How many times can you say you just met a guy whose work seems like it’s straight out of an espionage novel? If that’s the case, then you may be talking about Chris Ekimoff, CPA, CGMA, CFE, MAFF (Master Analyst in Financial Forensics). Chris is a manager in Investigative Accounting and Financial Litigation in the Washington, D.C. office of Duff & Phelps where he focuses on forensic accounting in court and in practice. A graduate of the AICPA Leadership Academy, Edge caught up with Chris to talk about his unique specialty, several high-profile cases he has been involved with, his thoughts about how young CPAs can ascend the career ladder, and more.
Edge: What motivated you to pursue this line of work?
Chris Ekimoff: My original interest in fraud examination came from the much-touted 1987 crime film, “The Untouchables.” The movie depicts the investigation and eventual arrest of Al Capone, and the role of accounting and tax evasion in his conviction. The movie’s emphasis on the accountant and IRS investigator caught my eye because the team who worked to best the criminals used their minds instead of just their guns.
As objective experts in disputes and litigation, I feel like the work we do pushes to find the truth in the substance of transactions and business arrangements. Because we can be hired by either side of a court case, or even be appointed by the court itself, the conclusions that can be made from the data are not construed to meet any predetermined goals or theories. I enjoy the objectivity and integrity in the process.
Edge: What kind of training does it take to work in forensic accounting?
Chris Ekimoff: Forensic accounting is like any other profession; it requires enthusiasm and focus in the face of difficult problems. My most successful colleagues hold an unwavering consistency in developing inferences and conclusions from their analysis. Playing “devil’s advocate,” with regard to your own work, also strengthens your analysis and supports the arguments you make. The best forensic accountants strive to understand their assumptions and limitations in each project they work on, and any impact they may have in the eyes of the court.
Edge: You have worked on some high-profile financial cases, including the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, matters related to the 2008 financial crisis, and even foreign development and government spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. Describe these experiences and what they meant to you.
Chris Ekimoff: In each of the cases mentioned, it has been easy to motivate myself to work hard and perform quality analysis. When you are dealing with a media-intense $17 billion Ponzi scheme, government spending to rebuild a war-torn nation, or the oversight of bailout programs, you remember that your work can have widespread impact on the parties involved and even the public at large. As CPAs, we have an ethical responsibility to the public to encourage integrity and transparency in the financial system. Each of these projects has put that perception at the forefront.
I’ve been a part of amazing teams, with colleagues I continually learn from and respect. Without them, the success of the projects we’ve worked on would not be possible.
Edge: You’ve worked in forensics accounting for most of your career. What kinds of activities bring you the most enjoyment?
Chris Ekimoff: Forensic accounting is not a “single-solution” service. Clients hire us to help solve unique and evolving problems. The cases I enjoy the most are those that present new challenges, new ways of thinking, and different circumstances or developments. Working collaboratively with clients to solve those problems and draw key conclusions gives me the greatest satisfaction. It’s great to be able to identify potentially fraudulent transactions in a set of millions of records, but even more enjoyable to help clients plan to catch those payments before they are made again in the future.
Edge: You were recently named a Top 5 CPA Under 35 from the Virginia Society of CPAs. How did you feel about this honor?
Chris Ekimoff: I have been an active member in the VSCPA and the AICPA since I earned my CPA license in 2009. I have come to learn of the focus and enhancement that each of these organizations brings to the accounting profession. It means a lot to be recognized by associations that carry such influence for CPAs in my state and the country as a whole. I look forward to connecting with other young CPAs in Virginia, and recently began volunteering as a member of the Young Professionals Advisory Council for the VSCPA.
Edge: You have managed teams and projects, as well as worked in many areas of accounting, from fraud and auditing to leadership development and other “soft” skills. In your opinion, what are the best ways for young CPAs to get involved at a higher level with their firms or companies?
Chris Ekimoff: I’ve found the most successful young CPAs are those who have meaningful, honest conversations with their managers and partners. CPAs are often mislabeled as green, visor-wearing bean counters who don’t work collaboratively or speak up. By soliciting feedback and input from superiors on your development, a young CPA can stand out and play a more impactful role in their specific projects and career.
I would also stress that young CPAs should avoid trying to be something or someone they are not, just to please a superior. By being themselves, young CPAs will better drive their own career direction instead of letting projects or managers choose their development tracks for them.
Edge: If you could do anything else for a career or job, no matter the risk or reward, what would it be?
Chris Ekimoff: I get the most enjoyment in my career, by sharing my experiences with other professionals, and learning from their experiences.
On the last day of fifth grade, my teacher, Mrs. David, brought each student up in front of the class and predicted what she thought they’d be when they grew up. For me, she thought I would make a great talk show host. I don’t think she’s far off, as I reflect about my propensity to collaborate with others, both professionally and socially.
Are working in the career you thought you would be in 10 years ago? If not, what changes did you make to become passionate in what you do now?
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