in relation to a dispute, they will need to see a copy of the contract and analyse it from a critical perspective. This paperwork is what will lie at the heart of each issue and they will read each section and clause thoroughly. Once they are in possession of all the facts regarding the documents terms and conditions, they will move on to try and ascertain exactly what has gone wrong. In most cases, one party feels the other has not fulfilled their obligations, or that they have neglected to stick to a known agreement.

Following up the investigation
A forensic account will need to establish how the situation arose and uncover the history of the case. They will go back to look at each stage leading up to the dispute and piece it together like a timeline. Then they will study the events as they actually occurred, compared to what would have happened if both parties had strictly observed the terms of the contract.

What happens next?
When they are satisfied with the reliability of their findings, a forensic accountant can use their financial insight to identify what the monetary implications of the dispute have been for their client. Then if necessary, they will prepare the correct evidence for a court or a legal team. Forensic accountants are not legal experts; however, they can assist a lawyer with preparing a case and provide the accounting details. The specifics of a contract, or grievances stemming from what each person assumed they were signing, are matters for lawyers.

5 Dec 2013
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Create a Personal Budget

Creating a budget is very simple if you have not done one before: first, identify how much money you are currently making and compare that to how much you are currently spending. It is most common to do this on a monthly basis, but feel free to pick a time frame that works for you.

It is getting harder and harder for young people today to save money, but with increasing housing costs and living expenses it is important to manage consumption and save money. It is easy to find ways to cut back on consumption wherever possible. Here are some tips I have that are meant to solve much bigger scams however once in a while they do give very good general budgeting advice.

  • Try to make a lunch instead of purchasing one. Brew your own coffee in the mornings instead of stopping by your local bistro. But by far the most practical way to limit personal spending and the best way to set aside savings for the future is to make a budget for you.
  • Second, set targets on how much you want to spend in order to achieve your savings goals. Your goals could be to save a certain amount of money each month, or perhaps to set aside a certain percentage of your total income. It is okay to have flexible goals that change; for example, if you notice higher spending patterns in a particular month, you can set yourself a goal to reduce spending in the following three months. Whatever your goals may be, use them to create your budget.
  • The last step in creating a budget is often the most difficult – tracking your own spending to make sure you are spending within your limits and not exceeding your budget. This takes diligent work and requires you to save receipts, which is a good practice nonetheless. There is a wealth of free software available that can assist you in tracking your expenses and purchases. I like to use Google Drive and maintain a simple spreadsheet that I can update on my phone from wherever I am.

It is important to give yourself grace and not drive yourself crazy trying to stick to your budget. There will be times when you exceed your budget, but as long as you do your best you will see results.

So what should you do with these found savings? The most prudent thing to do is invest for the future. One need not be an accountant to make sound decisions with their money (pun intended), though doing the proper research and homework and talking to the right people is advisable. Talk to people such as financial advisers or forensic accountants who can help inform you on recent emerging trends in the marketplace. By creating a budget you will find yourself better prepared for the future and the unknown.

 

21 Nov 2013
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Forensic Accounting Genre; Hollywood Style

 

“Cooking the books” is an accounting phrase used to describe a rewriting of past financial mistakes to justify fraudulent transactions, or use of funds. Some companies can do it right. We don’t know whom because they stay under the radar. In other companies, the cooking acts like a disease leading ultimately to their demise. Enron, WorldCom, and the firms contributing to the financial disaster of 2008 all come to mind. They are all fertile material for involving stories, and more importantly, big Hollywood productions. In this article we’ll examine the role of accounting in these productions, and the characters the profession has influenced.

