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What’s it like to… be a forensic accountant

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Posted about 1 month ago by ICAEW Insights

Laura Dymott started out in audit before discovering the fascinating world of forensics. The variety of clients and cases means no two days are ever the same – and she’s certainly never bored

Like many ACA students, Laura Dymott began her career as an audit trainee. “At university I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to do, but I found out about the ACA qualification at a careers fair and thought it sounded interesting,” she says. “I liked the fact that it seemed to open up a few doors in terms of different career options. So, once I finished university, I joined the graduate scheme at RSM, and undertook my ACA qualification there in the audit practice.”

Although she had completed several accounting modules as part of her business management degree, it wasn’t until Laura started her professional career that she discovered the area of forensics. “I didn’t know a huge amount about forensic accounting, it was only when I started my job that I heard about it really,” she remembers. “I met someone who worked in forensics and it sparked my interest, so I started looking into it. Then, in my second or third year of training, I sought out the forensics team at my firm to find out a bit more and understand whether it was something I could potentially move into. I was working in Rochdale at the time, and one of the forensics partners in the Manchester office offered to mentor me to give me some insight. It just sounded like a good fit for me, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to get some wider experience.”

At the time, there weren’t any opportunities for an official secondment into the forensics team, but Laura was able to offer some support on a couple of cases. “There was one case where they needed to complete a forensic audit, which played into my skillset,” she says. “I was able to see how a case worked and understand the change in mindset that was needed. Immediately afterwards, I knew it was something I’d like to pursue. I had always had an interest in law – having actually started off studying towards a law degree – so the opportunity to use my accounting qualification and skillset, but in the field of law, was a really nice mix.”

The following year, a vacancy came up in the forensic accounting team at RSM’s London office. In what she describes as ‘a career-defining moment’, Laura decided to go for it; relocating to London and moving into a forensic role full time. She quickly ‘got the bug’ and found her new job suited her: “Every case is different,” she explains. “I enjoy working with different law firms and different clients; no two days are ever the same. It gives me the variety and challenge I was looking for.”

Forensic services typically fall into two areas: expert witness work, where forensic accountants provide their expertise or opinion as part of a dispute or litigation, and the investigation side which, Laura explains, “Again, could be part of litigation, or an internal corporate investigation, or a wider investigation being undertaken by a third party such as a regulator. Fraud could have been identified or suspected, or a company could have collapsed and we need to understand why. For example, were there any issues with the actions of its directors or with the auditors? There’s a variety of different bribery and corruption investigations you can get involved with as well. The firm I have worked at for the past five years, FRP Advisory, performs both types of work, but I specialise more in investigations, typically working on compex insolvency investigation matters.

 

“There’s no such thing as a typical day in forensic accounting because there’s so much variety,” she adds. “As a senior manager, my role includes managing the team and reviewing their work, liaising with instructed solicitors and clients, and reviewing and implementing a strategy for the case, particularly where litigation is involved.

“We work closely with our colleagues in the forensic technology team at FRP, who compile the data and documents for an investigation, hosting information in our disclosure review platform, Relativity. The more junior members of the team often get involved more in analysis work such as examining bank statements and reviewing documents to understand what has happened as part of a particular case, so that we can report back to the client. Eventually, we’ll produce a final work product, whether that’s writing a report, producing analysis in a way that can be understood by the client, preparing documents for court, or giving evidence as an accounting expert.”

When she tells people she works in forensic services, Laura says, they often automatically think of CSI. “Of course, it’s not that sort of forensics, but the actual mindset behind it and the detail that you’re looking for – the evidence – is often very similar. And for me, that’s what makes it so interesting. If you’re the sort of person who likes being a bit nosy, digging deeper and finding out what happened, there are so many different, interesting cases you can get involved with. A lot of what we do is quite high profile, and that often makes it more interesting than what an accountant typically does, or what someone outside the industry might think an accountant does.”

How does it feel to be on the ‘other’ side, scrutinising the work of fellow accountants as part of her remit? “When I was an auditor I was out conducting audits, whereas now I’m examining audits performed by other firms to see whether they have been done to the standard required,” she says. “It’s interesting seeing both sides of it, and while you may appreciate where the auditors are coming from when you’ve experienced it yourself, at the end of the day we’ve got a job to make sure that we maintain the standards of the profession. I’m a Chartered Accountant and I’m proud of that title, and the job I do.”

One of the benefits of the ACA, Laura believes, is the range of potential careers available to Chartered Accountants. “If you look at the opportunities available, especially once you’ve done the ACA, there’s just so much variety,” she says. “And you can keep your options open – it doesn’t matter if you don’t know which field you want to go into. Even once you pick a field, you don’t have to stay in it forever. For me, it has opened up so many doors in terms of career opportunities, and the people it’s enabled me to meet.”

Being a member of ICAEW has proved invaluable when it comes to networking, especially when Laura first moved to London. “I was involved with the North West Student Society in Rochdale, so when I moved to London I wanted to stay involved as a way of meeting new people,” she says. “I found a group for newly qualified members, but at the time there wasn’t a huge amount of interest in it. It just needed someone to pick it up and drive it, so myself and a few others built it up again over the period of a few years, three of which I acted as chair. In 2017, I was asked to run for ICAEW Council, and was successfully elected. I’ve served one term so far, and I’ve just been re-elected to serve another term representing members across London.

“My involvement with ICAEW has given me the chance to meet a mixture of different people including CEOs of international organisations and partners of large accounting firms, as well as a variety of young people working in other complementary professions. It’s a great way to expand your personal network, and it’s an opportunity to market to other firms too. I’ve made contacts through ICAEW that have referred work to FRP and vice versa. I’ve learned so much about the profession that the public – and even a lot of accountants – have little insight into.”

 

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