Evildoing? Not on their watch.

In the 2011 AICPA Accounting Competition, college students demonstrated serious skills in fraud and forensics. But future CPAs are up to a lot more than that. Join the ThisWayToCPA Community to stay posted on upcoming events. (Like the next Competition.)

Below is the original lowdown from the 2011 competition. The specifics change from year to year, but the general structure should help if you're prepping for a current competition. Read through to see what came when, and just how our most brilliant teams got to DC.

  • The Finalists

    1st
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    $10,000

    Wolfpack in the Black

    North Carolina State University

    2nd
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    $5,000

    Internal Control Freaks

    Iowa State University

    3rd
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    $2,500

    Highly Debticated

    University of Texas at Dallas

  • The Assignment

    2011 AICPA Accounting Competition – Fraud and Forensics

    A sticky situation in the Nigerian oilfields

    High Prairie Construction* is growing, and that brings plenty of rewards – and risks. This Texas construction company has built embassies in West Africa, high-rise hotels and office towers in Dubai, and even done construction for mineral mines in Australia. But that was yesterday. Here’s what’s coming (potentially) tomorrow: Oil pipelines in Nigeria.

    That means moving quickly before competitors get in the way. Delays could mean losing contracts. It also means making deals with local businesses and governments, which requires local “facilitators” to grease the wheels that keep everything moving forward.

    And, of course, it means staying on the right side of the law, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA – The US Department of Justice has been prosecuting some firms under that act lately) and the UK Bribery Act. All while conforming to Generally Accepted Accounting Practices, since High Prairie Construction is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. And naturally it’ll be essential to ferret out any fraud that may arise within the company itself.

    So here’s where you come in. As a hotshot at Dionysus Consulting Company*, you’re being asked to assess the situation. Provide your expert opinion: Where are the potential pitfalls in this undertaking? It’s your job to know what’s wrong before it goes wrong.

    So start thinking. You owe an executive summary to the Audit Community no later than September 30th. You’ve got to outline, in 750 words or less, double-spaced, the top three fraud risks for High Prairie Construction. You’ll want to answer some questions about what High Prairie should anticipate in their Nigerian adventure. Does this move increase the risk of fraud within the company? Are there factors within the company’s culture that leave it vulnerable to fraud? Is High Prairie exposed to risk under the FCPA and UK Bribery Act?

    The firm is already on the lookout for six types of risk, which you’ll get in the full version of the case when you register your team, but you may also see something they missed. And remember, if the committee thinks you’re on to something (meaning your team is selected for the semi-final round) you’ll have tougher problems to solve (or avoid) soon. So be ready for that.

    *Note: Teams got the full version of the case upon registration. Additionally, this is not actually a real company. While this is based on real events and/or concepts, all characters and businesses in the case are fictional.

  • How It Worked

    **Note all information below is from the 2011 AICPA Accounting Competition

    It's official

    The 2011 AICPA Accounting Competition is a case competition open to currently-enrolled undergraduate students at two-year and four-year colleges, community colleges and universities in the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and/or the U.S. Virgin Islands. You need to be at least 18 years of age by the time of your team turns in its first round submission (and if the age of majority in your state or territory is older than 18, you must submit a completed, electronic copy of the Parent/Guardian Consent Form with your team’s first round submission as well as mail the original, hard copy form to the AICPA, to be received no later than October 3, 2011, 11:59 a.m. ET, in order to be eligible to participate).

    Yes, according to the laws of your state or territory, even if you’re already 18 you still may not be able to participate in the competition without a completed Parent/Guardian Consent Form. Here are the exact ages you must have reached in these places by the time you submit in order to participate without that form:
    Alabama - 19
    Mississippi - 21
    Nebraska - 19
    Pennsylvania - 21
    Puerto Rico - 21

    The competition will be open to teams of exactly four students: Two students on each team must be currently enrolled accounting students, and the other two may be currently-enrolled undergraduates from any discipline. All teams will have a team captain. The captain will be responsible for turning in all submissions and all direct communications with the AICPA during the competition. The team captain must be a declared accounting major.

