Forensic accounting sparks excitement in accounting students and professionals worldwide. Through an ongoing partnership with one of the field’s leading firms, the Department of Accounting and Information Management at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business was recently able to give students hands-on practice in this specialty area, which uses accounting skills to investigate financial reporting misconduct.
AlixPartners, a global leader in financial advising, strategic planning, corporate restructuring and consulting, has earned a reputation for helping businesses through moments of extreme pressure and high-stakes decisions. Veit Buetterlin and Matthias Demmer, two of the firm’s forensic accounting professionals based in Bavaria, Germany, have been working with Lauren Cunningham, Keith Stanga Professor of Accounting and director of research for the Neel Corporate Governance Center at Haslam, to bring current practices in forensic and investigative accounting services to the college’s Master of Accountancy (MAcc) audit curriculum.
Buetterlin, partner and managing director for AlixPartners, is recognized internationally as a financial crime expert and for his roles on high-profile compliance and risk management transformation projects. Demmer, as senior vice president, has expertise in hands-on problem solving, extracting information from financial and operational data and driving various projects for large European corporations across a range of industries.
During a visit to UT in the fall, Buetterlin and Demmer led lectures in Hodges Library and spent time observing and evaluating students’ presentations. The pair worked with Haslam’s current MAcc cohort to hone the students’ forensic accounting, investigative interviewing and eDiscovery skills.
MAcc student Wesley Smith appreciated how open Buetterlin and Demmer were in sharing their expertise about an intriguing, lesser-known area of accounting. “Forensic accounting is fascinating because it uses all of one’s resources — from intuition through raw knowledge of how business, governments and other organizations are supposed to work,” he said. “Having AlixPartners come in for class time allowed me a glimpse of opportunities for me to use my MAcc degree that I would not have known about otherwise.”
Cunningham said Haslam students greatly enjoyed the project, which centered around the Enron fraud. “Using the analytics platform Brainspace, they dug through more than one million emails to find evidence of planned power outages in California as well as the timeline of the Enron whistleblower’s initial concerns,” Cunningham said. “James Chyz, Justin Short, Kory Maag and Nico Arguello role-played Enron employees so the students could practice their interviewing skills.”
The interactions with Buetterlin and Demmer opened MAcc student Lily Shafer’s eyes to a different side of accounting. “Prior to the experience with AlixPartners, I knew very little about what forensic accountants did on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “By having the amazing opportunity to work with them and hear about their career paths, I was able to learn about a different area of accounting and have a hands-on experience with the type of work they encounter.”
Exposing the students to new possibilities was exactly what Demmer hoped to accomplish with the partnership. “Be curious during your time at university,” he told them. “It’s the best time to understand and to learn about yourself and what you really enjoy. Try as many things as possible to see in which kind of direction you want to go later.”
Stacy Estep, writer/publicist, email@example.com