Career Center: Take Me to the Next Level
Jacob Flournoy, CFE
Chief Audit Executive
University of Arkansas
Before beginning his career in bank examination, and later internal audit, Jacob Flournoy wishes he would have done more of one thing: listening. “I was probably told everything I needed to succeed by my trusted advisors. I just wish I had listened more to their advice,” said Flournoy, a CFE, and the Chief Audit Executive at the University of Arkansas System. In addition to listening more, he encourages young professionals to find internships and take advantage of many schools’ study abroad programs. “During my college days there were not as many internships and study abroad programs available, and the ones that existed were not as well funded as they are today,” he said. “The programs that exist now provide amazing experiences and contacts for young professionals seeking to start their careers.”
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Odessa, Texas, and lived there until my senior year in high school when my family moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. My father, who had worked in public accounting for a number of years, accepted a controller’s job with an oil company in the North Texas area.
How did you become passionate about fighting fraud?
After graduating college, I accepted a job with the Federal Deposit Insurance Cooperation (FDIC) and was assigned to a bank examination team in Oklahoma. In those days, the FDIC performed joint exams with the state bank examiners and the banks were almost all small, locally owned banks. The state bank examiners, in particular, had a passion for rooting out the dishonest bankers from the honest bankers because the dishonest ones were stealing from their friends and neighbors (ranchers, small business owners, teachers, retirees and other individuals). These customers often had a significant portion of their savings invested in their local banks and communities. I have not forgotten those bank examiners’ passion for protecting their home state from the financial devastation that unchecked fraud can cause to private citizens.
What steps led you to your current position and what does that role entail?
I currently serve as the Chief Audit Executive of the University of Arkansas System and was hired to establish the internal audit department. The University of Arkansas System includes two land-grant research universities, a comprehensive health science center that includes a teaching hospital, seven patient care institutes and eight regional medical centers around the state. It also includes a major metropolitan university, two regional universities, seven community colleges, a residential math and science high school, the Clinton School of Public Service, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Division of Agriculture with 14 working research farms, the Division of Archaeology Survey with 10 research stations, the Criminal Justice Institute and five NCAA intercollegiate athletics programs. The system enrolls more than 60,000 students, employs over 17,000 people and has assets totaling $3.9 billion with annual revenues of $2.8 billion. My work entails directing a system-wide, risk-based audit program that includes fraud, financial and compliance audit projects.
What are the most important skills you have learned throughout your career?
In addition to becoming an expert in areas of fraud examination, accounting and financial reporting, data analytics and IT auditing, the most important skillsets I have developed are in the areas of communication, supervision and collaboration. Effective verbal and written communications skills are vital to the success of any fraud examination, and are used in conducting interviews, developing clear and concise reports and presenting results. Effective supervision skills include the ability to mentor and coach team members. And in today’s work environment, another critical skill is the ability to work in collaboration with multigenerational and multicultural teams to achieve the goals of the examination.
What value do you see in mentorship, and what advice do you have for someone looking for a mentor?
I have been very fortunate to have mentors over my career. The best mentorships are a two-way relationship. If you want leaders to take the time to mentor you, they have to first see value in your work. Once you have gained their trust and respect for the quality of your work, they will take the time to share with you invaluable advice and counsel for meeting your life goals.
How do you think your CFE credential has helped you in your role?
From the first time I participated in an ACFE event, I realized that I had met an elite group of individuals dedicated to fighting fraud. I wanted to be a part of this group and learn what they knew about conducting fraud examinations. Over time, I have watched the CFE credential become a respected credential worldwide, based on the quality of the program and the quality of the work performed by CFEs.
How does fighting fraud differ at a university when compared to investigating or examining fraud at a firm or corporation?
There are a lot of similarities related to fraud examinations in a public university setting, but there are also some differences. There is generally a much lower tolerance level for fraud when public funds are involved. As a result, we accept lower materiality levels than a corporation would accept when deciding how many resources to assign to a specific fraud investigation. Another difference concerns freedom of information. All of my fraud cases are subject to freedom of information laws and usually will be disclosed at some point in the public domain, in accordance with those laws.
One other difference is that university systems, on the whole, are large enough to have in-house legal counsel and law enforcement departments. The larger police forces usually have a criminal investigator on staff. Having access to these resources can really help in getting local and state prosecutors interested in taking on a white-collar crime or fraud case.
What is a memorable case or project that you have worked on —one that made you feel especially proud?
I have worked on a great number of fraud cases over the years and several of them have been memorable for a variety of reasons. I believe, as a group though, the ones that I am most proud of have come from calls/tips through the phone and online hotlines. There is something very satisfying in helping a true whistleblower resolve an ongoing fraudulent situation. Often their concerns have been rebuffed, stone walled or ignored, sometimes for years. Then one day, they have the courage to contact the hotline and we move forward with stopping the fraud, recovering the funds and assisting law enforcement in bringing the perpetrators to justice. When that happens, you know you have earned your pay as a CFE and it is a good day!
What activities or hobbies do you like to do outside of work?
My spouse and I are avid readers. She prefers mysteries and novels, while I prefer biographies, history and international policy. As a result, we both like traveling as a hobby because our travels give us a more in-depth understanding of the people, customs, cultures, societies and locations we read about.
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