With a virtual media cottage industry blooming on the corpse of bankrupt Enron and its complicated array of alleged financial shenanigans, could it be just a matter of time before some television executive plots a new drama starring … forensic accountants?
You can almost hear the pitch now: "It's like Quincy, only with balance sheets instead of cadavers!"
OK, maybe you won't see droves of shows portraying financial detectives wooing beautiful women aboard a boat à la the opening montage from the '70s NBC hit about a medical examiner named Quincy, starring Jack Klugman.
But forensic accountants are becoming the rising stars of their profession as more and more companies seek to avoid becoming the next Enron.
Like detectives in green eye shades, forensic accountants bring a healthy dose of suspicion to their jobs, along with a willingness to look beyond normal channels to get to the bottom of a situation. Forensic accountants might have to do everything from sorting through computer files to detecting falsified records. In short, anything that can help detect financial wrongdoing.
One example is Larry Crumbley, an accounting professor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and editor of the Journal of Forensic Accounting. Crumbley started working in the field in the late '80s and has been called upon as an expert witness in trials over the years.
A specialist in the oil and gas industry, Crumbley's testimony has sometimes been used to prove whether or not a company is really a Ponzi scheme in disguise; that is, an investment swindle in which early investors are paid off with funds raised by later investors.
And many of the cases in which forensic accountants get involved, says Crumbley, are civil suits in which one side is trying to assess how much money the other side has.
"You can have a divorce and one of the partners tries to hide their assets, and the attorney will hire a forensic accountant to come in and try to find the assets," he explains.
Crumbley has also written 12 novels chronicling the adventures of forensic accountants that he uses to teach forensic accounting methods in his classes. His latest novel, entitled The Big "R": An Internal Auditing Action Adventure, tells the story of a certified internal auditor, a forensic accountant and an FBI agent who work together to find serial killers that strike at baseball parks.
The novel "mixes baseball, auditing, serial killers, fraud, risks, chemical and biological agents, and scuba diving to get a better way of learning internal auditing," reads the blurb on Crumbley's Web site.
Forensic accounting is hardly new, but accounting and security firms alike have stepped up their efforts to use the discipline in recent years.
Banks, insurance companies, police forces and government agencies typically use forensic accountants to track criminal acts after they've been committed. But industry insiders say they expect more companies to use them as preventative measures as the demand for financial transparency increases in the wake of the recent accounting scandals.