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  • Name: Katharine Firmin
  • Job Title: Forensic Accountant
  • Location: Leeds
  • University: Glasgow
  • Degree: Aeronautical Engineering
  • Areas of Specialism: Forensic Accountancy

Joining PwC was a big change for me; I originally studied Aeronautical Engineering at Glasgow University and after graduating went on to work for Ford Motor Company. I really enjoyed my time at Ford, but seeking a bit more of an adventure I went on to spend a further three years in the Army, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Why accountancy?

I decided to pursue a career as an accountant as apart from it being an excellent career, I thought that it would use the skills I’d already gained in my previous roles. It combines the analytical skills of an engineer with the more interpersonal and management skills of an army officer.

PwC was my first choice of firm, as it has the reputation for being a top graduate employer and being one of the ‘Big Four’ it has a diverse range of clients, which I saw as a key attraction in keeping the work challenging and varied. It was also one of the firms which offered the ACA qualification.

Although there are several different accountancy qualifications I felt that the ACA gave good all round accountancy training, rather than the more focused qualifications. It is also highly prestigious and well known for being tough, which I felt made it more worthwhile. I’m now over halfway through the qualification and although it is hard work it’s also really interesting and I have a great sense of achievement in passing each exam.

Forensic accountancy

Another reason for choosing PwC is that it offers a wide variety of specialisms, including forensic accountancy. I chose to specialise in forensic accountancy because no two jobs would be the same. Forensic accounting covers such a diverse range of engagements from fraud investigations through to transaction disputes. Examples of some of the projects I have worked on are:

Financial investigations
One financial investigation I worked on was for a client who found that their balance sheet was no longer balancing and couldn’t understand where the discrepancy came from. We were engaged to investigate where the error occurred. For this investigation we looked through a series of transactions and discovered that the error was caused by four different factors, all adding together to make a large error.
This project required a lot of attention to detail but also a very proactive and responsive attitude, adjusting your approach depending on what you found.
Transaction disputes
Transaction disputes arise when one company is buying another and there is a disagreement over the purchase price. In these situations the buyer and seller will hire accountants to put forward arguments for a purchase price and the arguments will be evaluated by an expert accountant.

In the transaction dispute I have been involved, in we were engaged by the buyer to argue the price as low as possible. Here we were looking through a number of assets the company held, in my case the loans, to see whether they were valued appropriately or if there were reasons for them to be written off.

These projects involve a great deal of technical knowledge, and unlike some other types of accountancy which is very factually based, you are required to use judgement to interpret the accounting standards in a way that is beneficial to your client.
Non financial investigation
At PwC we also get involved in non financial investigations. These can be for a variety of reasons, but the engagement I worked on was looking into the internal controls surrounding a data loss.
For this we interviewed a number of members of staff to try to understand what the circumstances had been to cause the data loss and then recommend procedures which could be put in place to mitigate a similar issue happening in the future.

Although you’re not often dealing with numbers in these projects they are exceedingly interesting and never the same. They draw on your knowledge of management procedures and the mechanisms of running companies rather than just the financial side.

They often require more interpersonal and soft skills as they are generally very client facing. And as with other types of investigations it requires a reactive approach, responding to the information gathered and tailoring the investigation accordingly.

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