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West Virginia University to Offer PhD Program in Forensic Accounting and Fraud Investigation

Did you ever have dreams of being a doctor that busted the bad guys? Something like Quincy. Or maybe Robert Langdon. When you opted to go into accounting, you probably thought those dreams were hopeless.

Well, we have good news for you aspiring number-crunching crime fighters who still yearn for the “Dr.” prefix. West Virginia University’s College of Business and Economics is announcing (later today, we’re told) that they will be offering the first doctoral program in Forensic Accounting and Fraud Investigation. The program will admit its first students in August 2012 and will prepare individuals for a career in accounting research and teaching at the university level.

Shall we hear from scholarly types? Okay!

“West Virginia University’s Forensic Accounting and Fraud Investigation program has been a model for other colleges and universities across the country,” said WVU President Dr. Jim Clements. “Our expertise has made us a national leader in this field, and the addition of the Ph.D. program will provide WVU with an important opportunity to create scholars in the areas of fraud, forensics and ethics. I applaud the faculty for all they have done to make this possible.”

Dr. Clements is referring to WVU’s Graduate Certificate in FAFI and the new PhD program will simply add to the University’s scholarly fraud-busting prowess. Dr. Jose V. Sartarelli, Milan Puskar Dean, of the school said, “This new Ph.D. program is the next logical step in building a complete educational offering in these specific areas, and that step is due to the commitment and expertise of our excellent faculty. This program is a reflection of their long and dedicated work.”

So this is a pretty exciting for the accounting sleuths (amateur or professional) out there if you’re interested in taking your wonkiness to the next level. Whether or not it has the Sam Antars of the world shaking in the boots is another question.

Anyone interested should contact Dr. Tim Pearson or check out the program on the WVU website. Get crackin’.

Should an “Accidental” Tax Lawyer Go Back to School to Qualify for the CPA?

Back again with another edition of fix my career ASAP. Today, “an accidental tax lawyer” wants to obtain a CPA to bolster his small practice. Other lawyers look at him like he’s “crazy” when he discusses the IRC but our Regretful JD enjoys all the minutiae. Problem is, he’ll have to start from scratch since he has business background. Is this plan gold or is he a glutton for punishment?

Are you suffering from a case of summer-is-ending-which-means-busy-season-is-right-around-the-corner blues and are wondering if it’s time for a new job? Does your golf game suck? Do you wear pinstripes? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll suggest something that wins.

Back to our lawyer friend:

So, long story short:

I’m an accidental tax lawyer. I studied neuroscience in college and went to law school to do patents. I took personal income tax as a summer course after my first year, was surprised that I both liked it and did well. Through the remaining two years of law school, I took corporate tax, gift and estate tax, state and local tax, natural resource taxation, two tax seminars, and averaged an A- in them all. Graduated, passed the bar and opened my own tax shop, mostly small business and non-profit formation, opinion letters for CPAs and walking taxpayers through audits. I operate on a one-stop-shop model-come to me and I’ll handle your legal and tax planning needs. I’m good at what I do, and I’ve been profitable since the first year.

Here’s where you guys come in: I think I’d really enjoy being a CPA. Other lawyers look at me like I’m crazy when I talk about the internal revenue code, but I find tax planning enjoyable and it lets me be creative. Am I crazy to consider going back and taking the courses necessary to qualify for the CPA exam? My local public university offers a graduate “Pre-CPA” program, with just the courses required to qualify for the exam. As an undergrad, I took two semesters of calculus and two semesters of inferential statistics, but the rest was basically hard science (physics, microbiology, organic chemistry, neuroanatomy, pharmacology, etc). Except for my tax law background, I’d basically be starting from scratch.

Hell, is there even a market for CPA/JDs? I don’t need to work Big Four (I like meeting with and managing my clients on a personal level. I find it very rewarding), but to keep a roof over my head I’d need to earn at least mid-five figures. If I continue with the solo practice model, I’d be able to provide accounting, tax and legal services, but I’m not sure that accounting as a value-add would be worth tuition + lost opportunity time when I’m studying instead of working.

Any advice you can offer me is appreciated.