TV
Breaking Bad’s Walter White is the anti-hero of the series with a penchant for keeping himself out of serious trouble in spite of having perpetrated a dozen brutal crimes. While his smarts keep him hidden in plain sight, his wife Skyler, a bookkeeper for Beneke Fabricators, proves to be just as intelligent and deceptive, but in a different way.
She’s been at work less than a month when her forensic accounting instincts are peaked. Something is rank in the state of Beneke, but she’s not sure what. She reaches deep into the archives, pulling receipts, transactions, and all the balance sheet items she can find since she left the company years ago. Using these items she squares up the books and comes up millions of dollars short.
When Skyler confronts Ted Beneke, the company President, and an old flame, with her findings he dismisses it with a wave. It takes her several attempts before he owns up to it. She gives him an ultimatum. Fess up, or face jail time. Not from her, you understand, but from the IRS which is just around the corner. After a “heart-felt” confession Ted reveals that he’s been diverting funds to pay for his employees promised benefits. He’s been outside the law to care for the little man.
The truth is that he’s a horrible spender, a ruin, and the company has financial cancer. Against her own judgment Skyler agrees to “cook the books” to keep Ted out of jail. This act of hers nearly brings the IRS onto her own family, who have suddenly become wealthy thanks to Walt’s drug money, and she must adopt some of Walter’s brutal techniques to force Ted to square up with the IRS.
Skyler, once a principled accountant, and starry-eyed vixen becomes a criminal to save the men she loves. Ted from the IRS, and Walter from the law.
“Ted,” she says in one conversation, “If I can discover this, the IRS won’t have any problem finding it.” Oddly enough it isn’t the finances that end up squashing the Whites, alluding to Skyler’s skills as an accountant.
White Collar
Breaking Bad’s Skyler White shares similarities, but does not hold a candle to the criminal enterprises of one Neal Caffrey. If it’s criminal artistry in any form, from forging to street tricks like Three-card Monte, to expert salesmanship, Neal Caffery is the master. He is such a master of nearly everything underground that he can pick out a fellow criminal simply by observing him for two seconds.
Agent Peter Burke, on the other hand, is a forensic accounting specialist for the FBI. He has the same interests, and enjoys the same challenges as Neal, but he works for the good guys. Burke captures Caffrey not once, but twice, and while Neal continues to elude Peter while covering up his sordid past, the paradoxical suspicion and mutual respect Peter has for Neal never wanes.
The combination of the conscienceless criminal, and the bendable bureaucrat make for rich storytelling.

Movies

Forensic accounting, and accounting in general play a role vital to the story matrix of many movies. Ultimately its principles and practices can be found in some major blockbusters, including some of the most influential movies of the late 20th century.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) is a powerful film featuring a sharp accountant named Andy Dufresne. Andy, as a result of unfortunate circumstances, is convicted of the murder of his wife, and her lover. He spends some time in prison, learning the ropes before he seizes an opportunity to use his accounting skills to get in with the administration.
It begins on a rooftop where he and some fellow convicts are applying tar under the supervision of Captain Hadley, the supervising prison guard. Hadley is heard talking to a fellow enforcer about an inheritance he just received of $50,000, a formidable amount of money in the 1940’s. The Captain is upset over the complication of taxes, and of securing as much of the money as he can once the government has finished with him. Andy chimes in with the one-time spousal gift tax exclusion law that, should Hadley agree to use, would allow him to keep every penny of the $50,000.
From The Script (Darabont, 1994):
HADLEY: You better start making sense.
ANDY: If you want to keep that money, all of it, just give it to your wife. See, the IRS allows you a one-time- only gift to your spouse. It’s good up to sixty thousand dollars.
HADLEY: Naw, that ain’t right! Tax free?
ANDY: Tax free. IRS can’t touch one cent.
HADLEY: You’re the smart banker what shot his wife. Why should I believe a smart banker like you? So’s I can wind up in here with you?
ANDY: It’s perfectly legal. Go ask the IRS, they’ll say the same thing. Actually, I feel silly telling you all this. I’m sure you would have investigated the matter yourself.
Andy files the paperwork, and Captain Hadley gets to keep his $50,000. This, of course sets in motion Andy’s ultimate plan to escape prison. He begins schmoozing Warden Norton, getting him to buy into a plan to embezzle, and set up a front to capitalize on free labor. He gets the Warden to agree because this plan will make the Warden a very rich man, and Warden Norton is already corrupt.
For years Andy keeps the books, and buries the truth behind the false identity of the man whose money it supposedly belongs to. Andy cooks the prison’s books, handles bribes from competing firms, and grows the sum into a substantial fortune. Because he is an accounting genius Dufresne is able to manipulate the books, and the legal system into facilitating this fraud in full view of anyone that could do anything about it.
At the same time Andy is keeping careful records so he can expose the “Warden’s” illegal activities at a future date, both financial, and criminal. His careful “cooking of the books” aids his escape, and brings down a corrupt prison bureaucracy, leaving sweet justice behind. The interplay of moral, and amoral activity that ultimately results in virtue and justice center around the accounting activities, and thereby the style of thinking, of Andy Dufresne.

