Online Exclusive: Employee Profile

ACFE research director finds inspiration from passionate CFEs

When Andi McNeal, CFE, CPA, was in graduate school finishing up her master’s and researching doctorate programs, she read an article written by Dr. Joseph T. Wells, CFE, CPA, founder and Chairman of the ACFE, in the Journal of Accountancy that mentioned the fraud examination course he was teaching at the University of Texas at the time. “I was trying to find a path to focus my doctoral studies on fraud — the intersection of accounting and human behavior has always fascinated me — and I ended up emailing Dr. Wells to find out if he had any suggestions or guidance about where I could find a Ph.D. program in white-collar crime,” she says. Dr. Wells told McNeal he didn’t know of any such programs offhand but invited her to apply to join the ACFE Research Department where she could research, write and help educate others about fraud — all without having to devote the years and funds to getting a doctorate. “I flew out to Austin, Texas, interviewed with several wonderful people at the ACFE, started as an accounting writer and the rest is history.”

I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and grew up in Boca Raton, Florida. Growing up in South Florida I played a lot of tennis and swam every chance I got. I also dabbled with several musical instruments — mostly violin, piano and French horn — some much more successfully than others.

Growing up I wanted to be a teacher. From an early age, I knew I wanted to help people learn. I tutored all throughout high school, and I started college as a deaf-education major.

I went to Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, for my undergraduate, and University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida, for my masters. While I was mostly a diligent student, my husband and I actually skipped school during college to get married. We are high-school sweethearts, and we were both attending Flagler College. One day in May, I skipped my money and banking class, and he skipped his speech class, and we got married in the courtyard of the museum right across from the school — just him, me and a minister.

I was working to get an article I’d cowritten with a professor published in a journal not long after joining the ACFE. Because I knew Dr. Wells was a prolific and talented author, I asked him if he’d be willing to review the article and provide me some feedback. He graciously did so, and one of his comments has stuck with me ever since: When you write, you must always make sure you know who, specifically, you’re writing to. Dr. Wells nailed what I needed to hear on that article — I rewrote portions to be clearer and more relevant to the intended audience, and the article was published shortly thereafter. And his advice has stuck with me ever since.

As the ACFE’s research director, I get to oversee the group of brilliant folks who create all of the ACFE’s educational materials. Together, our team develops content for the library of seminars, self-study courses and other training offerings the ACFE provides, as well as the Fraud Examiners Manual, all of the study materials for the CFE Exam, and numerous other anti-fraud publications and resources. We also assist our members and the public with their questions about fraud prevention, detection and investigation. In addition, I’m the co-author of the Report to the Nations and the In-House Fraud Investigation Team Benchmarking Report.

Our members are so passionate and diverse, and their dedication to fighting fraud truly inspires me. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned in my time with the ACFE is that we’re all in this together. Attending the annual conferences, watching the activity in the ACFE’s online community and talking to countless members, I’ve observed such an air of unity and collaboration. They offer information about the threats they’re seeing, what’s working or not working in their anti-fraud initiatives, and advice to help others improve their programs or advance in their careers in an open, generous way. Our members have formed a true, global anti-fraud community, and the profession is stronger because of their joint efforts.

I’ve also learned that the dedication our members display, while inspiring, is necessary. The fraudsters aren’t going to stop trying to find new ways or opportunities to steal, so we have to be persistent, creative and collaborative in order to stay a step ahead of them.

Being surrounded by amazing people motivates me. I’m really lucky to have a life full of people — family, friends, coworkers — that are smart, hilarious, talented and incredibly kind. Their support, and at times brutal honesty, keep me motivated on a daily basis.

I have a couple of personal mottos, but the one I probably recite to myself the most is “continuous improvement.” I struggle a bit (okay, a lot) with being a perfectionist. The way I try to counter that tendency is to remind myself that perfection is an impossible standard. But as long as I learn from my mistakes and use them to be better and do better than yesterday or a week ago or a year ago, I’m on the right path.

My other motto, as my children would tell you, is “always be kinder than is necessary.” I think the world can always use more kindness and understanding.

My whole family’s really into music, so we spend a lot of time listening to, discussing and playing music. My kids are much more talented than I am there, but they’re very patient when I try to play anything. I also enjoy reading, playing games with my family and traveling. And when I have the time, I still love swimming and playing tennis.

Emily Primeaux, CFE, is associate editor of Fraud Magazine. Contact her at