a man reviewing numbers during a forensic accounting audit

Exploring the World of Forensic Accounting

Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a successful forensic accountant? Tune in to an enlightening conversation with Dr. Joyce Ellis, full-time professor and Academic Program Director for the Master of Accounting program at National University. Dr. Ellis shares her unique journey in the accounting profession and discusses her serendipitous venture into the intriguing world of forensic accounting. You'll learn about various roles a forensic accountant can play, the necessary requirements for this career, and about the growing demand for this profession due to an increasing intolerance of fraud.

Dr. Ellis does not stop there! She generously offers valuable advice for those aspiring to pursue a career in forensic accounting. She highlights the importance and competitive edge of having a Master’s degree, the potential sacrifices needed, and the irreplaceable value of mentorship from a professor, extending insights beyond the reach of any headhunter. Keeping abreast with current accounting trends is also a game-changer according to Dr. Ellis. Furthermore, we delve into the specialized accounting courses that National University offers, underscoring the significance of having a relationship with a professor or advisor in this dynamic field. So if you've been considering a rewarding career in forensic accounting, this episode is loaded with insights you're not going to want to miss.

Show Notes

  • 0:00:09 - Becoming a Forensic Accountant (41 Seconds)
  • 0:07:20 - Qualifications for Forensic Accounting Specialization (88 Seconds)
  • 0:10:53 - Accounting Specialization (114 Seconds)
  • 0:14:24 - Becoming a Forensic Accountant (55 Seconds)
  • 0:20:14 - Importance of Advanced Degrees in Accounting (64 Seconds)

0:00:01 - Announcer

You are listening to the National University Podcast.

0:00:10 - Kimberly King

Hello, I'm Kimberly King. Welcome to the National University Podcast, where we offer a holistic approach to student support, well-being and success- the whole human education. We put passion into practice by offering accessible, achievable higher education to lifelong learners. Today we have a fascinating conversation up ahead and we're talking about how to become a forensic accountant. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, forensic accountants combine their accounting knowledge with investigative skills in various litigation support and investigative accounting settings. Forensic accountants are employed by public accounting firms, forensic accounting divisions, by consulting firms specializing in risk consulting and forensic accounting services, or by lawyers, law enforcement agencies, insurance companies, government organizations or financial institutions. Due to a heightened awareness and growing intolerance of fraud, demand for forensic accountants is rapidly increasing.

On today's episode, we're discussing how to become a forensic accountant and joining us is Dr. Joyce Ellis. Dr. Ellis is a full-time professor at National University and currently serves as the Academic Program Director for the Master of Accounting program. She oversees the MACC program, teaches and develops courses, including one on forensic accounting. Prior to her tenure at National, Dr. Ellis practiced in the accounting profession for over 30 years in the Los Angeles area CPA firms. She has progressed through experience into the world of forensic accounting and testifies in California Superior Court as an expert witness. She holds a bachelor's, a master's and a PhD degree in accounting and these days she guides her students into and through the accounting profession, and we welcome her to the podcast. Dr. Ellis, how are you?

0:02:09 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

Good morning, I'm fine (laughter).

0:02:11 - Kimberly King

It's nice to have you. What an interesting topic. Before we get to today's show, though, would you fill our audience in a little bit on your work and your mission?

0:02:21 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

You're talking about the 30 years?

0:02:24 - Kimberly King

Yes, yes. What drives you? What is your passion?

0:02:27 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

You know, people would ask me to write a book someday. And I said you know, in my field you have to use pseudonyms. You can't even come near. You know, hopefully somebody doesn't recognize themselves because you're shielded behind the attorneys. Thank God, yeah, thank goodness.

But I fell into the field when I - I'm originally from New York. When I came out here after the undergrad and was in Los Angeles, I thought what do I really want to do? And then, of course, headhunters grab you and once said to me you know, do you fight any way? Are you interested in law? And I said funny, you should ask because I was toying between a master's and a law degree, because my whole life I watched Perry Mason. I'm a diehard lawyer, I love it, yep (laughter). So he said will you give me 30 days of your time? I want to try something out. And he put me in Dick Fields office. Now Dick Fields is one of the fathers of forensic accounting in California, so rather rough character. But if you can understand him, you're fine. So here I am in a steel vault with Dick Fields. We didn't have computers at that time. I would run into his section after he talked to a lawyer and grabbed the tape. Take it off the roll and file it I be.

