Holding white-collar crime accountable

Tampa is a growing economy financially speaking.

However, with this growth comes more people seeking to take advantage of loopholes and get away with taking money from their place of employment.

Director of the Pippenger School of Accountancy Uday Murthy said roughly 600 new positions will be opening up in the Tampa Bay area from Citibank alone in the area of business risk assessment, including in the growing anti-money laundering field. 

To train students for the rising demand for forensic accounting, USF launched a new graduate certificate program in Compliance, Risk and Anti-Money Laundering this summer, which was recently featured in a blog on the Wall Street Journal.

Graduate students in the Muma College of Business have the opportunity for an additional credential on their resume with the new certificate that trains students to combat white collar criminal practices like money laundering. 

The primary course in the certification sequence is the risk management and legal compliance taught by USF professor and former FBI investigator of 25 years, Kerry Myers.

This summer, Myers had 33 students enrolled, including 20 from the master’s of cybersecurity program and 13 who are working on graduate degrees in the College of Business. 

“Almost every publicly traded company out there has various risks that is has to manage and it manages it through various techniques,” Myers said.

Myers said regulatory risks are one of the most common risks corporations and financial institutions have to manage. Simply put, a regulatory risk is an employee breaking the law by breaking rules and regulations set out by the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

“One of the ways that boards of directors, working through their officers and their internal audit department, one of the ways they control or mitigate regulatory risk is through compliance programs,” Myers said. 

By using a program called the Audit Command Language (ACL) script, forensic accountants and investigators are able to decipher irregularities in money traffic.

For example, the system works to find patterns indicative of money laundering. Suppose there’s a control over an employee’s purchasing power that caps his purchase limit at $1,000.

“What a clever employee could do is have, let’s say it’s $1,500, so split it up,” Murthy said. “$900 and $600 so there would be two consecutive orders placed to the same vendor by the same employee, both of which are right below the $1,000 limit. So that’s something you could run a little ACL script that says ‘find two consecutive orders by the same employee that are both under a thousand but to the same vendor’ … Once you have that script going you can run it on a thousand records, ten thousand records, a million records.” 

Forensic accounting is similar to investigating a crime scene, following clues to the perpetrator the way a detective finds a murderer. Myers presented another example that forensic accountants, and by extension the students taking the certificate, manage.

“You send me a bill, I make sure the bill’s legitimate and I pay you the money I owe you,” he said. “Well if I wanted to steal money, I set up a fake vendor in a fake name at an address that’s connected to me, or my girlfriend, or my wife and I start — every month — I write a $10,000 check and I make it look like I’m paying for tires or oil or whatever my business is and actually I’m sending the check to my girlfriend.”

To be admitted to the certificate program, a student must have been accepted to a master’s program in the Muma College of business or be seeking a master’s of cybersecurity. 

Murthy said this new certificate will give USF graduates preference when looking for a job.

“They are looking for folks, for graduates, that have this skill set,” Murthy said. “Now what we’re hoping is with this student that has a graduate certificate would be much more attractive to those employers than someone that doesn’t and they have to do all the training.” 

Murthy said it normally takes several months to train a potential employee the same skills as the certificate program and this is a major factor in who is and isn’t hirable in the growing market. Having to spend the money on training a new hire, which includes hotel fees and travel expenses to send an individual to another state, is quickly becoming old hat. 

“A student going through this program is going to have several legs up over and above someone who’s just a graduate of, say, accounting or just information systems who would have to undergo a lot of internal training,” Murthy said. 

Murthy said an employee may have a line-item in their resume from the training a workplace offers, the benefit of having this certificate means no matter where the certificate holder goes for employment, they can tangibly prove they have the skills necessary to succeed.

Murthy and Myers see the certificate program as being a staple in future accountancy curriculums. 

“In 10 years, this will be a core course in all colleges of business that is my prediction,” Myers said. “In fact, do you know how many accounting textbooks out there? Hundreds. You know how many textbooks out there (for this curriculum)? One.”

“We’re sort of in a sweet spot,” Murthy said. “We’ve already talked about Tampa being kind of this hotbed of anti-money laundering efforts from all these companies like Citibank, etc. and then we have the expertise.” 

The Pippinger School of Accountancy, according to Murthy, has a national reputation for educating students on accounting information systems, the intersection between accounting and IT.

“We have that strength, the Tampa Bay area has these companies that are building capacity in this area,” Murthy said. “So it was just a nice marriage of these forces that has enabled us to be on the forefront of this field.” 

Starting this fall, the newest class will come into the certification program. The class is fully online and according to Myers and Murthy, this broadens the accessibility of the program as well as focusing the attention on USF. 

“We want to be recognized as the go to place for this,” Murthy said. “Could other universities do this? Sure, they could. But like I’ve already said, I think we have this unique blend of circumstances and expertise and companies already here. To where I think we’re probably better placed than a lot of universities to pull this off as we’ve done. I think what I’d like to see is us growing, I’d like to see the demand for what we’re offering to exceed supply.”