Robert A. Bonavito, CPA PC

How to Become a Forensic Accountant

My name is Robert Bonavito, New Jersey forensic accountant. This video is part of a series of videos where I discuss forensic accounting topics for educational purposes only. If this was a litigated matter I would take a different approach, have different conclusions based on different... Hi, it's Robert A. Bonavito, New Jersey forensic accountant. Today we're going to discuss a topic that I get a lot of questions on and as you know I do forensic accounting and I've been doing forensic accounting for over 30 years. I was a forensic accountant before there was such thing as forensic accounting. For example, when I first started my firm out I would actually go to lawyers and say, "Listen, we're forensic accountings, we'd like to maybe help you out with a case."  They're like, "Well, I already have an accountant doing my payroll and I already have an accountant doing my bank work, I don't really need you." I said, "No, no, no, no. We want to help you with an actual case. We want to take a look at the case, we want to analyze it, we want to issue a report, we want to help you with deposition questions, if they have questions on our report we'll let them take a deposition of us. We'll then present the report as an expert in court and we'll testify in court." They're like. "And I won't charge you and just see how it works out."

Well, after doing that a while, obviously lawyers were pretty happy with these services because now everybody knows what a forensic accountant is and a lot of people use a forensic accountant. So, I ended up getting a lot of calls from professors, from law enforcement, a lot of students, a lot of business people asking me, "How do you become a great forensic accountant?" And the first thing I say, especially if it's a student, I say, "Listen, why don't you go get the movie, 'The Accountant' starring Ben Affleck. That will give you kind of a good background of what it takes to be a great forensic accountant." Now of course the movie is not 100% realistic, but it gives you a good idea what forensic accounting is, the attributes they have and what they do. But the other thing I always tell them is, "Remember when you are forensic accountant you're going to be in the arena." Okay? Like very few people are. You're going to be judged, you're gonna be under tremendous amount of pressure and extremely complex and a short time frame.

You're gonna have to present logical arguments in court or through other parties in arbitration or mediation, which is not easy. You know, I always say when you look at like for example a surgeon, which is very complex job, right, but when you're a surgeon, you go into an operating room, you have a community that gave you the best hospital, you have the best equipment, you have the best trained nurses, you have the best education, you have a patient that actually, you know, they'll do anything you tell them to do, you have all the patient's family, everybody wants this to be a success. But when you're a forensic accountant, not only do people root against you being successful, they actively undermine you. For example, they'll lie to you. They'll give you false information. They'll say things that aren't true.

This is a big difference between most other professions and what we do as forensic accountants. And remember, if you're a baseball player, you bat 400, you're probably going to go to the Hall of Fame. If you're a forensic accountant you have to be batting close to a thousand, nothing under 900, 950, because you will not be a forensic accountant if you can't bat better than 950. So, this is very difficult profession. And if you want to be great, I have four basic areas that I think you should focus on or that you should look for. Now, obviously, no one's going to have all four, it's very difficult to have all four, very few people. But the first one is to have a PhD level understanding of business. To think differently is the second one. The third one is to have physical and mental stamina. And the fourth one is to be able to time travel. Now, you're saying what does that mean? Let's just go through this. Now, you see the chart here next to me.

When I say PhD level, I don't mean be a PhD because PhDs do not make good forensic accountants, based on my experience. But you need to have a deep understanding of all the different fields you're going to be involved in, which is pretty much everything. And what I suggested to most students who come to me is that, go to a good state school, okay. They're going to be dealing with street smart kids from all kinds of diverse backgrounds. Okay. You're not going to get that in any other school, especially one of the elite Ivy Leagues, you're not going to get that.

The second thing is when you graduate, work for a regional CPA firm or a regional consulting firm because you're going to be exposed to lot more. If you're in a big consulting firm or a big CPA firm, you're basically going to be doing the same thing every day for a year or years, or your whole career, the same exact thing. Where if you're in a smaller firm, you're going to be thrown here and there and things are going to happen and you're going to be in more complex situations.

Then I would say go back for an MBA in finance or accounting. And after that is when you go into an Ivy League to get the advanced training, take the advanced courses. And I love at that poin  because you have a ton of experience to go into one of the Ivy Leagues, Harvard, Yale or Princeton or even University of Pennsylvania, which is a great business school and learn as much as you can. Those professors are awesome at this level, because now you can deal with them on a one on one level. A lot of times you'll have almost as much knowledge as they have, you'll understand the students better. It's just a great experience. And that's the first point if you want need to have a PhD level of understanding of business.

The second thing is to think differently. Now, unfortunately, with civilization, most cultures are the same. So a family in Timbuktu thinks the same as someone in Columbus, Ohio. What do I mean by that? I mean, of course, they're totally different people but the core beliefs are the same, because civilization has spread throughout the world. So most people are thinking the same. I mean, there's a couple people that aren't. But as a forensic accountant you cannot think the same, you have to think differently. And what I tell people is, this is where these disabilities that people talk about. Okay. If you're blind, if you can't hear, if you have a learning disability, these things make you different because you learn differently and I love that in a forensic accountant. When I go into a lawyer's office or I meet with a client or go into court, there's no one there thinking like I'm thinking. Okay? This is the case and a lot of times, you know, I'll be sitting down with a client in initial meeting and there'll be talking about his wife did that or his wife did this. I'm, "Listen, that's interesting. Here's the facts of the case. This is what we need to learn about. This is what we need to prove." They weren't even thinking. [inaudible 00:07:02] a lot of times the lawyers too and the judge, you know, you never know what the judge is going to rule, but you need to understand and think differently and you need to be able to go into court or issue a report that explains why what you're doing is...that they don't expect it and why it's right.

The third thing is physical and mental stamina. And I always like to kid around and say, "Listen, if you are not the type of person that I can put in a foxhole for a decade and just give you a can of beans, you're probably not going to be a good forensic accountant." That may be a little bit exaggeration. But being a forensic accountant requires you to really have great stamina because you have to look at things and understand things. Sometimes cases go on for years, years. Sometimes they go on for a week. Sometimes I can do a case in an hour on the phone, say, "This is what we're going to do," and it settles. But you do need that stamina to focus long-term on issues. And that's why I'm saying you need that physical stamina. The best way to get this, is if you were in combative sports as a young kid, and you did that, not for, you know, a week or year, but for maybe six or seven or eight years. You know, I love football. Wrestling is a brutal sport which is great to build the stamina. Mixed martial arts, boxing, high level soccer, football. When you're in these sports you can't just rely on your smarts. Okay? You got to have physical stamina, you got to stick it out. And when you do that over a period of, you know, five, six, seven, eight years you can develop this and then you can apply that as a forensic accountant. What you learned on the battlefield...well, you know, modern day battlefield, a football field, or a soccer field, or a wrestling mat, or boxing, you know, mat you can apply that to forensic accounting.

The fourth thing is you need to time travel and this is not easy to do. What I mean by time travel is we get cases that go back 80 years, and we get cases that go forward 80 years. I'm standing in the present. You have to teleport your mind back 80 years ago in a different culture, in a different time and understand what's going on. How are the books and records operating? Who's doing what? Why would they do this? Does this make sense? Okay? So you can understand what happened and then you have to teleport your mind forward 80 years and say, "Well, if this happened here, then this happened then..." And that's what I mean by the ability to time travel.

So, I know this is a little bit different than what most people will tell you, but I'm not talking about being a good forensic accountant or being a forensic accountant. I'm talking about being a great forensic accountant. Okay? And these are the four characteristics that you need. If you have any questions, please, you know, submit a comment or subscribe to my YouTube channel. Thank you.

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