Career Center : Just Starting Out
Tracy McLaughlin, CFE
Heinfeld, Meech & Co., P.C.
Phoenix, Arizona, USA
To Tracy McLaughlin, CFE, manager at Heinfeld, Meech & Co., the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credential has proven to be much more than just a simple acronym she could add to the end of her name. Since earning her credential in January 2010, McLaughlin has already taken advantage of several membership resources like webinars, newsletters and training that have armed her with better interviewing tactics and new methods to teach her governmental and nonprofit accounting and auditing firm's clients how to perform effective risk assessments.
What first interested you about the ACFE and caused you to seek the CFE credential?
I have always been interested in the methods of detecting and preventing fraud. The ACFE has become an invaluable resource and has expanded my knowledge. I can pass this along to clients to better assist them in preventing and detecting fraud in their organizations.
Do other members of your staff have the CFE credential? Is your staff encouraged to become certified?
We currently have three CFEs, including myself, in our firm with the credential. I do encourage my staff to become CFEs to help give them the additional tools and resources they need to provide our clients with the services they request.
What advantage does the CFE credential give professionals in the accounting and auditing fields? What specific advantage has it given you in your career?
The CFE credential illustrates that the auditor/accountant has received additional training to assist them in thinking outside of the box. This better allows them to review, modify, create and advise in regards to controls. These controls help clients in prevention and detection of fraud. The training and continual resources provided by the ACFE through webinars, newsletters, conferences, etc. have helped me in expanding my knowledge when assessing sources provided by a client.
What opportunities are out there for CFEs in today's economy? Why is anti-fraud education and awareness important for businesses and the government?
Under the current economic situation, the opportunities for a CFE seem to be unlimited. Organizations are starting to realize the value of having a skilled professional in the area of fraud on staff to continuously review, modify and train employees based on the organization's internal controls. It helps every organization with transparency and public perception.
What are the initial steps a CFE should take when starting a business?
As I've emphasized, write a detailed business plan. Most people spend more time planning a vacation than they do their lives. Some make feeble attempts to construct business plans, but most aren't thorough. The business-plan process will take you from your idea to implementation. You can buy business-planning software that will take you down the "yellow brick road." You must be committed and passionate for this type of work; you can't treat your business as a sideline. And, most of all, find mentors who can help you avoid pitfalls. I found seasoned professionals who were able to guide and save me grief.
What are some ways you've been able to (or are hoping to) apply your CFE training to your job?
I have been better equipped in assessing and evaluating engagements that result in a better end-product for the client. Learning the approaches of conducting a nonconfrontational interview during a four-day ACFE training session in Austin helped reinforce the interview skills I had developed prior to any training.
When working on prior investigations I always respected and knew that the final report was always critical. Hearing and learning more of the legal aspect [of fraud] helped in keeping that at the forefront when working on an engagement [client assignment] instead of being focused solely on what was directly in front of me. It is very important to realize the big picture and remember that every step, document and approach will have some impact on the end result. It is crucial to think of the end product as you are working the entire engagement.
What are some of the major differences between auditing a government agency and auditing a nonprofit?
A nonprofit tends to have more flexibility in establishing procedures and policies that are specific to the organization's core mission. Government agencies are more prone to having documented policies and procedures. This doesn't necessarily mean that government agencies follow them better, though. Governmental agencies have a structured framework of the required procedures and policies that must be followed at a minimum, and then those procedures and policies can be tailored to the government's unique mission.
When working with both types of agencies it is always critical to make sure you are familiar and versed in the uniqueness of each agency and their particular procedures and policies. There are times when I have to remind myself and the team that this is one type of agency or the other and to not confuse the two when reviewing items and determining if there is a breakdown of internal controls or a lack of procedure and policy.
What do you consider your greatest career achievement?
Obtaining my CFE with the firm I work for.
How do you manage your work/life balance?
I consistently work on ensuring that I maintain a work/life balance. This goal is not only a win/win for me and my family, but also for the firm I work for.
What trait do you most admire in others?
What advice would you give to someone just starting their career as a CFE?
Take advantage of all the resources that are made available to you through the ACFE.
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