An Interview with Cathleen Collinsworth
“I decided to become a forensic accountant because it gave me with the opportunity to investigate and play detective while earning a lucrative salary.”
Cathleen Collinsworth is a forensic accountant with a private practice in Irvine, California. She specializes in providing financial expertise to clients who are going through a divorce.
Cathleen decided to start her own forensic accounting office after working at a certified public accounting firm for 8 years. Although she is not a certified public accountant, she is a certified divorce financial analyst who helps her clients to settle their financial disputes out of court.
In your own words, what is a forensic accountant?
A forensic accountant investigates their client’s financial history in order to prepare a detailed financial report for the court system. They often collaborate with attorneys to help build their client’s case.
As a forensic accountant for the past 16 years, I mainly provide accounting services to clients involved in family law and divorce cases. To put together a report, I analyze bank accounts and track the flow of money to determine the assets and debts of both parties involved. Occasionally, I testify in court if the parties choose not to settle.
If a student said to you, “I am interested in becoming a forensic accountant,” what would your response be?
I would tell a student interested in becoming a forensic accountant to look forward to a growing field. When I first got involved with forensic accounting 16 year ago, there were few resources available to prospective forensic accountants. Now the field offers the Forensic Accounting Academy which allows students to get certified as a forensic accountant.
What level of education is necessary to become a forensic accountant?
In order to become a forensic accountant, it is not necessary to achieve a certain level of education. Some forensic accountants have their bachelors degrees, while others, like me, gain professional experience through on-the-job training. However, I would highly recommend that students earn their bachelors degrees in accounting because it makes it easier to advance in the forensic accounting field.
Are there any licensing or certification requirements to become a forensic accountant?
No, there are not any certification requirements to become a forensic accountant. However, forensic accountants who earn their certification in public accounting have a significant advantage in the field. To become certified, students need to pass a national exam.
Why did you decide to become a forensic accountant?
I decided to become a forensic accountant because it gave me with the opportunity to investigate and play detective while earning a lucrative salary.
In addition, forensic accounting appealed to me because I could enter the field without having a specific degree or certification. In fact, an attorney taught me how to become a forensic accountant.
What do you enjoy most and least about being a forensic accountant?
The most enjoyable part of being a forensic accountant is helping clients resolve their conflicts out of court. I love being able to settle a financial dispute by simply providing clients with a detailed report of all of their income, expenses, assets and debts.
On the other, the least enjoyable aspect of being a forensic accountant is testifying in court. Even if my accounting numbers are correct, it is the job of the opposing attorney to discredit me, so that can be tough.
What is a typical day like for you?
On a typical day, I work 8 hours, which involves juggling multiple cases, attending trial if need be and collaborating with attorneys on their client’s cases. I primarily work alone, although I sometimes interact with my assistant who helps me with my cases.
How do you balance your work and your personal life?
I balance my work and personal life by setting boundaries and taking long weekends and vacations. Because I am self-employed, I can set my own work schedule and take time off when I need to.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as a forensic accountant and what traits would hinder success?
In order to succeed as a forensic accountant, you need to be self-motivated. Forensic accountants often work alone, so they need to be able to work productively without close supervision. In addition, forensic accountants must be detail-oriented in order to track financial spending and detect any discrepancies.
However, you may struggle in the field if you are lazy. Forensic accountants need to be willing to work hard to investigate cases from multiple angles.
Looking back at your formal education, is there anything you would have done differently?
Looking back at my formal education, I wish I had earned my bachelors degree in accounting as well as my certification in public accounting to make it easier for me to enter the forensic accounting field.
Are there any extra-curricular experiences that you think a student interested in becoming a forensic accountant should pursue?
A student interested in becoming a forensic accountant should join different societies and clubs to meet other like-minded students. In addition, students should network with attorneys to gain professional connections to use in the future.
What classes did you take during your schooling that you have found to be the most valuable for the work you do today?
The most valuable classes I took were my accounting classes in high school as well as my family law classes through the certified public accounting society. My accounting classes taught me the basic principles of accounting, while my family law classes gave me the skills to understand financial statements in family law matters.
What words of advice or caution would you share with a student who is interested in becoming a forensic accountant?
I would advise students interested in becoming a forensic accountant to make sure that they display integrity when working in the field. It is extremely important to be honest and accurate when preparing financial statements and to avoid working with unethical attorneys. Otherwise, forensic accountants will ruin their reputation.
I would also recommend that students become proficient in working with Excel. This is important because forensic accountants often use spreadsheets to compile reports for their cases.
Finally, I would remind students that they need to be personable in order to successfully work with attorneys and clients.