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LSU’s forensic accounting and internal audit courses prepare students for hot careers

Murder, criminals, and embezzling executives are not topics discussed in a typical accounting class - unless the class is on the cutting edge of the job market and the American cultural trend of forensics.

Armed with a computer and the skills of a master sleuth, forensic accountants work like crime scene investigators, using clues and critical thinking to outsmart criminals. They look past the numbers and investigate the character of the suspects, because although numbers may add up mathematically, they are useless if tampered with.

Larry Crumbley, an LSU accounting professor, was a pioneer in forensic accounting years before the forensic hype. Although he did not invent the practice, he has been at the forefront for more than 20 years. He teaches fraud and forensic accounting courses at LSU and coordinates conferences around the world on the topic.

Crumbley is an LSU alumnus, receiving both his master’s and doctorate degrees here, and a KPMG endowed professor in accounting at LSU’s E. J. Ourso College of Business.

He was also a featured speaker at the National Association of Certified Valuation Analysts Consultants Conference in June 2005 in Philadelphia.

Crumbley has been quoted or praised in leading national publications, including: The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes. He was listed as a “mover and shaker” in an article titled “D. Larry Crumbley: Laying Bare the Fleshpots of Accounting” in the “People” section of the June 26, 1989, issue of Business Week.

Though he loves dressing in Sherlock Holmes-style clothing for publicity, he takes his work seriously.

“Accountants need to learn how to think and look for red flags. A forensic accountant needs to use common sense to find what is unusual, what is different,” Crumbley said. “That’s how they find fraud.”

Crumbley equips his students with this knowledge so they will be prepared for accounting careers in today’s era of monstrous accounting scandals, such as those of former corporate giants Enron and WorldCom.

Accounting Trend: Big Business

Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002 to require greater scrutiny of internal controls and more rigorous reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Fraud in the U.S. is estimated at $600 billion to $1 trillion annually, which has made the need for forensic accountants grow, Crumbley said. Add in the mass-appeal of the TV shows CSI, Law & Order, and Forensic Files and the popularity has grown, too.

But the criminal nature of fraud makes it hard to detect.

“Finding fraud is like taking a metal detector to a garbage dump and trying to find a rare coin,” Crumbley said. “You’re going to find a lot of false hits.

“You’ve got to be a detective. You’ve got to think outside of the box. You’ve got to think like the criminals and be smarter than the criminals.”

Despite the recent popularity, Crumbley said he has seen the trend fluctuate, with an influx after each large corporate scandal. He fears that the cycle is unending because fraud happens when the guards decrease. Although forensic accountants tend to be well-paid, the investigation may require working undercover or at night to find the fraud.

“Whistle blowing is a tough life,” Crumbley said. “Organizations typically like the ‘yes’ people.”

Accounting genres are divided into internal auditors, who are the seeing-eye dogs and help management; external auditors, who are the guard-dogs; and tax accountants, who work for companies and government agencies to fill out tax returns, Crumbley said.

Forensic accountants, who are the bloodhounds or detectives, can also be any of the above. The term “forensic” means that after gathering evidence, an accountant may be asked to present that evidence in a forum, such as testifying in court to help attorneys with litigation services. If someone suspects fraud, he or she often calls a forensic accountant to redo the books and investigate for fraud, Crumbley said.

Larry Crumbley: a Novel-ty Teacher

To hear that an accountant is in the books is no surprise, but it is a different story to hear that an accountant is actually writing books.

Crumbley is not the typical research professor. As a national taxation and forensic accounting expert, he has had 12 novels published, as well as more than 45 books and 300 articles. He has also co-authored many textbooks.

Crumbley is known for his use of examples and metaphors to explain otherwise complicated ideas. He never intended for his books to become literary masterpieces – he compares them to extended case studies with characters and plots that add interest. With his novels, students can get lost in the story and enjoy reading the same information that would bore them in a typical case study or textbook.

“I use the scenario principle – we remember more if there is action and people than by just reading a textbook. In novels, I can combine a huge case with numerous mini-cases,” Crumbley said.

The plot and characters add interest and can simulate real-life experiences, ethical decisions, and practical application skills that accountants will face on the job, Crumbley said. His characters have included IRS tax agents and baseball executives who must solve catastrophic dangers such as nuclear bomb threats and serial murders.

Grover Porter, an accounting professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, is one of many teachers who nominated Crumbley for an innovative teaching award for developing the books for classroom use. Porter praised Crumbley’s novel Trap Doors and Trojan Horses by writing in his nomination letter, “This excellent book offers students a very creative approach to learning. The students love it!”

Crumbley expects his students to comprehensively master the material and its real-world applications – regurgitating the facts is not sufficient.

“It’s difficult to teach students to think out of the box – they want to be told something and then be asked to repeat it,” Crumbley said.

Many professors avoid making students read because they fear students will give them poor evaluations, which could get them fired, Crumbley said.

When Crumbley wrote his first four novels, he used the pen name “Iris Weil Collet,” as in “IRS will collect,” to protect his identity.

Crumbley said he wants his students to have writing and revising skills since many businesses and accounting firm recruiters complain that students cannot write. Although he has personally been an avid lifetime reader – once reading 60 books in a summer for a contest – he knows of college students who have never read a book to completion.

Besides his novels, Crumbley is working on selling two movie screenplays and has served as the editor of Oil, Gas & Energy Quarterly for 30 years.

He is a world traveler with 108 countries visited and counting. It is also no surprise that he is involved with the LSU Modern Chinese Business and Culture Program, which was officially launched in September 2006.

“I decided a long time ago that I was going to make a difference in teaching,” Crumbley said in an interview published by CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business. “I started to work very hard at getting through to students at the gut level — trying to make the materials more interesting and memorable for them. I’m devoted to my students and I never lost sight of the idea that as teachers, we need to reach out and teach.”

Melissa Prescott | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Spring 2007

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