I'm a CFE

Kathryn Wilson, CFE

Senior manager, government and public sector, CohnReznick LLP

Kathryn Wilson, CFE, learned in high school that accounting encompasses so much more than crunching numbers — it’s also about following the money. And accounting isn’t just a job for Wilson, who conducts risk assessments and devises ways to prevent fraud as a senior manager in CohnReznick’s government and public-sector group; it’s also a family affair with her two brothers and late grandfather in the profession.

I was born in Indiana but raised in Western Pennsylvania. I now live in Northern Virginia with my husband, daughter and three fur babies: a tabby cat, miniature dachshund and Great Dane. (I’m a huge “Scooby-Doo” fan.)

I’m the oldest of four children, so I always had a buddy to play with. My parents encouraged us to be active, and my favorite activities included cheerleading, tennis, archery, swimming, horseback riding and reading. On nice days, you’d see me reading a mystery or a “Betty and Veronica” comic in the tree outside my window or on the porch swing. I absolutely loved reading “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, “The Boxcar Children,” “Nancy Drew” and Agatha Christie mysteries.

I wanted to be an actress, pastor, private detective, archaeologist, teacher and a lawyer. But a high school accounting course with an amazing teacher sold me on the profession. It wasn’t the number crunching that interested me as much as the challenge of following the money. It’s also a profession I share with my two brothers and late grandfather, who was an accountant for General Electric.

I’m currently a senior manager in CohnReznick LLP’s government and public sector advisory group, leading the company’s growth in anti-fraud, waste and abuse services. Additionally, I lead a team of hard-working, talented individuals to support one of our government clients. We conduct risk assessments, identify and implement internal controls, and establish policies and procedures to mitigate fraud, waste and abuse.

Even though we don’t investigate fraud, we consider control weaknesses that allow fraud to occur and identify areas that require remediation. There’s always a lesson to learn about what fraudsters can do and how to apply that knowledge to future audits and risk assessments.

My interest in fraud started with my passion for solving “mysteries” and bringing justice to those who’ve been victimized. You might’ve guessed from the careers I considered and the books I enjoyed growing up that I’m a fan of a good mystery.

Pay attention to details and document, document, document! When it comes to documentation, it’s important to capture exactly what you learned and what you found to be reasonable or unreasonable and explain why so that someone reading your report for the first time will understand what happened.

Fraud prevention and strong internal controls are key. In my experience, many agencies are only focused on the latest tools for detecting fraud after the damage is done. It’s our duty as CFEs to educate about fraud risks, internal controls and prevention. I often hear about programs in which only one person is handling transactions with little support documentation and minimal review of internal controls or appropriate reconciliations.

If there’s a will, there’s a way; fraudsters are finding new ways to deceive, and we need to be up to date on the trends. The world still needs fraud fighters.

When I first started my career, only a few of my colleagues were CFEs. Once I heard there was an organization dedicated to fighting fraud, I instantly knew I needed to be a part of it. I took a chance and traveled to New York City for the ACFE’s CFE Exam Prep Course, and I passed all four sections that week. My mother even traveled to support me and see me walk out of the last exam with a big “cheese” smile and yell, “I did it!”

Being a CFE has also changed my mindset in every aspect of work. Not a day goes by that I’m not thinking about fraud risks. I even apply my CFE knowledge outside of work, such as watching reality TV and calling out characters who are lying because I can read their body language. It stays with you.

I credit all the job opportunities I’ve gotten and the people I’ve met throughout my career to the CFE credential. Being a CFE has also changed my mindset in every aspect of work. Not a day goes by that I’m not thinking about fraud risks. I even apply my CFE knowledge outside of work, such as watching reality TV and calling out characters who are lying because I can read their body language. It stays with you.

If you haven’t already, get certified. Even if you only have an inkling of interest, do it. You do need to study for the exam, and I highly encourage taking the CFE Exam Prep Course and attending in person if possible. Once you obtain those credentials, doors to many opportunities will open.

Don’t be afraid to network and build relationships, and don’t be too quick to judge an opportunity. Talk to people, observe their mannerisms (a helpful interview tool), and most of all, be yourself. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t network and meet people who’ve supported and mentored me in my career.

My ultimate achievement is my daughter. She is a sassy, strong-willed, passionate and beautiful 5 year old (going on 16) who I know will one day conquer the world. She’s lit a fire in me and empowered me to be a better version of myself and a role model.

I enjoy reading, playing the piano and flute, watching movies, walking, yoga, meditating, watching the Steelers, playing pool and rummy with my husband, “dance nights” with our daughter, being outside, going on family trips to the beach, national parks and historic landmarks, and evenings dancing or sitting by a bonfire with friends I’ve known since grade school.

Jennifer Liebman is assistant editor of Fraud Magazine. Contact her at jliebman@ACFE.com.