Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By Rick Romell
Tracy Coenen was a criminology major at Marquette University when a class on investigating financial crimes sparked her interest in forensic accounting – a field she had never heard of until then. She started taking business courses, eventually securing an MBA and the skills necessary to become a certified public accountant.
What does she do? Forensic accountant with her own business, Sequence Inc.
And just what is a forensic accountant? “It is someone who specializes in investigative work dealing with numbers. Typically you see forensic accountants having one of a few different types of focus. There’s a focus on fraud – finding it, preventing it. There can be a focus on litigation, where companies are suing each other and arguing about the numbers and need someone to sort them out. There can be a business valuation focus, where the accountant is looking to put a dollar figure on a business, and there can be a focus on insurance claims, both fraudulent insurance claims as well as insurance claims that just are large and need sorting out by numbers people.”
What’s your specialty? “I focus on fraud and litigation, and almost all of my work comes from attorneys on behalf of their clients.”
What types of problems do you get involved with? “An executive stealing money – that would be the most common type of case I work on. But I also do things like public companies manipulating financial statements. I also do the insurance fraud work. So, for example, a case of suspected arson – they may call me in to look at the financial condition of the business prior to the suspected arson to see if there may have been a motive. (And) … general corporate infighting. Maybe you’ve got a small, closely held business where the shareholders are going to split up or are accusing one another of theft.”
What characteristics are most helpful to a forensic accountant? “You definitely need a strong accounting background – not just knowing how to do debits and credits, but a really strong understanding of how the financial statements all come together, where the areas of risk are, where the greatest chance for manipulation is. And the second piece that you need is what I call investigative intuition. Some people say I have a nose for fraud. … The more complicated the puzzle, the better I like it.”