Sign me off,
“Regretful JD”

Dear Regretful JD,

First off, if that’s the short version, thanks for sparing us the details. YEESH. Secondly, neuroscience to patents to tax is quite the interesting progression but we won’t pry…it was a woman, wasn’t it?

Now, then. Your situation. Personally I think you’re at a huge advantage compared to the CPAs out there that are thinking about going to law school. Some of you remember the post we did last year discussing that particular jump and it’s not an easy one. Law school grads, as our friends at Above the Law will tell you, aren’t exactly drowning in job opportunities these days but they are being suffocated by six-figure school debt. For you, Regretful JD, that ship has sailed. You’ve got your practice set up, enjoy the work, and are earning a steady dollar.

The problem, as you stated, is that you’d be starting from scratch. If you’re single and don’t have a grip of cash stuffed in your mattress to get you through the “Pre-CPA” program, you’re going to be living on Cup o’ Noodles and saltines smeared with dijon mustard. Are you ready to make that sacrifice? What about your clients? Are you just going to drop them or will you attempt to keep them by promising the world and more once you’ve got your CPA? Your life could be a living hell trying to juggle tax seasons and school work.

As for your question regarding “a market for CPA/JDs” our aforementioned post found that, yes, there is something to be said for the CPA and JD white-collar, one-two punch. Being able to understand legal ramifications of your clients’ decisions as well as being able to dig into the numbers and actually understand them has proven to be a great selling point.

Ultimately the decision comes down to one of logistics. Can you work, go to school and maintain your sanity and/or shred of a social life that you have left? It’s not impossible but you’ll have a rough couple of years, to be sure (don’t forget about the CPA Exam!). Those that have done it will likely say it was worth the struggle but everyone has their breaking point. What’s yours?

Also see:
Tax Lawyer Pursuing CPA Needs to Know: Take More Classes or Cram with a Review Course? [GC]
The Scam That Accounting Education Isn’t [GC]

Grad Student Wants to Know if Previous non-Accounting Chops Will Help Him Land Big 4 Gig

Back with another edition of “Help! My career is in shambles,” an MSA student has a background in “project management” and wants to know what their options are upon graduation. Will the professional experience make a difference?

Have a question about your career? Need ideas on how to improve the prestige of your firm? Thinking about running for office on the lawyers suck platform? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll get you the prestige or public office you so desire.

As for our seasoned soonockquote>I’m currently in a one year MSA program. I am in my late 20s, so not exactly a professional spring chicken. I went to a liberal arts college for undergrad, and I got really good grades there. Prior to enrolling in the MSA program, I worked for 5 years doing Project Management. I (finally) realized that line of work wasn’t for me and didn’t see where I could go with it that would make it for me, and so decided to go back to school in something more practical than my undergrad. Right now, I’m beginning to explore my options for after I get out of the MSA program. Ideally, I want to try to get to a place where my previous experience is appreciated and valued right away, but am wondering if that is possible if I go Big 4. On the other hand, I keep seeing on job boards that previous Big 4 experience is a crucial requirement for many experienced accounting openings.

My questions are: will the Big 4 look favorably or unfavorably on my previous experience? Are they more likely to fill their entry level positions with younger graduates as opposed to those that have many years of professional experience behind them? If I’m a more attractive candidate, can I leverage that into better starting salary/benefits? Finally, is it worth it to do Big 4 for a couple years knowing that in the long run it will probably help with job prospects, even though in the short term I might be giving up potentially more lucrative possibilities because of my past experience? How can I use my past professional experiences to my advantage as a “non-experienced” hire – Big 4 or otherwise?

Interesting dilemma. We’ll do our best here and invite our readers to share their thoughts on this particular situation. We’ll address the questions one at a time.

Is your experience viewed as favorable or unfavorable? – In the opinion of this blogger your experience is valuable, no matter what it is. Dealing with stupid people, managing various resources and being familiar with a professional routine puts you light years ahead of any grasshopper that just did half a dozen keg stands over the weekend. That being said, a Big 4 firm (via a recruiting professional) might not share our perspective. Depending on what your “project management” experience entails, it could be viewed favorably or unfavorably. Have you managed groups of people? Do you have any client-facing experience? Any leadership roles? These are all good (and partly addresses your last question) and can be perceived as key strengths. If the answer is no, no, and HELL NO, then your experience is less meaningful.

