Finding growth in FVS

A recent survey highlights business development opportunities for CPAs with forensic accounting and business valuation practices.
By Frank Vinluan

Finding growth in FVS
Illustration by kraphix/iStock

While tax work is seasonal, practitioners in forensic and valuation services (FVS) find that their business opportunities ebb and flow with the economy. Identifying and understanding opportunities, such as the recent rise of Big Data, can be key to capturing new FVS work in downturns as well as recoveries.

To grow a practice, it’s helpful to keep up with trends and know which areas of FVS are expected to see the greatest future demand. According to The 2014 AICPA Survey on International Trends in Forensic and Valuation Services, which received responses from 443 professionals, 76% of forensic and 54% of valuation professionals expect their practices to grow in the next two to five years. That increase is pegged to a number of factors, chief among them the expectation of additional litigation and regulatory enforcement—a factor cited by two-thirds of survey respondents.

Bankruptcies remain a growth area. Bankruptcy work spiked with the onset of the recession in 2008, said Michael Ueltzen, CPA/CFF, a partner at Ueltzen & Co. Many practitioners expect the surge to continue: 38% of survey respondents project increases in prepackaged bankruptcies in the next two to five years.

Cybersecurity is another growth driver. Corporate security has long been a source of FVS work, and Ueltzen said investigations stemming from cybersecurity breaches have emerged as a growth area in that business space. That’s because all the Big Data that corporations now generate can be vulnerable to threats from outside an organization as well as from within it (see the sidebar, "Big Data case study: What forensic accountants need to know"). Forty percent of survey respondents cited cybersecurity breaches as the biggest information security threat organizations face.

Ueltzen said practitioners now must have IT skills to sort and manage digital information. “It used to be for a big case you got six boxes” of documents, he said. “Now, you get six CDs or access to an online database.”

Financial statement fraud committed by company personnel emerged as the biggest area of expected fraud growth, with 58% of respondents expecting an increase in this area in the next two to five years. Some of this work stems from fraud investigations begun several years ago that are now expected to go to trial; as Ueltzen observed, the one certainty about litigation is that it takes a long time.

According to the survey, 29% of respondents thought valuation of assets carried at fair value would be the most prevalent source of financial statement misrepresentation work in the next two to five years. Twenty-six percent cited inadequate disclosures of material transactions and fraud as the biggest source of future work.

Generational change can lead to opportunity

Ron Seigneur, CPA/ABV/CFF, CGMA, managing partner of Seigneur Gustafson LLP, said the biggest growth area he sees in business valuation (BV) is in litigation services. Yet, to be able to expand in this area, firms need accountants who are willing to testify in court. Many firms struggle to find younger practitioners who are willing to endure the rigors of expert witness work, as many accountants prefer the research and analysis aspects of the work compared to testifying as financial experts. Many Baby Boomer accountants with experience as expert witnesses are now retiring, which can make it even tougher for firms looking to grow in this area. As Seigneur, who has practiced since 1980, put it, “Many firms are asking, ‘How do we get the next generation interested?’ ” Firms that do hire or train CPAs willing to testify can seize the opportunity to increase the range of litigation services they provide.

Retirements among Baby Boomers outside the accounting profession will also create opportunities for FVS professionals. As longtime business owners retire and sell their businesses, or transition their business to members of the next generation, they often seek help from BV accountants, Seigneur said.

Bring in more business by wowing attorneys

Business leads in both valuation and fraud investigations typically come from attorneys. The best way for CPAs to land new work, Ueltzen said, is to provide quality work to the attorneys they already work with. If attorneys are impressed with the CPA’s performance, they’ll offer more work or refer the CPA to colleagues who need accounting expertise.

CPAs should also be sure to network and build trust with attorneys, Ueltzen said. “Attorneys want to know that they’re working with someone who has been down in the trenches and has helped with litigation before,” he said.

Attract clients by polishing an online presence

Most of Seigneur’s new business leads also come from attorneys. But in the last two years, he’s added social media to his business development toolbox. He blogs occasionally on his firm’s website and posts articles on LinkedIn. Though Seigneur doesn’t envision social media replacing other business development activities, he noted that a practitioner’s online presence is now one of the factors potential clients and their professional counsel consider as part of the screening and selection process.

Seigneur gave the example of an inquiry that came to him via LinkedIn from a business owner looking to sell his business. “It led to a $20,000-plus engagement,” he said. “It’s an example of work that I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise.”

Some growth perspective

While forensic accounting and BV opportunities are growing, these services currently provide a relatively small portion of most firms’ revenue. At firms that offer forensic accounting and litigation support, those services typically account for 5% or less of overall firm revenue, according to the 2014 Management of an Accounting Practice (MAP) Survey. BV services also typically accounted for 5% or less of revenue at firms that offered those services.

By contrast, tax services for individuals typically accounted for 13% to 40% of firms’ revenue, depending on the size of the firms in question, the MAP Survey found. Tax services for corporations and partnerships, audits of nonpublic clients, and outsourced accounting and CFO services all typically accounted for more revenue at most firms than either forensic accounting and litigation services or BV services. The biennial MAP Survey was released in November by the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section and the Texas Society of CPAs.

While FVS may account for a relatively small portion of most accounting firms’ revenue, they typically result in higher profit margins than accounting services in general. Market research firm IBIS World projected that BV services earnings before interest and taxes would hit 23.1% of revenue in 2014. Meanwhile, forensic accounting services earnings before interest and taxes were projected to reach 15.2% of revenue. Those figures compare with IBIS World’s projection of a profit of 14.4% for accounting services in general.

Editor's note: A version of this feature previously ran as "Finding Business Growth Opportunities in Forensic and Valuation Services," FVS News, Nov. 19, 2014, available at tinyurl.com/kqzgpol.)

Click here to download "This just in: Forensic and valuation services expected to keep growing," an infographic highlighting key findings from The 2014 AICPA Survey on International Trends in Forensic and Valuation Services.

AICPA RESOURCES

JofA articles

Publications

  • 2014 Valuation Handbook: Guide to Cost of Capital (#PBV1402P, paperback)
  • Business Valuation Practice Management Toolkit (#PPM1208P, paperback; #PPM1211E, ebook; #PFVSBVTO, one-year online access)
  • Essentials of Forensic Accounting (#PFF1401P, paperback; #PFF1401E, ebook)
  • Understanding Business Valuation: A Practical Guide to Valuing Small to Medium Sized Businesses, Fourth Edition (#PBV1201P, hardcover)

CPE self-study

Fundamentals of Forensic Accounting Certificate Program (#159950, two-year online access)

Conferences

  • AICPA Business Valuation School, May 18–22, Durham, N.C.
  • Forensic & Valuation Services Conference, Nov. 8–10, Las Vegas

For more information or to make a purchase or register, go to cpa2biz.com or call the Institute at 888-777-7077.

Online Professional Library

The FVS Collection of the AICPA Online Professional Library is a powerful research tool that gives practitioners access to the most comprehensive, up-to-date forensic accounting and valuation information available in a searchable, web-based format. Members of the FVS Section (inclusive of CFF and ABV credential holders) get unlimited access to the FVS Collection.

FVS Section and CFF and ABV credentials

Membership in the Forensic and Valuation Services (FVS) Section provides access to specialized resources in the forensic and valuation services discipline areas, including practice guides. For more information, visit the FVS Center at aicpa.org/FVS. Members with a specialization in financial forensics may be interested in applying for the Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) credential. Information about the CFF credential is available at aicpa.org/CFF. Members with a specialization in business valuation may be interested in applying for the Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV) credential. Information about the ABV credential program is available at aicpa.org/ABV.

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