BDO Partner Caryn has been a forensic accountant for over 20 years, and has seen a lot of change in the profession. From interviewing in an all-male high security prison, to building a strong team of talented forensic accountants who have stayed with her for many years, this is her story.
Where did it all begin?
I was a trainee, fresh out of university, in our Sydney office. I worked in the audit team and completed my ACA training there. After qualifying, I had the opportunity to participate in our reciprocal secondment program with our UK firm. So I arrived in the UK in January 2000 to do my three months in the Audit stream. That was 20 years ago!
What were the highlights of your early career?
I was asked to stay on as a contractor and my very first assignment was undertaking a piece of work in New York. It was a trial that was being heard in the Southern District Court of New York and involved a very well known British boxer and his manager. His manager was being accused of fraud.
At the time, I had no idea what this meant or the magnitude of it. Sitting in the courtroom in New York, it's just like you see on the television. It was very exciting but equally as stressful for me. I was so new to the forensic stream and it was the first time I had been in a court.
Following my trip to New York I decided to leave Audit and was seconded to the forensic stream. I think I was there for maybe three months and I thought, this is for me. So in 2001, I transferred permanently and have been there ever since.
What kind of work does the forensic accounting team do?
Essentially what we do is accounting work for disputes. So where there's a problem, we get involved in doing the accounting work and that might be getting to the bottom of a problem that the client might have in terms of a fraud investigation.
It might be giving expert witness testimony, where we're getting engaged to break down complex quantum calculations. We can then communicate with the judge so that he can make his decision as to which party he considers is right or how much should be paid to one or another party.
So that's the type of work that we do.
What have been the highs and lows of your career so far?
I think that one of my all time lows is having to visit an all male prison and interview a chap about a whole lot of allegations made against him in respect of drug and money laundering charges. I found myself in a room with this prisoner with two armed guards behind the door. I found it difficult to focus on anything except getting out of there.
There have been a lot of highs. We've worked on some super complex, high profile investigations and expert pieces. We were heavily involved in a very large Russian oligarch litigation years ago that was covered in the press. That was really interesting and very challenging but equally very rewarding at the end of it.
What are some of the major changes you have seen in forensic accounting?
We've all seen over the last two years that the world has gone online. And so people are giving evidence online. We're conducting interviews online, we're doing so much more remotely.
Going forward, the international travel which for a lot of people was a real draw card for working in the forensic stream, is likely to be less extensive than before.
Equally not having to be away from home for a couple of weeks is actually a very nice thing. If we need to be there physically, we can be but it is no longer the default. We are now able to create a better balance between on-site and remote working.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I think one of the biggest challenges that I've had in the last 10 years is that I've had two children. Juggling work and family commitments can be stressful.
I was incredibly fortunate that BDO had a flexible working arrangement back when I had my son in 2008. I was able to come back to work but work flexibly which was very forward thinking at the time. Now of course, we have WORKable, our Agile Working framework which makes it easier for everyone to balance work and other commitments and not just working parents.
What has been your biggest achievement?
Obviously becoming a Partner was a great achievement. But I think my biggest achievement is that we have a large team of people and of that team, a high proportion of staff who've been with us for a very long time.
I was counselling manager for one of my directors when she started as a trainee back in 2002. And she's still here 19 years later. We have an excellent team in the forensic department and we’re passionate about nurturing them.
What would be the most influential piece of advice that you've received?
I think it's the advice to listen and to learn from any experiences that aren't so great.
There have been 20 years of me doing things and thinking I could have done better. And it's recognizing that and not dwelling on it, just making sure you do it better the next time.
Always ask questions too. You're not expected to know everything. We're all learning, all of the time, whatever level we’re at.
When it comes to your career, I truly believe that the journey is as important as the destination.
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