I began to know forensic speak and how you deal with the attorneys, what they're looking for, and eventually Dick says to me now, I want you to meet an attorney for breakfast. Okay. He said I'm going to send you out in a company that we're examining. I'm going to put you inside the company, okay. So I went to the attorney for breakfast explain what they were looking for. I sat out inside the company for a week and then I called the attorney and I said I think we should meet for breakfast again. I said read my notes, please. He looked at me and said I think you've cracked the case. Oh, my gosh, wow, without really knowing it. You know what I'm saying If you say you look at it from a law. Sometimes putting a novice somewhere is better than putting somebody who's trained. Yeah, not always.

0:05:09 - Kimberly King

I wanted to ask you really just a basic question. You know about becoming a forensic accountant. What is forensic accounting?

0:05:20 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

Our lingo to our so said, it's an autopsy of financial data. See, everybody thinks of autopsy. You always think of medical, right. Well, there's forensic in other areas, psychological, yeah, forensic psychology, in fact we have it, I believe, at National. So it's just not a blanket, yeah. And then there's the case which is out into different things, but it says, well, what financial data? Any, you could say any financial data that comes my way. It's the approach you take to it, and many cases I have had to stylize the presentation of the case and take it to court on big papers.

0:06:16 - Kimberly King

And it's good that you're in the position that you are in because you're teaching the next generation. What does this specialization cover?

0:06:27 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

Well, that's just the point. Most people, if you work for a CPA like it, will have a forensic division. You're usually doing criminal law, family law, civil cases, but you could also go on their website and see that the FBI and the CIA are hiring. Now that would be a total different scope, because if you work for the CIA, you're not necessarily independent of them. It just depends on where they're sending you.

For instance, they could send you somewhere in South America through this law firm over here for money laundering. So you have to think well, how could you be independent? You have to really think it through. There's all different divisions. But usually, I tell the people you'll end up working the law and that's what I love, because I didn't go to law school. I didn't have to, but I would rather have gone to law school and that's the fun for me, that if you like the law, I found there's a lot of students that like the law and accounting and they're torn because they can't afford law school and accounting. But once they find out about forensic and they find out, they'll be working with attorneys, you know. And on law cases, because actually I do brief the cases myself with the attorney and I sit next to the lawyer at the table in Superior Court. Interesting, I've been known to pull his pant leg because he grabbed the wrong file from his briefcase. You understand? That's where we go.

0:08:15 - Kimberly King

Oh boy. Yeah well, so you kind of answered my next question is who would qualify then? What is necessary to qualify for this specialization? You said, perhaps those that want to go to law school but maybe could not afford it. But what else are you looking at?

0:08:35 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

I'm looking at somebody that likes accounting but is creative, is out of the box. They've got to be able to get out of the box and be comfortable with it. So if, truly, I don't know today, if I called up a CPA firm and said you know who would you take to train, they may give me a different answer, but as far as I'm concerned, they'd have to have an accounting degree. Yeah, and they're not going to get anywhere in forensic without a CPA, because you're not going to go. There's a qualification. See, you can be a forensic and do the work, but that doesn't mean you're an expert witness. Expert witnesses may be the same person, but does the work and they may not. It just too depends. In fact, the pay scale is different. They have to hand me a check walking the superior court for me to get on the stand.

That's different than what they paid me on retainer. There are two different divisions. When you walk in the courthouse, the first thing they do is review your resume. They can challenge me before I get on the stand. We would challenge the opposing forensic. Okay, I wouldn't want to walk into court and not be a CPA, so I took the back way to tell you that I wouldn't take the chance. I plan on getting the certificate and not risk it without it. Got it, okay.

