Use of Forensic Accounting to Avoid a Compliance Meltdown

by Thomas Fox

On this date in 1979, the worst accident in the history of the US nuclear power industry began when a pressure valve in the Unit-2 reactor at Three Mile Island fails to close. Cooling water, contaminated with radiation, drained from the open valve into adjoining buildings, and the core began to dangerously overheat. While plant workers were exposed to unhealthy levels of radiation, no one outside Three Mile Island had their health adversely affected by the accident. Nonetheless, the incident greatly eroded the public’s faith in nuclear power. In the more than two decades since the accident at Three Mile Island, not a single new nuclear power plant has been ordered in the United States.

One of the recognized aspects of a best practices compliance program is auditing. In many ways, auditing is thought of as one of the ways to avoid a compliance meltdown. However, in a recent article in the Texas Lawyer, entitled “How Forensic Accountants Differ from Auditors”, author Elizabeth M. Junell discussed how a forensic accountant can assist an in-house lawyer in a manner of different ways than auditors from a company’s internal audit function. I found that her article had some interesting points for the compliance practitioner.

Junell says that forensic accountants collect and analyze accounting and internal-controls evidence. They use this information to produce a fact-based report that can inform the decision-making process in inquiries, investigations and dispute resolution. The by-products of a forensic accountant’s work can include remediation strategies to help a company mitigate and remedy procedural or internal-controls gaps that allowed the underlying issue to occur. Inquiries into accounting and internal controls raise a host of technical issues requiring specialized knowledge that forensic accountants are uniquely positioned to provide. Junell contrasts these areas with that of internal audit, which she believes more often looks at process to determine if it has been adhered to in a procedure. This leads to internal auditors examining evidence to determine whether people followed prescribed processes or internal controls; this occurs, for example, in an operational Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) or Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance audit.

Junell writes that forensic accounting differs from auditing in both its objective and skill sets. The objective of a forensic accounting assignment is to collect, analyze and report on the evidence or facts surrounding a particular act that often has litigious, fraudulent or criminal implications. Auditors also collect and analyze evidence, but an independent auditor’s objective is to attest to the credibility of assertions that are under examination, such as the material accuracy of financial statements for which the audited company’s management is responsible. However, she argues that a key role of the forensic accountant is to identify a concern and to notify company management about the issue or issues discovered.

From there Junell believes that management should determine if further investigation is warranted. If further investigation is decided upon by management, then Junell considers that “this is where objective shifts and one of the forensic accountant’s strongest skills comes in: an investigative mind that drives him or her to answer questions about what occurred, when and how it happened, and who was involved.” She expects that, at times, a forensic accountant will be required to gather facts about why an event may have occurred so that they look for answers to such questions or for other red flags in the evidence.

One of the discussions that I found interesting in her article was how a compliance practitioner might use a forensic accountant. On the initial level, a decision should be made about whether a forensic accountant should be retained as an outside consultant or hired as an employee. Junell articulates that if such professional is brought in as an employee, the position should sit in the legal department rather than the company’s internal audit department. She recognizes that in the past, many companies have used existing internal auditors to do forensic accounting work as a way to reduce costs and because the perceived similarities in the skill set and work product. She believes that this view is becoming outdated and that more companies are placing the forensic accountant position into the legal and compliance department because of the legal implications surrounding the work. Further, by placing the forensic accountant in the compliance department, it allows the maintenance of an objective approach to any assignment, since, as Junell believes, “he or she will not be governed by management or influenced by potential biases within” a company.

Lastly is the issue of privilege. If a forensic accountant is assigned to the internal audit group, you can kiss away even the chance of claiming privilege. Junell argues that by assigning the forensic accountant to the legal and compliance department one might have “more privilege protection than assigning him or her to internal audit or another department.”

I found Junell’s article to have some interesting points about how a compliance practitioner and compliance department can use a forensic accountant to help create a best practices program. It might be something that you would like to consider for your compliance regime. The lesson from Three Mile Island is not that it just might keep you from having a compliance meltdown but that since that time, think about the number of nuclear plants which have been built.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Thomas Fox

Compliance Evangelist on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.