DIFA, Diploma of Investigative and Forensic Accounting, is gaining acceptance due to its importance in facing corruptive business practices and financial theft. However, the absence of Forensic Accounting (FA) is still noticed in countries of opaque business practices. Furthermore, only few universities across the world are introducing DIFA, thus a major work has to be done to shed the light on the importance of the diploma in the first place and then offer it as an official diploma with courses relating to FA whether in universities or financial institutions.
The major concern lies in the fact that Forensic Accounting is neither provided in universities as a diploma, nor at financial institutions to detect fraud and make legal court reports. In many universities of Canada and the United States, the DIFA, is being included in the curriculum in order to recruit new students and provide skills set for career advancement through development of a specialized niche. One of the objectives of the Alliance for Excellence in Investigative and Forensic Accounting (Alliance), established by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA), is to develop and manage a specialist certification program. This diploma is designed as a comprehensive program for someone who wishes to practice in this area. CPA, CFA, CIA are examples of certificates granted in Lebanon, however, no diploma is available related to Forensic Accounting. Therefore, it could be a diploma given in educational institutions that grant CPA or any other certification related to auditing or accounting.
Furthermore, the importance of adopting FA in the universities’ accounting curriculum is highlighted especially that its demand for it is increasing gradually. Such adoption has a huge potential to enhance students’ skills and competencies and could be used as a veritable resource from which fraud could be mitigated. Fresh graduates can as well attain the DIFA program that provides a broad range of knowledge and skills to carry out financial investigations. This range includes accounting, audit, income tax knowledge, fraud knowledge, knowledge of law and rules of evidence, an investigative mentality and critical skepticism, understanding of psychology and motivation, and strong communication skills (Stott, 2005).
The program focuses on knowledge and skills that can be best taught and examined in person: such as handling a face-to-face meeting with a client, interviewing skills, and testifying in court as an expert witness. DIFA supports accountants with the knowledge and skills needed to bridge the gap between existing quantification models and principles and different litigation contexts (Stott, 2005).
Based on descriptive statistics of survey results conducted in Lebanon, being a country of opaque business practices, to identify the certificates that a forensic accountant must possess showed that:
59.09% of the respondents thought that a forensic accountant should have a DIFA;
31.82% proposed that CPA is the needed certificate (Certified Public Accountant);
20.91% thought that CFA is the appropriate one (Chartered Financial Analyst);
10.00% mentioned other types of certification.
2.12% of the respondents didn’t find it necessary to have any certification to become a forensic accountant.
Furthermore, the relation between occupation and the respondents’ opinion about the types of certifications that a forensic accountant must possess was also studied. The following breakdown shows the percentages of respondents who proposed that DIFA is the important certification based on job occupation.
69.10% of the respondents working in banking or insurance
51.60% of the respondents working in finance
72.70% of the respondents working in education
80% of the respondents working in management
However, most of the respondents in the accounting field thought that CPA is the type of certification that should be possessed by the forensic accountant with a 77.10%. People working in accounting usually tend to pursue a CPA degree for the help it provides in this domain.
In addition to the above, the relation between experience and the respondents’ opinion about the types of certification that a forensic accountant must possess was also studied. The results, based on those who choose DIFA as the needed certificate, were as follows:
most respondents with more than two years’ experience thought that DIFA is the needed certification to practice FA
51.90% of respondents with 2 years’ experience and less thought that DIFA is the needed certification to practice FA;
68.80% between 2 and 6 years of experience thought that DIFA is the needed certification to practice FA;
55.40% of those with less than 2 years or no experience at all thought that CPA is the type of certification that should be possessed by the forensic accountant.
Moreover, the surveys conducted answered the question whether the respondents approve that the DIFA should be included in the Lebanese university programs. It demonstrates that:
97.88% of the respondents accepted having a DIFA in the universities;
2.12% of them didn’t accept having a DIFA in the universities;
This is especially important since most of the Lebanese people are in the stage of pursuing their educational degrees of which the highest percentage is studying finance.
Supporting the results of the surveys, interviews were also conducted to know about the type of certificates that a FA must hold. Most respondents approved that there should be a certification granted to a forensic accountant. This can be illustrated by what the accounting manager at “Malia Group Multinational Company” (with 5 years of experience) stated by saying: “It should be taught in universities and the business owners should request in their vacancies for an accountant with a certain certifications such as DIFA”
The interviewees’ answers stressed that it should be introduced in all universities and educational institutions leading to a certificate (DIFA), and candidates should have knowledge and a degree in accounting and auditing. As one interviewee, a partner at Bureau d’Analyse et de Revision Comptable (BARC) for auditing and taxation (with 33-36 years of experience) puts it: “It is a way to prevent corruption this is why I specify that it should be taught in universities because I strongly agree that it is implemented”. Relating interviewees’ recommendations to include FA in university programs, the head of audit department at “professional auditors” (11 years of experience) states: “FA is important for cheating methods, it can be introduced in universities”.