You can call you can be backed up as certain areas where you don't want to be. So it's like I'm rigid, I teach the master's level. You would probably be surprised at how many we've got older students coming in and saying and I talked to them on the phone as I'll say you know I've worked so, so all my life I'm retiring. What else could I get into? I said do you like tax? Oh yeah, I said well, you can clean up on tax and tax season. It's wide open. When you look at accounting today, there are so many accounting jobs out there. We need a division to realize this and really focus on the students.

0:11:08 - Kimberly King

Well, I think that is so key that you can. You know you're giving them hope for something that maybe they hadn't even thought about. So why should students care about this type of specialization?

0:11:21 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

It's new, it's not. I mean, it's not new, it's current, relative, it's developed in the last 20 years or so. But you want to get in something where there's always going to be jobs, right, right, job security. I mean, if you find out where the firms are, where you live, and talk to them and they say, well, next opportunity we're going to call you. Well, do you think that firm is going to go away? No, CPA firms are like family businesses, they don't go away and they also have goodwill. So let's say, you know, I went out on my own, I had. You know, I've worth something because of the lawyers I had. If I get five cases a year from five lawyers, that's my worth. Wow. And that's what they have to look forward to. Because in the accounting world, if you're with a firm, at some point you have to progress enough to bring in your own clients… lawyers do, accountants have to.

0:12:34 - Kimberly King

Yeah, yeah. Well, it does sound like it's going in a new direction and, as you said, it's in the here and the now. It's relevant and boy, I think they can grow.

0:12:46 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

Yeah, they're looking for something. Do something different grow for their families. You know, I've even told them sometimes go on and get your doctorate, for God's sake, because you have some going to have summers off, right. Kids on vacation? Yeah, you know, if they're in their 20s, that's a great thing to do, right to him. Yeah, I do going, you know, that means something to me. But they are students, are different. You're a different breed of cat, because many one thing about being a national one. I used to go to the graduations after the graduation to see the parents coming down to meet us and I would say this is the first graduate in my entire family. That means something right, and I think that's one of the things that I think is important to me and the other professors. These were the people that really applied themselves, right.

0:13:55 - Kimberly King

They wanted it. They've earned it. Yeah, and they're proud of it.

0:13:59 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

Yeah, they've earned it. They've tried, and that's who I have in classes and they'll try to put themselves down and I won't let them.

0:14:09 - Kimberly King

Good for you. I love it.

0:14:10 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

I've even said to them oh, they say to me oh, I could never give my CPA certificate. I said, if I didn't, you can. Next excuse.

0:14:20 - Kimberly King

I love it.

0:14:21 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

Because, I tell them I've been where they have. I remember my bachelors; I remember my master’s and I remember going to school and I remember the horrible CPA exam. So I walked in your shoes, or you're going to walk in mine.

0:14:40 - Kimberly King

Good. Ah, what a great teacher, you are.

0:14:42 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

I understand I have a good following. I also understand that my professors have a good following. We’re like a family. Yeah, me and the adjuncts are like a family, and you have to be. and I think that's what I always loved about NU.

0:15:01 - Kimberly King

Well, I could talk to you all day. We have to take a quick break, so stay with us. We’ll have more in just a moment. We'll be right back. And now back to our interview with National University's Dr. Joyce Ellis, and we're discussing how to become a forensic accountant. This is such interesting information, Doctor. How do students check out this program?

0:15:24 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

They can. I encourage them to call up CPA firms where they live and ask if they have a forensic specialty, or their website. CPA websites will say we practice forensic accounting, we practice tax. They all have different areas, so do a broad search and then you can call them up and ask them if there are any openings. What were they looking for? Experience. To me, the best way to do it, because you get the one on one with the firm I also depending. I mean some people like corporate, like government work, so I would check out the CIA and the FBI, but it gets a door open for you because I think the firms would be looking for what they years ago looked for with me. It's the critical thinking, the creativity and you think out of the box. So I would say I know the students that they've got. If I'll send them out. I wish I had more time, frankly, because I would do it, but I just don't have the time. But at least you do.

0:16:46 - Kimberly King

Yeah, but you have a forum that you can at least tell them what they're looking for and you write the activity and just the knowledge.

