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Excellence and Expertise Student Success

Case competition showcases forensic side of accounting

Accountants become investigators to earn real money in case competition.

Group photo of participants
Excellence and Expertise Student Success

Case competition showcases forensic side of accounting

You may know Al Capone as a gangster and crime lord who ruled over parts of Chicago in the Roaring 20s. But you may not know that for all the murders, thefts, bootlegging and other crimes he was alleged to have done, what sent him to prison was forensic accounting work that uncovered he hadn’t paid taxes on illegal gambling winnings.

“I really like that it's sort of a puzzle in that you have to get to the bottom of it. Even more so with audit, you have to look at investigations, you have to dig through people's books, their records, and be able to calculate who stole, who's liable, how much they stole, how they stole, and how they were able to steal. And all of those things coming together, I truly find fascinating,” junior accountancy student Ian Young said.

Young was a member of one of five student teams that took part in the Douglas Millett Forensic Accounting Case Competition in the Shriver Center last week. Each team was tasked with examining a recent corporate scandal, determining how it was perpetrated, devising how they would investigate and prevent it, and presenting their findings to a panel of forensic accountants.

“I had a little bit of experience prior to the competition -- classes I took, internships that I had dealing with fraud and mitigating risk within a company,” senior Ian Jones said. “But seeing that on a larger scale and understanding how different regulatory agencies and auditing firms go about this in daily practice was the most interesting part.”

Jones and his teammates, Jon Abaya, Ben Lim, and Augie Bishop, took second place in the competition for their presentation on Volkswagen’s diesel engine fuel economy scandal. Ross Nixon, Natalie Dorman, Michael Sullivan, and Grace Tiffin won the event with their analysis of the FTX cryptocurrency collapse.

Alex Gannon is an accountancy and entrepreneurship major who said she found the competition to be interesting on multiple levels. “In entrepreneurship, we do a lot of competitions and presentations in a similar style, but typically it's more focused on developing a company,” she said. “It was nice to make a presentation similar to what I’ve done in entrepreneurship through an accounting lens. It really brought out more of the financial perspective.”

“Forensic is interesting because you're following the trail and you're actually connecting the dots of ‘How did this happen? Why did this happen over time?’” Gannon said. “You're deep diving into the data in a way that's meaningful and you can draw conclusions and find evidence that was overlooked by other people or that someone tried to hide.”

There’s a financial incentive to excel: $5,000 for the first place team, $3,000 for the second place team, and $1,000 for each of the other teams. The gift that funds the program comes from Miami alum Mike Millett in honor of his brother Douglas.

But Jim Krause, a retired accountant and former instructor at the Farmer School who was one of the judges, said that just taking part in the competition is beneficial to the students, whether they win or not.

“The benefit for a student is being able to do an analysis of a situation and to project the results of that analysis to a group of skeptical judges and to be able to explain clearly their position. That's the bottom line,” he said. “It takes a lot of work, a lot of analysis, and that is the type of skill that we want to try as educators to impart to these students. It isn't just black and white. It also has to be an analysis of ‘Why?’ They all do an excellent job.”

“The opportunity to do an actual forensic accounting presentation and focus in forensic accounting this early on in a college career is incredible,” Young said. “Usually you have to wait until your senior year to take one forensic accounting class. But the fact that we have so many opportunities to pursue such a niche field is wonderful.”

Student presentation

Student presentation

Judges look on

Student gives presentation

Students give presentation