Analysts follow the money
Tony Mak, associate director of forensic services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, says forensic accountants help executives overcome potentially damaging challenges and risks.
"When rules are broken - unintentionally or otherwise - our job is to help clients who face challenges caused by fraud allegations, financial crimes and other irregularities. We assist them to recover lost funds, prevent further losses and maintain normal business operations," Mak says. He says accounting professionals combine forensic accounting and investigative skills to assist organisations facing financial and legal implications. Forensic accountants also look into mergers and acquisitions, tax investigations, initial public offering structures and specialised audits.
A PricewaterhouseCoopers Global Economic Crime Survey published last year says 30 per cent of 3,000 senior representatives of organisations from 54 countries reported having experienced at least one incident of fraud during the previous 12 months. Nearly 30 per cent also reported the direct financial impact of the incident was more than US$500,000. The figure excluded the impact the economic crime had on the company's reputation, brand, share price, employee morale and business relations.
Mak says that the need for forensic accountants locally has grown in step with the challenges companies face as they try to expand beyond the city's borders. "Whether these challenges involve dealing across borders with customers, joint venture partners, and foreign governments, or whether they are localised to their own country, they may involve different business cultures and legal systems, as well as unfamiliar regulatory and accountability requirements," Mak says.
Mak is a former senior inspector in the Hong Kong police, but he says that a background in law enforcement or legal training is unnecessary to become a forensic accountant.
Anyone interested in the profession can join the discipline at a junior stage, shifting from general auditing or accounting to forensic accounting after qualifying as a certified public accountant (CPA).
Forensic accountants should have a thorough understanding of accounting procedures and financial knowledge with strong analytical and investigative skills. Equally important is the ability to respond immediately and to communicate financial information clearly and concisely to regulators and legal professionals.
Mak was a platoon commander of the Police Tactical Unit, but he put his CPA skills to good use while he was in the force, as team leader of the Police Commercial Crime Bureau and acting chief inspector of the Internal Investigation Office. Mak also used his CPA skills while he oversaw securities intermediaries supervision at the Securities and Futures Commission.