Schindler’s List (1993)
Itzhak Stern is Oskar Schindler’s hidden genius, using accounting skills to set up a case for Schindler’s use of Jews as skilled labor in his factory. Itzhak’s role in Schindler’s scheme to outwit the Nazis was of such delicate necessity that without him, the plan would have likely failed in spite of Schindler’s expert schmoozing. The Jewish accountant controlled the kickbacks, and supplied skilled work to the Nazis in charge of determining Schindler’s fate.
Several times, as the animosity and murderous impulses of the Nazis flared up, Stern had to expertly outwit the Nazi regime using his most potent weapon – counting the money. Together he and Schindler saved hundreds of lives, made history, and were forever honored in the state of Israel.
The Producers (2001)

Broadway producer Max Bialystock and accountant Leo Bloom are in a fix. Max has produced flop after flop, and has been reduced to seducing old women out of their trust money to fund his shows. Leo Bloom wants to be a producer, but he hasn’t done it before, so Max, formerly the King of Broadway, is his ticket in.
The show Max writes is atrocious. It bombs. After squaring his books, Leo tells Max that he has found an accounting error: Max raised $100,000 for “Funny Boy”, but the play only cost $98,000. Max begs Leo to cook the books to hide the discrepancy. This is where Leo comes up with a scheme to raise $2 million, pay $100,000 to put on the show, wherein it flops, and the investor’s money is figured lost, but really Max and Leo pocket the money and go to Rio.
Only by the adept skills of accounting could the whole scheme work, because Leo knows how to hide the money so no forensic accounting could find it.
We all know what happens, and what produces the best laughs from The Producers.
Conclusion
The skills of accounting can be found on TV, and in several films we all know. Fight Club (1999) shows us the unnamed man who calculates whether or not a recall on vehicles would be more profitable than court costs that result from wrongful death suits filed by victims of the car’s faulty parts. Stranger Than Fiction (2006) uses IRS accountant Harold Crick to illustrate someone becoming aware of their mortality, as he faces the inevitability of death even as he is auditing a restaurant owned by a woman he finds himself attracted to. Margin Call (2011) tells the story of the hours leading up to the financial crisis of 2008, and gives an intimate portrayal of a failing financial firm who were responsible for creating the derivatives of derivatives which lost investors billions of dollars during the crisis.
The use of accounting and its various disciplines within the realm of television and film provides what the profession apparently does not – excitement, tension, clever brilliance, and dazzling storytelling. Set in the right environment, and told in the right way, accounting adds that element of smart sophistication to nearly any setting; Nazi Germany, or hiding a fortune in drug money. The applications are infinite, and endlessly interesting.

References
Darabont, F. (1996). The Shawshank redemption. London: Nick Hern Books.

19 Nov 2013
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The Student-Debt Equation

Debt is part of being a college student. When in school financial aid advisors often counsel you to borrow only as much as you need. Often when a student is presented with excess cash their judgment is set aside for the opportunity to have heavier pockets for a time. After all, the loan amount is deferred for years. Unfortunately this kind of thinking leads to irresponsible borrowing that, after graduation, becomes an enormous burden, and a huge financial strain. Learning to manage your finances while in school, and taking your loans and other financial burdens seriously while still in school leads to relief, and prosperity after school. Getting there is the trick.

