The Golden Rules of Being a Forensic Accountant- M. Martin Mercer

A forensic accountant is someone who is trained & certified in forensic accounting, auditing and the investigation of white-collar& financial crimes. Forensic accountants become experts in the detection, prevention and deterrence of fraud and are often called upon to testify with respect to:
– Criminal Activities engaged by Perpetrators,
– Fraudulent Financial Transactions,
– Calculating & quantifying losses and economic damages,
– Disagreements relating to company acquisitions,
– Business valuations

CPAs and other accountants often want to become forensic accountants because they are ‘answered oriented’ by nature and testifying as an expert to the logical conclusions they reach seems to be simple, straight-forward, and a direct extension of what they already do.

If you are one of these aspiring forensic accountants, hang on to your hats because you are in for a wild ride in the courtroom!!! Many neophyte experts go into the courtroom thinking that everyone is in search for the ‘truth’ and all they have to do is explain the reason for their conclusions and everyone will be satisfied. You need to understand that whichever side you are on, the opposing counsel is not interested in having you ‘speak the truth’. On the contrary, get ready for an all out attack on your education, experience, assumptions, findings, calculations and conclusions!! The cross-examining attorney will engage in a game of ‘Knockout’ and will try to discredit you, your work, and/or your findings in any way that they can.

So expect to be attacked and fend off the onslaught by following these five (5) golden rules of testifying courtesy of the ACFE, Certified Fraud Examiners Manual (

· Dress professionally, maintain a professional demeanor: Be calm & deliberate in responding to questions.

· Speak clearly & audibly: Refrain from using jargon (simple ‘lay’ words are better); look directly at the question poser (be it attorney, judge or a juror).

· Prepare & know your area of expertise and the facts: Do not read from notes; listen to the question and answer it directly (do not volunteer more that the question requires); if you don’t understand the questions, then ask for clarification; create space between the question and answer to give supporting counsel time to object to the question (this buys time to make more thoughtful responses).

· Be friendly & polite: To all parties, even when the cross-examining attorney is attacking you (otherwise you will appear combative or argumentative); “Never let them see you sweat!!”

· Most importantly, be honest & tell the truth: Do not invent, do not be evasive.

If you can handle being attacked and you can follow these five (5) golden rules, then Congratulations!! You are going to have a great career as a forensic accountant!!!

Martin Mercer is an experienced forensic accountant, and has been a Certified Public Accountant and an Attorney with over 25 years of experience in business management, financial planning, information technology, and software development. Marty comes from a ‘Big 4′ accounting background and has accumulated a breadth of experience leading and managing the fiscal, operational, and technological functions of companies whose industries include real estate, software development, e-commerce, law, tax, insurance, and public accounting. His expertise includes finance and accounting, legal/contract negotiations, e-business, e-commerce, strategic marketing, new product development, organizational development, and IT integration project development. Additionally, for over 20 years Marty has taught accounting theory, auditing, business law, and computer science to college students and CPA candidates.

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