04 May

NACVA Value Examiner: Practicing Solo

Earlier this year I was interviewed by Rod Burkert for NACVA’s magazine, Value Examiner. Practicing Solo is a feature on solo practitioners, with the idea that it will help others who are solo or considering going solo.

Snapshot:

  • My credentials: CPA, CFF
  • I’m located in: Milwaukee and Chicago (I got my start and live in Milwaukee, but I do about half of my work in Chicago)
  • I’ve been on my own since: January 2000
  • Name of my firm: Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting (www.sequenceinc.com)
  • My practice sweet spot is: Exclusively forensic accounting

Rod: So the BVFLS profession isn’t exactly a calling. Tell us about your background and how you got to where you are today.

Tracy: For me, it absolutely felt like a calling. I am fascinated with the criminal justice system and I wanted to be a part of it. I majored in Criminology and Law Studies at Marquette University, and I saw myself becoming a prison warden someday. As a sophomore, I took a class called Financial Crime Investigation, and I was hooked. I started taking accounting and economics courses so that I could work toward a forensic accounting career. I worked as a probation officer while I worked on an MBA at night, finishing up the requirements needed to sit for the CPA exam.

My first job in the accounting world was as an auditor for Arthur Andersen. I got as much experience as I could while I was there, and then I moved to a small forensic accounting firm so I could get started in my desired specialty. After a couple of years, I left to start my own practice. I had visions of growing my practice by adding staff, but after working with a few employees, I decided that I liked the solo practitioner life better. I’ve been solo for years now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I like being responsible for everything on my cases. I have excellent quality control, and I know the numbers inside and out. When it comes time for depositions and trial, I can answer the questions about the numbers confidently. Read More

25 Apr

Expert Witnesses and Social Media

Ask attorneys what they think of social media, and you’ll get a wide range of responses. Some are actively involved, others are avid readers, and some stay as far away from it as possible. There is still a fair amount of reluctance to get involved, whether it is a more “social” type of social media (like Facebook or Instagram) or a more professional one (like LinkedIn or possibly Twitter). Also included in social media is blogging, something that has been around since the late 90s, but which many lawyers and experts still refuse to be actively involved in.

Social media is an opportunity to write about what you know and promote your business and expertise. You can engage in dialogue with people people from far away places. There is so much that can be learned from interactions on social media, and so many relationships that can be developed (which would have previously been nearly impossible).

But of course, there are pitfalls. There is a common bias against social media: That it’s simply a waste of time because it is mostly about socializing and games. While there is definitely a very personal component to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites, their utility goes far beyond being a neat way to kill some time.

Social media is being actively and aggressively used by people who have a business reason to be there. Many participate because they love the exchange of knowledge and are eager to fill others in on current events, industry happenings, or interesting news stories. Others participate mostly to promote their companies and brands in some way. Some join in the discussion to raise their professional profiles and to gain credibility in their fields. Read More

28 Mar

Second Edition of Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce

Exchanging books with family lawyer Randy Kessler in 2016.

The American Bar Association has asked me to write the second edition of Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce Cases: Investigating Spending and Finding Hidden Income and Assets. It was (and still is) the only book on the market that details how to do a lifestyle analysis and how to use the results.

I do lifestyle analysis in very high net worth divorce cases, and the results are used to determine standard of living (which then helps calculate support), find sources of hidden income, and find hidden assets. Read More

02 Jul

Questions for New Clients

What questions do you ask a new potential client?

Nearly all of my work comes from attorneys, on behalf of their clients. I have two clients: the attorney and his/her client.

My questions are pretty much the same no matter which of them I’m talking to on that first phone call. The most important questions I ask are things like:

  • What kind of case is this – I am looking for some specifics of who is involved and what is going on.
  • What do you need me to do – Are they really in need of a forensic accountant, or do they need someone else, like a private investigator? Are they looking for services that I provide? For example, I trace funds in a divorce, but I do not provide business valuation services.
  • When does the work need to be done – I do most of my case work in 60 to 90 days. That’s great for clients, but it also means that there are cases I can’t take because I’m already at capacity.
  • Can you pay my fees – This might sound impolite, but I have to earn a living. This is where I explain my fixed fees and the deposit I require. I may ask about their budget to ensure that we are on the same page. (Even though I can’t quote a fee this early, I often get a feeling for a range of fees.)

Figure out the questions that are most important in your practice, and be ready to ask them of any potential new client.

27 Apr

Blogging to Get Business

Attorneys and accountants are told that they need to blog if they want to get clients. Blogs are a magic marketing tool. If you blog it they will come.

It’s way more complicated than that.

About 40% of my revenue comes from attorneys who find me using Google. It’s because of my blog, but in a roundabout way. The people who read my blog (random consumers) aren’t my clients (attorneys). But in searching for things related to fraud and finding my blog, the readers have increased my Google rankings for important search terms. Attorneys use those search terms, and they get to my website.

But I’ve been blogging since 2005. This site is therefore very rich in content that helps people learn about fraud and what I do. I have invested hundreds of hours into the blog for this payoff. Read More

27 Dec

Fraud Investigation for Small Firms

Minnesota Society of CPAs Footnote Magazine
February/March 2017

The growth in forensic accounting and fraud investigation specialties has led accounting firms of all sizes to expand their practices to these areas. Experts agree that this practice area will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

Is it as easy as it sounds to add forensic accounting to your firm’s competencies? Traditional audit staff may have excellent foundational knowledge that could be applied to fraud investigations, but offering consistent and reliable services to clients in the area of forensic accounting will take some work.

Here are areas your firm — especially if it’s small — should focus.

Service focus

It is a simple decision to start providing accounting services. The next step is deciding which specific services to provide. Many types of engagements can fall under the forensic accounting umbrella, so it is important to develop a focus. Read More

12 May

Book: Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce Cases

Tracy Coenen talks about her book, “Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce Cases: Investigating Spending and Finding Hidden Income and Assets.” The book was published by the American Bar Association

shares her insight on uncovering financial details to ensure that divorce settlements are fair and equitable. A forensic accountant and fraud investigator, Coenen wrote the book to arm lawyers with a powerful tool when valuing and dividing property in complex divorce cases.

22 Mar

Using Bank Statements in Child Support and Divorce Cases

Bank statements can be a very valuable tool in child support and divorce cases, particularly when one party has not been forthcoming about income and expenses. We can look at deposits to draw conclusions about income, and the level of expenditures may also give us clues about the level of income. Tracy talks about some of the ways she analyzes the bank statement data.

16 Sep

Book Review: Wall Street Smarts: A Guide to Finding Your Inner Investor

wall-street-smarts-miles-goodwinWall Street Smarts: A Guide to Finding Your Inner Investor, by Miles Goodwin, is masterful compilation of the best investment advice for the average person. The book does the seemingly impossible by pulling together the best investment advice from the best books out there. Mr. Goodwin has done the hard work so you don’t have to. He has taken decades of investment research and experience (as an average person just trying to manage his own money) and extracted the most relevant advice from some of the most knowledgeable authors. Added to this material is a wealth of information he has accumulated over the years.

Where does the average person begin when trying to learn about investments? There are lots of great articles and books out there, but how do you figure out which ones are relevant and accurate? And how do you find the time to read all of them? Simply put, most people can’t. And that’s why Wall Street Smarts is an invaluable tool for anyone who wants more control over their savings and investments. Read More