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February 26, 2016

Data analytics is changing forensic accounting

By Franchesca Hashemi

The advent of technology has quite literally changed the face of accounting.

Today financial information exists in countless formats – from spreadsheets, digital banking tools, company portals, apps, PDFs, mobile phones, and emails.

To ease the complex process of data extraction, forensic accountants are teaming up with technology experts.

"We work hand in hand with the IT groups of companies we investigate," said Mitch Hirsh forensic accounting and dispute services partner at RSM US.

"We also have technology staff members at RSM that assist us in data mining and in imaging hard drives so that we can effectively to retrieve data without fear of it being compromised", he explains.

Demand for big data technology and services is growing. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), this market will be worth $41.5 billion by 2018.

In amongst IDC’s trends to watch out for in 2016 is driving real-time analysis to enhance client-satisfaction and applying analytics to specific problems, such as fraud and risk prevention.

"If someone is writing cheques to them self or is paying their own personal credit card with company funds or embezzling money, where technology could come into play is that you get hold of the person’s work computer and find that they are booking vacations to Ohio or have a gambling problem," notes Crowe Howarth LLP’s director of advisory and forensic technology services Tim Bryan.

Even if carefully concealed, financial anomalies are recognised through statistical testing and e-discovery services – such as Benford’s law, analysing internal correspondences for inconsistencies and validation of the data’s source.

But in terms of standards used by the data analyst, head of forensic technology and discovery services at EY UK Paul Walker emphasises there is a ‘defined methodology’ around the life cycle of an any project.

"If you are collecting evidential data, you are working to police standards," he explains.

"You undertake notes in the bagging and tagging of evidence and bar coding to make sure the evidence is permissible in court. You can destroy a case if not," Walker warns.

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