Interviewees gave different responses and suggestions about what is needed to perform Forensic Accounting. One interviewee coded that: “There are specific teaching programs such as CPA and there are special programs for certified financial forensic and DIFA”(Partner of an audit and taxation firm “Bureau d’Analyse et de Revision Comptable with 33-36 years of experience). Thus interviewees thought that a forensic accountant should be an experienced auditor or has a deep knowledge in laws; the type of certification needed could be CPA (certified public accountant), or have a license in accounting, a certification or a diploma from the LACPA (Lebanese Association of Certified Public Accounting). For instance the head of the audit department at professional Auditors indicated that: “Of course you need to have a license in accounting and maybe CPA, for example in our LACPA Lebanese association of certifies public accounting maybe you can get this diploma there”.
Other interviewees said that FA should obviously have a degree in accounting besides the needed experience to be able to detect suspicious acts, or have a BA degree with issues related to fraud and disclosure, CPA is a plus, or maybe have CFE. A lecturer and former partner at KMPG (with 15 to 17 years of experience) commented on this matter by saying: “On the educational level the best certification would be CFE if anyone wants to be involved in that topic he must go for such certification specialized in fraud examination”.
If anyone seeks to be involved in this domain he must go for such certification specialized in fraud examination. Others said that FA already has CPA or long experience. Furthermore, a forensic accountant, as an auditor have stated: “should have investigative skills and you should do the proper training in order to be competent”. Other interviewees also noted that a forensic accountant should have investigative skills and undergo proper training in order to be competent or be a certified accountant with certain skills and experience; the certifications needed are an accounting degree or a law degree since the forensic accountant may have to testify in courts. Or have a formal education in fraud; certifications could be CPA or CFE.
Another important statement coded from the interviewees is that “To become a forensic accountant, you need to be a certified accountant with certain skills and experience, the certifications needed are accounting degree or law degree since the forensic accountant could testify in courts” (Accounting Manager at Malia Group, with 8 years of experience).
In other words, FA accountants should be accountants in the first place, no specialized certification, but should be involved in training workshops or seminars that help enhance his knowledge and skills, or be an accountant or audit with knowledge about relevant laws. An accounting degree is enough but it would be better if he could take courses in investigative accounting if they are available in Lebanon. In addition they should have a degree in accounting with a profound experience and analytical skills; a certification would be a plus such as CPA or any other certification in accounting and auditing field.
Interviewees also reported that the certification that could be held by forensic accountant to practice FA is CPA since it is well known because it is available in many educational institutions. Almost all respondents conferred a high degree of importance for introducing FA in the educational sector in the financially corrupted countries.
Almost all respondents believed that FA should be taught in universities as a course or a graduate major or as case studies in an audit related course. Suggestions also included that FA could be a specialty in educational institutions that grant CPA or any other certification related to auditing or accounting.
Respondents and interviewees also suggested introducing FA through workshops and seminars with the assistance of experts and skillful forensic accountants. They also showed acceptance for online educational programs since DIFA is not available in most financially corrupted countries while it is available in the USA. Therefore online education could shorten the distance to people who cannot leave work and are interested to be specialized in forensic accounting.
The participants also recommended that the employees and managers, who are responsible for the financials of the company, should be educated and submitted to an intensive training to develop their skills to enable them to detect fraudulent activities within the company.
In sum, DIFA is designed to provide a broad range of knowledge and skills to carry out financial investigations. Employee and management fraud, theft, embezzlement, and other financial crimes are increasing, therefore accounting and auditing personnel must have training and skills to recognize those crimes. In addition, high-visibility corporate scandals, such as Enron and WorldCom, demonstrate the need to better prepare entry-level accounting graduates and practicing CPAs in the areas of fraud prevention, deterrence, detection, investigation, and remediation, Houck et al., (2006). Universities and educational institutions, as will be discussed later on, play a vital role in introducing DIFA and other FA related courses, certificates and diplomas. These formal certificates can deepen the students’ knowledge and sharpen their skills in Forensic Accounting through trainings under the supervision of an experienced forensic accountant, participating in various international conferences, reading relevant journals, books and other literature.
Universities play a constituent role in introducing FA since they can control the materials that could be taught to the students. Introducing it as a degree, Forensic Accounting could be one of the majors that exist in universities; the study proved that there are some educators who are knowledgeable in the field since most of them did their doctorate degree in the USA and UK. Therefore it could be an undergraduate or graduate degree in the universities.
Concerning the courses, Forensic Accounting could be given as a course in the university instead of being a major; it could be included as part of accounting, CCE, Law or any other major but customized for each specialty.
Regarding the case studies, in case FA is not considered as a major or given as a course, it could be highlighted through case studies where the students analyze many international fraudulent cases and the methods and the logics that were used by forensic accountants to detect and reveal the fraud.
Educational Institutions complete the role of the universities by covering the gap when some of the courses and degrees are not granted by the universities; they would be available in educational institutes or academies. The major course of actions that could be taken by these institutions is granting DIFA which must be an official certification given to the experts that want to practice Forensic Accounting in their countries. Yearly or monthly sessions must be announced through specialized means of marketing. Moreover, the certification could be incorporation with the government where certified accountants working in their departments and institutions could be sent to acquire it from a reputable educational institution. This certificate should be officially recognized and certified from the ministry of education, finance, and justice. The syndicate must hire qualified forensic accountants capable of studying, analyzing, suggesting policies, and training others.