The CFE: More Than Just a Credential

Tiffany at the 28th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference in Nashville in June.

Tiffany at the 28th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference in Nashville in June.


Tiffany Couch, CFE,CPA/CFF, Former ACFE Regent
Principal, Acuity Forensics

It was July 18, 2010, and I was putting the finishing touches on my PowerPoint presentation. I was nervous. You see, the ACFE had invited me to be a speaker at the ACFE Global Fraud Conference in Washington, D.C. the following week. I was giddy, but extremely nervous about this first-time opportunity. I wanted to get my presentation just right. My family and I were visiting my parents in California, and just before my dad retired to bed early (he lived the "early to bed, early to rise" life!), I walked him through my presentation.

“I sure am proud of you, punkin,” he said as he patted me on the shoulder. He called for his grandkids to give him hugs and went to bed. Those would be the last words my dad ever spoke to me. During the night, he had a massive stroke that he never recovered from and that would take him from us just 30 days later.

The first few days after the stroke, we had high hopes that he would recover. And even though he couldn’t speak, my dad was still being a dad from that hospital bed. As an example, we were contemplating whether or not I should fly from California to Washington, D.C. to attend the conference and he pointed to the door, directing me to “go.” 

I weighed that decision heavily. My chance to speak at the largest fraud conference on the planet was a huge professional “win” for me, for sure. Of course, Dad would want me to go! But the thought of being 3,000 miles away in such an untenable situation was just too much. I sheepishly made the call to Austin to let the ACFE know that I needed to bow out of the conference at the last minute. I was thinking for sure that my big chance was flying out the window, just like the hope that we held for Dad’s recovery.

Before I could get the sentence out of my mouth, Allan Bachman, the ACFE’s former education manager, cut me off. The only words out of his mouth were expressions of genuine care. “We have you covered,” he said. “Do not give it a second thought. We will be thinking of you and your family.” I learned that there had even been an announcement during my scheduled breakout session for warm thoughts for my family. I was blown away by the kindness I experienced from an association that up until that point, I had “only” held a credential from.

Since 2010, I have had the opportunity to become a faculty member and an ACFE Regent. I have attended more than 12 conferences, taught or attended countless seminars, and met hundreds of fellow CFEs. I have learned that holding a CFE credential is so much more than the three additional initials next to my name, and so much more than the training I have received. Some of what I have realized is the value of:

  • Professional connections: The number of professional connections I’ve made through my attendance at various ACFE events has expanded my professional network beyond my imagination. My professional Rolodex includes the director of investigations at a large publicly-traded company, the Bernie Madoff whistleblower, current and former CIA and FBI agents, and a host of people making huge differences in our profession. The depth and breadth of experience walking the halls of a typical fraud conference is truly astounding. As a self-employed person, that Rolodex is certainly an asset when I have a question on a case, need to refer work to a different expert or need to collaborate on a large engagement.
  • Meaningful friendships: I met Janet McHard when she taught the seminar Auditing for Internal Fraud in August of 2004 before I had the credential or knew very much about what being a CFE was really all about. She was someone I very much emulated. You see, at that time she had the kind of career I could only dream of! She was gracious enough to answer my phone calls and emails, encourage me when I left my “dream job” to start a forensic accounting firm, and reach out during professional challenges of her own. Janet is just one of many professional connections who have translated to meaningful friendships that will last beyond our careers. I am forever grateful for these relationships and the meaning they bring to my life.
  • Lifelong learning: I may be a faculty member for the ACFE, but I can’t possibly articulate how much I often learn from the attendees at any one of our many trainings. Attend a training or a conference, and not only will you be taught by a master in the field, you will likely find yourself sitting next to one, too. And when you surround yourself with masters, it only leads to one thing: mastering your own game. There is no shortage of learning you can absorb from ACFE events, local chapter events or just hanging out with the truly awesome people in our profession.

I am often asked what the CFE credential means. To me, it means so much more than just how to investigate fraud, interview suspects and write reports for lawyers, judges and juries. The CFE means camaraderie and professional support. It means fun. But more than that, it means we belong to a group of people who care about each other beyond the professional confines that originally brought us together.

Being a CFE has been a game-changer in my professional career and personal life. I am proud to be among your ranks.