Live Within Your Means

Being a college student has certain expectations. One of which is the frequent truth that the college student is limited, more so than your common minimum-wage laborer. Hence we have established that facing financial challenges, and therefore more temptation to go into debt, is common among students, financially.
Financial challenges arise throughout your college career – challenges you must face and overcome. Being a college student often qualifies you for offers from credit card companies, and for a line of credit from your bank. The surest answer to that temptation is “No.”
Instead take some time out of your hectic schedule to sit down with your finances. Establish how much money you have, and/or make per month. Include only guaranteed money like loans, scholarships, grants, and wages.
Once a number has been created get all your bills and expenses together. Rent, utilities, insurance, your cellular phone, car payment, and all debt where you are expected to pay every month (that loan from Uncle Larry can probably wait).
Now you have two numbers – income, and expenses. Carefully deduct expenses from your income. The remaining number is called expendable income, and it can be used for recreation, travel, or for other responsibilities. This is forming a budget, and it is the first step to living within your means.

Working The Budget

There is wiggle room when it comes to the budget. But every month that core income number must remain solid. After you have anticipated all expenses for the month, you have some liberty with your money.
Manipulating the bills can open up other opportunities. Establish what date every bill is due, and how it coincides with your paycheck if you get one. One half of the month may be dedicated to paying off expenses, while the other half can be dedicated to paying off only a few. Most companies are willing to change due dates to cooperate with your income situation.
There are few things more satisfying, gratifying, and imperative to living a full, disciplined life than living within your means, and feeling the freedom it brings – the freedom of knowing that you are secure in your finances.

Be Smart

Debts compound. They come with interest rates, which add dollars to your debt even though you are paying on it. Credit cards often have interest rates in the high 20s which can result in years of frustration, and anxiety. The answer to preventing yourself from experiencing these feelings is discipline.
Create your budget. Stick to it. Never compromise.
College is all about getting ahead of the competition. Upon completion of school you will leave your competition behind if you have learned healthy financial skills. It will give you an advantage in looking for a job, because you will act out of confidence rather than desperation. Employers are confident if you, and especially your finances are in good health. These days a background check, which includes a detailed credit check, is a frequent part of the hiring process. Practicing healthy financial skills is advantageous to you in numerous ways.
Debunk the myths. People justify having a credit card on hand by saying that it is for emergencies. If you are financially disciplined those emergencies will be so few and far between that having a credit card will be optional, but not necessary.

Be Cautious
“Recent college graduates have entered an enormously difficult job market, which poses particular challenges for those who need to begin paying back student loans” (Reed, Cochrane, 2011). This report from 2011 is as applicable today as it was then. In spite of current job reports, the job market is weak for graduates. “The July [2013] unemployment rate, when adjusted for labor force participation by including those who have given up looking for work, for 18- to 29-year-olds is 16.1 percent, according to Generation Opportunity, a national organization of young people advocating for more economic opportunities” (Keenan, 2013.
The debt you accrue during school now has no guaranteed funding upon graduation. With a saturated job market students can expect to be outgunned by experienced persons taking up a large percentage of available positions.
Do not prolong your debts by making poor financial decisions while still in school.
Be cautious, take care, make a budget, stick to it, and maintain discipline. Sooner or later your student loans will come due. Thinking long term will help prevent financial stress in the future. The decisions made while going to school effect where you will end up after graduation.

References
Keenan, C. (2013, September 8). Young, unemployed, underemployed and in debt: Millenials face lackluster job market | TheGazette. Retrieved September 24, 2013, from http://thegazette.com/2013/09/08/young-unemployed-and-in-debt-millenials-face-lackluster-job-market/
Reed, M., & Cochrane, D. (2011). Student Debt and the Class of 2011. Retrieved from
The Institute for College Access & Success website: http://projectonstudentdebt.org/files/pub/classof2011.pdf