    Students may also choose to have a faculty advisor. This faculty advisor can help guide you or give you feedback on your responses, but they may not provide any of the final deliverable work.

    The competition comprises three rounds. These rounds will involve a case using fictionalized names and facts, and will be structured to simulate the stages of a consulting project using the principles of fraud and forensic accounting. The first round will involve a short written executive summary (750 words or less) that more broadly helps the judges understand your team’s take on the situation.

    Ten teams will be selected to participate in the Semi-finals. Qualifying teams will be asked to create a video presentation and written supporting work (1,500 words or less).

    Three of the top ten teams will be selected to present again in front of an executive judging panel in Washington, D.C. This will be an in-person presentation, and all finalist team members and their faculty advisors will receive travel and hotel accommodations in our nation’s capital. The presentation will be 10 minutes in duration (and you may elect to use additional media for the specific audience), with an additional Q&A period.

    See the official rules here.

    Questions along the way? Email ThisWayToCPA@aicpa.org.

    FAQs

    Who can compete in this competition? The 2011 AICPA Accounting Competition is open to currently-enrolled full-time undergraduate students at two-year and four-year colleges, community colleges and universities in the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and/or the U.S. Virgin Islands. You need to be at least 18 years of age (and if the age of majority in your state or territory is older than 18, you must submit a completed Parent/Guardian Consent Form with your first round submission as well as mail the original, hardcopy document to be received by the AICPA no later than October 3, 2011 at 11:59 a.m. ET in order to be eligible to participate.)

    Age of majority? What?
    Yes, according to the laws of your state or territory, even if you’re already 18 you still may not be able to participate in the competition without a completed Parent/Guardian Consent Form. Here are the exact ages you must have reached in these places by the time your team turns in its first round submission, in order to participate without that form:
    Alabama - 19
    Mississippi - 21
    Nebraska - 19
    Pennsylvania - 21
    Puerto Rico - 21

    Parent/Guardian Consent Form?
    • Make a copy of your completed Parental/Guardian consent form.
    • Scan the original document into an electronic format so that you can add it to your first round proposal submission.
    • Mail the original, completed form to:
    Academic & Career Awareness Team
    Attn: Rebecca Mahler
    220 Leigh Farm Road,
    Durham, NC 27707
    • The form must be received by the AICPA no later than October 3, 2011 at 11:59 a.m.

    How do we sign up? Simple: Just go to the Team Dashboard page and start building your team.

    Can multiple teams from the same school submit? Yes.

    What are the awards? See below.
    First Place: $10,000
    Second Place: $5,000
    Honorable Mention: $2,500

    You also, of course, get the invaluable experience of solving a problem as a team and presenting your ideas compellingly. And if your team makes it into the finals, you’ll be traveling to make your final presentation with your team. So that’s pretty rewarding too.

    Who is eligible for the trip package? The top three teams (all finalist team members and their accompanying faculty advisor) are eligible for the trip package to the final presentation location. See the Official Rules Section 5 for trip package information.

    I want to participate but need help rounding out a team. Can you help? Yes. In the Team Dashboard page you can browse the existing teams to see if there’s one you’d like to join, or start your own and invite other students to participate. As the founder of the team, you’ll automatically be the team captain.

    One of our teammates will no longer be able to participate. May we make a substitution? You can alter your team members until you have turned in your first-round submission. No substitutions are allowed after you have made your submission. Only individuals who are actively on the Team Dashboard at the time of submission will be eligible to participate in and receive any award offered in this competition.

    Why four team members? The simple answer is that the AICPA wants to help develop the next generation of CPAs. The more detailed answer is that we hope you’ll learn important concepts during the competition, including analysis of difficult and novel issues, communicating your thoughts clearly and compellingly, and – you guessed it – teamwork. In the real world, your fate is entwined with that of your team, and the better you are at collaborating with them, the better your odds of succeeding. This competition is no different.

    Can I serve on two different teams? No. Besides, don’t you ever sleep?

