With the recent release of the Ben Affleck thriller The Accountant, MDD considers what makes a good forensic accountant and whether there are particular skills and personality characteristics that are common among professional forensic accountants.
In the movie, Ben Affleck plays the character of Christian Wolff, a mathematician with “more affinity for numbers than people”. With the Treasury Department’s Crime Enforcement Division and accounting clerk Anna Kendrick, Affleck works to uncook the books for a state-of- the-art robotics company. But the more he uncovers, the more danger he finds himself in.
In the film, Affleck’s character is particularly detail-orientated and meticulous. He displays a pattern of orderliness, perfectionism and a need to control his environment. We are told early on in the film that he was diagnosed with autism as a child and, as such, has trouble understanding what others are thinking, an inability to pick up on social cues and a tendency to get deeply absorbed in tasks.
Noah Berlatsky of The Guardian surmises that The Accountant uses “a clichéd and misleading presentation of disability to produce a clichéd Hollywood action lead in a clichéd action plot, and then babbles clichés about the importance of embracing difference”.
Indeed Affleck’s character portrayal does beg the question as to whether the film’s writers are stereotyping forensic accountants. But is there something to be said about this typecasting in terms of what makes a good forensic accountant?
A recent survey conducted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) found that 60% of attorneys surveyed said that being analytical, detail orientated and ethical are essential characteristics of a forensic accountant, with analytical skills being the most important attribute. The survey also revealed that traits such as being a team player, being adaptive and making people feel at ease were considered to be less important to the profession.
Does this ring true in our experience if we analyse the characteristics of some of the folks within our organization, or might there be other qualities that are equally important?
Analytical and Detail Orientated
It is imperative that a forensic accountant be exceptionally analytical. When assessing matters for clients a good forensic accountant will efficiently analyse the demand for damages and identify weaknesses in the damage measurement. Often with so much data to evaluate, such as receipts, invoices, revenue logs, expense accounts, production statistics etc., a forensic accountant needs to get deeply absorbed in the data in order to do his or her job effectively.
Ethical and Objective
In the movie, being ethical is something that Affleck’s character is most definitely not! He is a number crunching freelancer for some of the world’s most abhorrent drug lords. Yet in the real world of forensic accounting, being ethical is paramount. As a professional forensic accounting firm, MDD is governed by strict confidentiality and ethical rules that dictate our conduct throughout every assignment. Our independence from the other parties involved ensures that our findings represent an unbiased expert opinion that our clients can objectively rely on.
Communication and Interpersonal Skills
Contrary to Affleck’s performance as an anti-social assassin, an effective forensic accountant needs to be able to interact well with his or her peers and communicate ideas properly. This is because forensic accountants are regularly called on to provide evidence and expert witness testimony in courts, arbitrations and mediations. The evidence forensic accountants give may be used to help an attorney establish their case, reinforce the merits of their argument or refute the conclusions being proposed by opposing counsel.
Dixon Grier, a forensic accountant at MDD, says, “while technical expertise is important, it is also critical to be able to communicate verbally and in writing, both to the attorney as well as to a judge and jury.” If a forensic accountant is unable to simplify complex information and effectively communicate his calculations it could leave the trier of fact confused or unclear on potentially signficant issues in the case,
Commercial and Business Acumen
In the movie Affleck spends much of his time in isolation, hiding from fear of assassination. His business is brokered to him by a secretive figure known as “The Voice” and he appears to be sheltered from the day to day business world. In real life, a forensic accountant needs to be aware of the wider business and commercial environment and have the ability to put the pure financial analysis into context. This means being able to understand the non-financial elements of a business or nature of a dispute, and possess an awareness of the local trading market, wider industry and even the global market.
Many reviews have claimed that ultimately The Accountant doesn’t add up, but rest assured that when you need help measuring damages, valuing businesses or investigating fraud, the forensic accountants at MDD can and will make it add up.