It was during the Washington Post’s investigation of the Watergate burglary when investigative reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodrow, were first exhorted to “follow the money” by their clandestine source, codenamed Deep Throat, which eventually led to the president’s resignation more than a year later. Thus, the field of forensic accounting was born in the public’s consciousness and four decades later, as an investigative tool, the field is on the forefront of combating all forms of fraud and waste. Today, forensic accountants, auditors, and management accountants armed with masters in data analytics, are the rock stars of this exciting investigative field whether working for a government-auditing agency, or earning a paycheck from one of the big accounting houses.
What is the Buzz about Big Data Analytics?
Boxes of data that are never analyzed are little more than boxes of paper for all intents and purposes. Consequently, the drive behind big data aims at identifying ways of teasing out information from huge volumes of data. Analyzed correctly, big data can identify trends, spot patterns, and provide time for actionable decision-making. Companies have long used the data that streams into their business to further their marketing and sales goals, and under the guise of national security concerns, governmental agencies are ramping up their big data collection efforts. For the graduate with a masters in data analytics, they have two distinct career paths they can follow: forensic accounting and auditing.
Real World Applications
Rooting out corruption, monetary malfeasance, and other types of financial crimes is greatly complicated by the ability of wrongdoers to hide their crimes amidst the backdrop of so much information, and that’s why the forensic accountant, with a masters in data analytics, becomes so crucial to unearthing those secrets.
By far however, the private sector is the sharp point of the spear when it comes to big data analytics. A decade after the ENRON and Arthur Anderson accounting scandals, big house accounting firms are at the epicenter of data analytics and leaders in this important field. As such, degree holders are in high demand as auditors and advisory services consultants to some of the leading accounting firms around the nation.
Indeed, the ENRON case presents an excellent platform to explore the differences between the two roles of auditor and forensic accountant. In that case, the regular auditors missed the red flags flying over the energy giant’s financial records, so it was up to the forensic accountants to step in and sort out the mess in the aftermath of the financial disaster. The resultant report noted that had the auditors used the well-known and respected data analytics technique known as the Benford Distribution model, they would have spotted the problems with ENRON’s financial accounts long before such damage was sustained.
Cynically perhaps, much of this is driven by the fear of litigation in the event of another Arthur Anderson-style meltdown ala 2001. According to Cornerstone Research, in the world of private litigation, those securities class action filings with accounting allegations are on the rise resulting in settlement values of $2.6 billion in 2015. This is a three-fold increase over 2014 numbers. The majority of complaints alleged internal control weaknesses, which are at their highest level in 10 years. Whether staving off the next financial problem as an auditor, or discovering what happened as a forensic accountant, understanding big data is the key to success.
Earning a Masters in Digital Forensics
Following the money, as they say, has become much more complicated since the Watergate reporters were urged to follow the trail of money to the Nixon White House. That being said however, the sleuths on the financial trail are at their professional best armed with masters in digital analytics. Indeed, a Masters in Digital Forensics is the premiere degree credential for entry into this exciting field. Applicants can have their credential in hand in as little as 20 months. As a bonus for those looking at a midlife career change, this graduate degree choice does not necessitate an accounting undergraduate degree to pursue their dream of becoming financial sleuths.