    If I leave a team, can I join another team that needs a member? You can bounce from team to team as much as you like prior to turning in your first round submission. Once that is done, you’re locked in for the duration of the competition, so be nice to your teammates. And remember, you’re only eligible to advance and receive awards in this competition if you are actively enrolled on a team when the first round submission is turned in.

    How come the team captain gets to keep the video camera, and not me? Well, they’ve got considerably more work to deal with than the rest of the team, including increased communications, coordination of members and submissions and introducing the team at the finals. We offer them the camera as a token of gratitude. But they can still decide to give it to you if they want.

    Is there a required format for the video presentation? No. You have some creative license here, but all four members must appear in it at least once, and you must use the AICPA-provided video device to create the video footage for your video submission.

    Will my team’s written submission be judged on its style? While there is no official scoring mechanism for the style of the document, do bear in mind that a well-crafted, professional document for the competition only works in your favor – just as it would in a business environment.

    One of my team members is a graphic design major; may we submit the written portion in a different format? So: Want to expand beyond the boundaries of Microsoft Word 2003 or 2007, do you? That’s fine; just have your gorgeously designed submission in a format that’s readable by Adobe Acrobat.

    Do we have to have a faculty advisor? Not at all. It’s up to your team, and in particular the team captain, whether to solicit the advice of a faculty member, but we do recommend it. Just like in class, this advisor can help guide you and give feedback on your responses, but they can’t provide any of the final deliverable work (of course).

    Do we have to use the suggested types of risk in our submission? Not really. As you noticed, there are a number of risk factors that the committee is already looking at to foresee problems. They’re pretty good ones, too, in our humble (okay, expert) opinion. For your first-round submission, which will focus on three total recommendations, you can select any, many or none of the provided risks to examine and address. Your team can also come up with interesting twists on any of these risks, as well as additional pressures, opportunities or rationalizations you think the committee should worry about.

    What does a good executive summary (like what’s being asked in Round 1) look like?
    Good question. An executive summary is used to help decision makers (or judges) understand your perspective before going into the Semi-finals. So your response is basically a summary of findings, including:

    • Overview – Executive summaries are often looking for a high-level explanation and analysis that could be read by both business people and an average Joe. Keep your language simple, and be clear about your ideas and major points.

    • Recommendations – This includes both new ideas from your team and responses to direct questions from decision makers. 

    • Justification – Like any good investigator, use the facts to get to the bottom of things. Present evidence or clues, then use reasoning to connect the dots for the judges.

    And, last but not least,

    • Brevity – As a general rule, executive summaries should be pretty short and sweet. Remember there is a 750-word maximum on your Round 1 submission.

    We’ve been selected as finalists! What’s the dress code for the final presentation and networking dinner? Students will be expected to dress business formal (suit and tie, pantsuit or skirt suit) for the presentation, as well as for the awards ceremony.

    How will our response be judged? All entries will be judged on a scorecard metric. Each round will be judged on several factors. If you like, you can read all of the judging criteria in the Official Rules Section 4.

    Will my school affiliation give me an advantage during the judging process? No. Judges will come from various parts of the AICPA and business world, so nobody’s out there looking to heap awards on their alma mater. Each team’s submission will be scored on the quality of the response as well as other factors detailed in the Official Rules in Section 4.

    One of my relatives is a member of AICPA—will I still be able to compete? Yes. The AICPA is a professional association with more than 360,000 members, so you can see that if we limited entries on the basis of family membership, we’d be excluding a lot of students. Unless you’ve ever worked for the AICPA—or your relative is on the judging panel—you’re good. We’d like to keep the opportunity to compete as open as possible.

by the way

Judge not. That’s the other guy’s job.

The judge may have the robe and gavel, but you’ve got the data. Walk through a day in the life of a forensic accountant.

 

by the way

Special(ization)

Even though the case of the fraud- and forensics-based competition is closed, you can still learn more about what it means to be a CPA/CFF. Meet Rachel Buse and get the skinny on the specialization that thrives on mystery and intrigue.