Joining Practice Talk this week is a director at Sedulo/Bartfields Forensic Accountants but for AccountingWEB readers he is more known as the go-to person on all things AML and the proceeds of crime. It’s David Winch.
David Winch uses a Poirot-like eye of deduction to untangle any case that lands on his desk, but the day in a life concept of Practice Talk did pose troublesome for the forensic accountant: “There isn’t a normal day,” he told AccountingWEB.
It’s this unpredictability that lured Winch away from the pub, shop and farmer clients of his general practice days.
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“I thought to myself after ten years: oh gosh, for the next 30 years I'm going to be seeing these same clients and I can't stand it.”
Beyond this Groundhog Day unease, Winch was already showing signs of his eventual forensic fate.
“I went to the far end of everything,” he said.”I went into every detail, which is great if you have the time but you can't spend a week of your year on the accounts of a small shop and then bill the guy for a week's time.”
And so, forensic accounting became Winch’s calling. He explains to AccountingWEB why he finds it much more fun than general practice as Practice Talk goes CSI: Accounting.
What’s the first thing you do when you start your working day?
Breakfast. We have an office which has a 24/7 bar and food. You wander in and think: could I have another croissant? If you wanted a pint you could do that, but maybe not at 9am.
A lot of people start the day by logging on and checking their emails and that takes over the rest of the day. Is that still the case with your side of accounting?
I prefer if I can work on one client, one day. I've got a report to write: I'll do that all day today. In a way that is a great luxury that accountants in practice don't usually have.
How do you organise your time?
With difficulty. I am deadline driven. If something has got to be done by this time tomorrow, then it's got to be done and overrides everything else. We're often instructed late in the day, we're given a panic job, we work on it all weekend and take it as it comes.
What does a typical day in the office look like?
In a sense, every day is a typical day and no day is a typical day. We have a team of seven or eight who work in forensics full time. A lot of the basic work is to do with analysing bank transactions, popping them into Excel, for which we use special software, and categorising transactions – throwing up whatever happens to be of interest.
And then going to court can be quite fun. Often it involves a lot of hanging about. Such is life. Occasionally we get into the witness box and get cross-examined.
Can you give us an example of how you’d tackle one of these cases?
Somebody may come to us saying 'I've got 14,000 pages of evidence in PDFs, some of it will be relevant, some of it will not. Off you go.' There might not be an index. It might be chaos because it might something where police have gone into somebody's office and grabbed everything. And it may not be in order. It arrives with us in that chaotic state.
So, how would you go about deciphering that information?
We will know this document was found in the second drawer of the desk number three but we won't know whether it’s relevant – and the police won't know when they picked it. They just hoover everything up and bag it. It's effectively a crime scene. They come in with their evidence bags, mark where it is from, pass it to the exhibits officer and it's logged but not in terms of the sort of things we'd want as an accountant: Is this a sales ledger? Is it purchasing invoices? Is it bank statements?
Are you someone who would have a working lunch or do you take a break from the office?
I'm going to sit at the desk. I might go into the office bar area, grab something from there and go back. If I fancy fresh air I'd wander to Starbucks. But frequently I don't know what day of the week it is. I work weekends as well so it is all much the same.
What time does a typical working day finish?
I'm usually finished before I go to bed. Because my wife works with me we'd be sat there on an evening at home going through the bank statements or evidence. If I've got an important appointment, like Line of Duty on the television at 9pm, then I will make sure I'll finish at 9pm and lo and behold, I'll finish at 9.10pm because I am like that. But thankfully, it's recording so we can whizz it back.
Can you remember your first calculator?
Yes. It was a Texas Instruments. It was about the size of a house brick and it had an eight-digit LED display. I was one of the first people in the office to get one and the tax people wouldn't allow the cost as a business expense because they said other accountants don't have calculators so clearly it's not necessary for your work. So the £30 I paid for it back in 1975 was not allowable and I am still upset about that.