Are they more likely to fill their entry level positions with younger graduates? – Yes. YES. YES. It isn’t unheard of for the Big 4 to hire someone with your background (i.e. older) at the entry-level and in fact, we’ve seen instances where non-traditional types skip ahead of others in their class but as a general rule, you’re at a big disadvantage here.

Can I leverage previous experience into better starting salary/benefits? – The Big 4 firms have plenty of options for benefits packages. The “super-secret project management experience benefits package” does not exist. As far as salary is concerned, you can leverage your experience by applying for jobs that require previous experience. If you go after an entry-level position you will end up with an entry-level salary.

Is it worth it to do Big 4 for a couple years even though in the short term I might be giving up potentially more lucrative possibilities because of my past experience? – Look friend, we hate to be the one to break this to you but in the short-term, your life at a Big 4 firm could quite very well be hell. The Big 4 provides professional services; is that the kind of job are you looking for? Do you really want to be an auditor? God, I hope not. Tax? Again, you’re looking at quite a bit of pain here and your experience could be marginalized. A position in the advisory practice would be ideal for you but without more details on your experience, it’s hard for us to gauge if that’s a realistic possibility.

How can I use my past professional experiences to my advantage as a “non-experienced” hire – Big 4 or otherwise? – Like we mentioned above, push any leadership, management and client-facing experience. These are crucial for an aspiring Big 4 rock star.

Bottom-line here is, what is it that you’re trying to achieve with this MSA? Is a Big 4 firm the ideal place for you to land out of school? Maybe. Maybe not. Finding the right fit of your past professional experience combined with your brand-spanking new advanced accounting knowledge will take some work on your part. While a Big 4 firm on your résumé will open a few doors down the road, a job in-house may make more sense with your PM experience. Choose wisely.

PwC’s Recruitment of MBA’s is Good News on the Hiring Front, Sort Of (UPDATE) has a piece on the Big 4’s recruitment of MBA’s that serves as lukewarm encouragement for those of you have considered the painstaking thought of going back to school.
More, after the jump

PricewaterhouseCoopers is ramping up its hiring of M.B.A.s, with plans to recruit 75 to 100 business-school graduates in 2010. [The Firm] planned to bring on 60 to 90 graduates from master’s degree in business programs in 2009, up from 40 last year…An improving economy and the need to make sense of new regulatory guidelines in the financial sector are what’s driving the trend

As you might expect, the hiring occurs in the advisory practices of the firms while those of you with that went back to get a master’s in accounting will most likely end up in audit or tax practices.

At PWC, most M.B.A. recruits have three to seven years’ experience and fill senior associate posts in its advisory practice. The M.B.A.s that it hires are recruited to work in finance, operations and supply-change management and human-capital management.

The article is less enthusiastic about the other firms, however:

Big Four rival Ernst & Young is hiring about 20 b-school grads into its performance-improvement practice this year, dipping from a peak of 25 in 2007 when it began hiring M.B.A.s…While KPMG does not actively recruit M.B.A.s since its consulting practice spun off in 2002, it does targeted M.B.A. hiring, according to Malana Sanders, a KPMG recruiting director…Deloitte does hire M.B.A.s, though, said Diane Borhani, head of U.S. campus recruiting for Deloitte in Chicago, who declined to provide specifics

So we’re at a loss on how we feel about this. On the one hand, it’s good to see at least one firm ending the slash and burn that’s been going on for the last 12-15 months (even if this is just advisory) but are you ready to go back to eating cup o’ noodles, no keg stands, and more school debt to do it?
Since it sounds like layoffs will occur regularly at the firms and BW says that two-thirds of you leave the firms within five years anyway, going back to school may be in the cards for a lot of you.
For those of you that fall in the 3 – 7 years experience range, discuss what, if any, thoughts you’ve had on going back to school and if would you go with a Big 4 firm. Scary thought, we know.
PricewaterhouseCoopers and Rivals are Recruiting More M.B.A.s []