0:16:53 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

The firms are going to welcome the student more than a head hunter walking in the door. It's like are we going to send out National University head hunters? No, not to the firms. No, the firms were going to send if the professor knows one of them, but they're going to appreciate the student much more Because I tell the students, have them call me. I mean I'll have a conversation because I know what they're looking for. Also, I know the student and that is something a head hunter can't get.

0:17:30 - Kimberly King

That is so true. Yeah, you have that relationship, so is this lucrative?

0:17:39 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

Can be. I remember a couple of years ago some counselor told a student when they graduated, they'd be getting a six-figure income. I just about went through the roof. Wow, nobody should tell anybody what the income is going to be, right. We know, in the areas, we know the range. It depends on where you live, like what you're willing to give up. Like a student that was up in the wine country. Well, he wanted to work for a CPA that did wine audits. That I myself would love, but he's going to give up about %20,000 in salary, but then the cost of living isn't the same. Right, you have to weigh what you need. And as a family person, you have to weigh what your family needs. And usually the discussions I get into with getting their CPA license. I said realize your wife and kids may go to the mother, you're gonna make sacrifices, right, but it's for both you.

0:18:57 - Kimberly King

And it's good.

0:19:01 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

You know talk to families. They got to realize that what are they giving up. Right? Their beloved person for six months because they're delivering food, doing the dry cleaning, mother’s gone with the kids? That's what you do, that's what lawyers do. CPAs do it too, because of the intensity of the knowledge. So it's like it's worth giving up. I think they don't realize what a CPA certificate is.

0:19:30 - Kimberly King

Well, that's what my next question. You can and you've answered it, so you- the question is a CPA certificate, is it necessary?

0:19:39 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

Yeah, I think so. Yeah, now there's, I mean everybody may the you there's also. I tell the students they could get a certified fraud Certificate out of a place in Texas and they could do cases. And I mean some of my adjuncts are holding both they have five certificates. Wow. We got good adjuncts, but you got a lot of people that do really care right about the students.

0:20:09 - Kimberly King

What it comes down to, it's that you do care, you genuinely care. And my last question for you and I know you did talk a little bit about this, especially in your own case but are advanced degrees necessary?

0:20:25 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

Masters, yes, okay. Well, you know the competition is. I've said this because of the competition, because the East Coast, what they were getting masters to get certified Long before the West Coast was. So if you're ever gonna be in a situation of competition and compete with East of the Mississippi River, you're going to want it. I would say yes, nothing to lose, and Accounting is gonna is changing forever.

There's a lot of things that are never going to be the same. You've got to keep up on it. So if you can do it, our masters, isn't that expensive and Some companies pay for it, you know. But I'd say, if you can do, it do it.

0:21:17 - Kimberly King

Okay, that's good advice. Is there anything else you'd like to tell prospective students about getting into forensic accounting?

0:21:28 - Doctor Joyce Ellis

If you’ve thought about it. I know this is a situation. If you've ever thought about it, don't give up thinking. Accounting can be a very dry environment, and I think that many have told me they thought about it, but they just don't know how to do it. And then, after to take the forensic accounting course, they go wow, I never knew that. And then you'll get the call. So I think we have it's not worth its own specialization. But for those that join MACC that have an undergrad degree in accounting we made special courses for, and forensic is one of them.

0:22:14 - Kimberly King

Yeah, I think that's. That's great. And again, it's just you, do you have that relationship and it's so key. Well, great information. Thank you so much for your knowledge. Thank you for your time today, doctor. If you do want more information, you can visit National University's website and that's nu.edu. And again, thank you for your time today. You've been listening to the National University podcast. For updates on future or past guests, visit us at nu.edu. You can also follow us on social media. Thanks for listening.

Show Quotables

"I fell into the field when I was in LA. I thought, 'What do I really want to do?' Headhunters grab you, and one said, 'Are you interested in law?' I said, 'Funny you should ask, because I was toying between a master's and a law degree.' - Joyce Ellis, https://shorturl.at/czOZ1" Click to Tweet
"Most people working in forensic accounting end up in criminal law, family law, civil cases. But you could also end up working with the FBI or CIA. It's a different scope, and you may not be independent, depending on where they send you. - Joyce Ellis, https://shorturl.at/czOZ1" Click to Tweet