Accounting + Criminology = Forensic Accounting

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Tracy Coenen: Energetic force behind local firm Sequence Inc.

Accounting Magazine – Marquette University
By Dan Love

A typical workday for Tracy Coenen may start in the early morning hours, or perhaps at 5:00 in the evening, and she may be conducting business from her office in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, or at a second office in downtown Chicago, or at any number of client sites in either city.

Ms. Coenen has thrived on the flexibility of her schedule since she combined her independent and ambitious personality with her strong technical and instinctive knowledge of accounting and criminology to form Sequence Inc., a forensic accounting firm specializing in fraud investigation and litigation. Now, six years into her venture, Tracy is encouraged by her success and continues to be the sole driving force that has put Sequence Inc. in a remarkable position for growth while earning her tremendous respect among her colleagues.

Tracy’s path toward founding her own firm began at Marquette University. Having grown up near Manitowoc, Wisconsin, she chose MU over other regional schools so that she could explore an interest in criminology. Also a member of the gospel choir, Coenen completed her undergraduate coursework as a criminology major and used the degree as a stepping stone into a number of different law enforcement-related employee roles.

For a time she work as a probation officer for Wisconsin before taking a job as an IRS agent. Despite her passion for criminal investigation, Coenen’s enthusiasm for both jobs was short-lived as she identified herself as someone who is not meant to be a traditional employee.

However, each job was not without its merits and Ms. Coenen still believes that one of the most beneficial aspects of her work with the IRS came during the Criminal Investigation Training Program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. She describes this experience as a classic “Cops ‘n Robbers” environment in which she got to drive fast cars and shoot guns. Although she left the IRS, she appreciates the program because it nurtured and encouraged her interest in criminal investigation and confirmed that she still wanted to seek a job that had an investigative element and would allow her to apply her criminology talents and strengths, albeit in a different context.

Coenen returned to Marquette to earn her MBA, which she rationalized as a hedge for future job prospects, citing the notion that the degree could not hurt and the timing was right. This business connection became an important link in her career as she focused her MBA in accounting so that she could earn her accountant certification (CPA) and then be qualified to apply her criminology intuition to accounting material.

After receiving her MBA, Tracy spent 18 months as an auditor with Arthur Andersen and then moved to a small forensic accounting firm where she believed she had finally found the right type of job that captured all of her interests and talents. Coenen founded Sequence Inc. soon after and continues to act as president and sole member of her firm.

Sequence Inc. specializes in fraud investigation and litigation which, depending on the case circumstances, may be independent activities or may overlap; that is, when fraud investigation leads to trial. She does not concentrate on a specific industry or client base but rather relies on law firms that will seek her expertise regarding their own clients’ matters.

Her daily schedule follows no set formula as she is free to work at her own pace and the nature of her work typically compels companies to keep her efforts undisclosed and off-site, so as not to disrupt internal operations with the prospect that there are weaknesses or impending litigation.

Given her line of work, Tracy Coenen has a unique perspective – while not overly distrustful of any companies which she, as a consumer, interacts, she appreciates the existence of a field that allows her to do what she does best, that is, investigate and question the viability of transactions and operations. She maintains an admirable balance in her perspective that ultimately results in what she simply describes as “neutral.”

Within the environment of fraud investigation, Coenen believes that the most pressing issue concerning companies is to create controls that prevent fraud where it has any potential to originate. The enforcement of Sarbanes-Oxley regulations provides a good start, but Tracy believes that real success and compliance are achieved when management digs deeper into operations and makes greater, unique investments in controls. This philosophy adds a new challenge to her work in that she must then demonstrate and explain the cost-benefit values, a concept still lost on some executives.

In addition to her outgoing and fun personality, Ms. Coenen’s most consistent and visible characteristic is her unending devotion to her work. While she likes to schedule a cruise for herself each year, much of her free time is spent improving the professional image of her firm by maintaining its website and refining her marketing efforts.

Additionally, she teaches with the Wisconsin Institute of CPAs and prepares presentations for various independent engagements. Not only this, but Coenen enjoys writing articles, and in fact, recently finished writing a chapter on ethics as a contribution to an upcoming book.

Looking to the future, Coenen is comfortable remaining the sole identity behind Sequence. However, she has recently begun taking on new projects that are best accomplished through collaborations with other firms, and she says the resulting positive experiences so far could inspire more consideration for expansion in later years.

Anticipating that Sequence will have continued success, there is no question that Tracy Coenen will remain and admired and esteemed model for students looking to apply an accounting degree in a less traditional but increasingly significant field.

“Accounting” is the magazine of the Department of Accounting of the College of Business Administration at Marquette University. The annual publication keeps students and alumni informed of the accomplishments and activities of MU accounting alumni and provides an update on the accounting program. The magazine is also used to promote the program to high school educators, prospective student and their partents, and MU College of Business Administration students who are undecided on a major.

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