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Who you gonna call?
We drop in on the forensic and dispute services department at Deloitte
Due to the extremely sensitive nature of the work of the forensic and dispute services department, when I visit the Deloitte building in central London I'm not even allowed to visit the floor they work on. In fact, unless you end up getting a job there, you never will either. I'm desperate to know what they get up to in there, so from the comfort of a meeting room tantalisingly close to where the team are investigating whatever secret thing it is that they're investigating, I try to be as nosy as possible. Elizabeth Gutteridge, partner at Deloitte, begins by telling me only as much as I'm allowed to know about what goes on behind the closed doors.
"A common misconception about the word forensic is that it's about white coats, scientists, or an episode of CSI," she laughs. "In fact, forensic means anything to do with the court. And that's the aspect that defines our work here – we are always mindful that our work could end up in court. That could be due to a corruption investigation, or allegations of fraud – something where ultimately there'll be a court and lawyers involved. Or it may be that there's been a breach in some contract, or a breach of a patent, or something like that where expert opinion is needed."
So it's in court where the work of the department culminates – and no wonder that it has to be kept under wraps, as any leaks of information during an investigation could potentially damage a case.
"We have an expert standing in the box, taking the oath, and giving his or her opinion as to the damages suffered by a company, for example, or as to what has happened as a result of malfeasance," explains Gutteridge. "We work out what's been happening in white collar corruption investigations, where issues range from illicit payments being made to secure lucrative contracts to the accounts being manipulated by management. We use a whole mix of people: investigative accountants, ex-lawyers and enforcement staff to get to the bottom of what's been going on. Our teams work closely with the company or regulatory body which has asked us to investigate." says Gutteridge.
"At the other end of the spectrum you get people working very closely with the lawyers, who appoint us as accountants to act as expert witnesses in court. For example, my area of expertise is forensic intellectual property, so I look at cases such as instances of employees walking off with new technology or other intangible assets to rival companies who then copy them. In such cases I would generally be asked to quantify the impact of the employee's actions on the original company."
Aside from the court appearances, if that's not exciting enough for you, you might also find yourself on a dawn raid – sifting through clues in a deserted office under cover of the night. "I went on a raid unexpectedly, and you get a real buzz out of it," says Gutteridge. "Nobody knows what the right answer is. You're on a real forage for the right data, and there is no standard work programme for a forensic investigation. Someone's cooking the books and you have to find out who is doing it and how they're doing it – methods are getting increasingly sophisticated with the use of technology. People think they've got rid of evidence by deleting
e-mails or documents, but with back-up from our forensic technology team, who can even access servers remotely, we can often find out what they've been up to."
Still not exciting enough for you? How about a bit of overseas travel thrown in for good measure? As Gutteridge says: "Increasingly we are dealing with global investigations and international disputes. In fact, recently we drew a little map showing where members of the department had been in the past few months and it was like a travel agent's map of destinations – you name the country and we'd had someone over there!"
If you want a career where skills such as thinking on your feet, meticulous attention to detail and using your own initiative combine with constantly varying challenges, plenty of travel and the potential of a dawn raid or two, may I recommend you give this kind of job a try? It's accounting with, dare I say it, a frisson of glamour – now that's something there should be more of.
Name: Chris Tune Age: 28
Job title: Manager Qualification: ACA
Time in department: 13 months
Best experience at Deloitte: "You never know what's coming round the corner – which is great. The work is so varied, and you never know where you're going to be from one project to the next. Meeting the barrister on a case and hearing him say that he really appreciated all the hard work I'd put in, and how we'd helped the client, is one of the highlights so far."
Why you should go into forensic accounting: "It's the sexy side of accounting. You can come to work on a Monday and find yourself jetting off somewhere by Tuesday. It's interesting, and you get to be professionally nosy."
Name: Neil Gray Age: 25
Job title: Assistant Manager
Time in department: 14 months
Best experience at Deloitte: "Going to an internal dinner, happening to mention to one of the directors that I speak Russian and that I wanted to get a chance to use it, and him sending me out to Moscow the next day to help the team with an investigation over there!"
Why you should go into forensic accounting: "If you don't want to be shackled by the requirements of auditing and you want to come up with your own way of doing things, it's ideal. You're never restricted in any industry, and of course the department is full of people who aren't just accountants."
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