The Uncertainties and Certainties of Pursuing a Career in the Anti-Fraud Profession

Photo by John Loftis, CFE

Photo by John Loftis, CFE

GUEST BLOGGER

Xueyu (Lukia) Chen, CPA, CAMS
Advisor, Forensic & Integrity Services
Ernst & Young, LLP

If I hadn’t pursued my passion for the anti-fraud industry, I might have been lost in the uncertainties of life, or at least I wouldn’t have learned to embrace the uncertainties in the early stage of my career.

Growing up, I was a kid who loved to plan ahead and avoid risks as much as possible. My senior year I decided to pursue my second greatest career passion — becoming a university professor — and get a Ph.D. in accounting. This path seemed more predictable compared to a path of pursuing my greatest career passion, which was to become a fraud investigator. My so-called “safe” plan fell apart in spring 2016 when I got rejected from all 12 doctorate accounting programs I had applied for.

That, however, became a trigger for self-reflection, reaching out and advice seeking. One of the people I reached out to was Dr. Troy Janes, CFE, CPA, who had been an incredible inspiration and mentor to me during my entire college career. One day, as I listened to Troy’s advice and brainstormed potential backup plans with him, he said, “Oh, have you ever thought? This might be a great opportunity to pursue your passion in fraud! Keep your chin up!”

His words led me to recall my greatest career passion — becoming a fraud investigator. My interest in anti-fraud issues had first developed after meeting Troy through his summer course in 2013. The first time I went to his office hours, my eyes were immediately caught by his magnificent collection of books and movies about fraud. From then on, I started to borrow books and movies from his library — “The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Conspiracy of Fools,” “Wall Street,” “Boiler Room” and many others. After I finished a movie or a book, I’d have a discussion with Troy. He was always welcoming, patient and encouraging. 

The next year, in 2014, through Troy’s reference, I received an annual conference scholarship to attend the 25th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference, at which I felt like Alice, down the rabbit hole into a whole new world of anti-fraud topics beyond college courses: forensic data analytics, Benford’s Law, issues specific to China, digital currency and more. I also felt a strong desire to further explore the anti-fraud profession. In 2015, I attended my second ACFE conference, at which I again received great inspiration, particularly from Vince Walden, CFE, CPA, CITP. Amazed by the power of combining accounting and data analytics, demonstrated in Vince’s presentation about beyond rules-based anti-fraud analytics, I left determined to take more data analytics courses and eventually added a major in information analytics.

However, disappointment soon came when I searched for anti-fraud job opportunities at the campus career fairs. I’m a Chinese citizen, and it was already very challenging for international students to land a full-time job offer or even an interview. What’s more disappointing was there were few fraud examination jobs on our university career website. When I attended career fairs expressing my interest in becoming a fraud examiner, I often received the response, “That’s nice, but a common path is probably to start with audit or tax and then switch to forensics or fraud examination after a few years.” After hearing that countless times, I thought, “Okay, working as an anti-fraud professional would be fantastic, but it’s not feasible for me, and there will be too many uncertainties.” I was afraid of uncertainties and risks.

Life wasn’t turning out the way I had planned. When my Ph.D. plan fell apart, I realized that even though uncertainty was just an inevitable part of life, there were things in life that were certain. The joy I felt when I was immersed in those books and movies about fraud was real. The excitement I experienced when I got new exposures at the ACFE conferences was true. The happiness I had when I put hard work into building an ACFE student chapter at my school was genuine. If my passion for the anti-fraud industry was true, then why wouldn’t I get up the courage to seize it, to take risks and to work harder?

I stayed at my university for an additional year for a master’s program in accounting. During that year, while staying open to the academic path and potential re-application for the doctorate programs, I told myself that I had to give my passion for the anti-fraud industry another chance and put 100% effort into exploring anti-fraud job opportunities, as well as reaching out and reconnecting with the anti-fraud professionals whom I’d met through the ACFE conferences and events.

One of the people I reached out to was Vince, a partner of the Ernst & Young  (EY) forensic practice in Atlanta. He was one of my greatest inspirations whom I initially met at the ACFE Global Fraud Conference, and he kindly offered me an interview opportunity with his team. Eventually, I got a job offer at EY and started working in my dream field in 2017.

One year later, when I was faced with the uncertainty of whether I could continue to work in the U.S., resulting from the U.S. H1(B) work visa lottery, I was a little nervous but not afraid of uncertainty anymore.

I realized it may not be so important where I work. What I cared about the most was to continue to work and grow in the field I loved. Life will always be uncertain, but there are and should always be certain things that we can turn to for positive energy, strength and inspiration. For me, one of those things is my passion for the anti-fraud profession.

Of course, my change from being scared of uncertainties to being willing to embrace uncertainties was also because of the incredible anti-fraud professionals (many of whom I’ve met through the ACFE) who have continuously inspired me, through their dedication to the industry, to learn and to contribute to shaping a better anti-fraud industry. Some of those greatest inspirations include: Dr. Troy Janes, my college mentor, who encouraged me to embrace uncertainties and pursue my passion; Vince Walden, my previous partner at EY Atlanta, who inspired me to learn as a sponge and brought me amazing career opportunities during several turning points of my life; Brenton Steenkamp, my current partner at EY Netherlands, who kindly offered me the opportunity to continue to pursue my career passion with EY and welcomed me with open arms; Greg Wright, president of the ACFE Central Indiana Chapter, who helped me discover my potential when I doubted myself; Lupe DeLeon, Membership Manager of the ACFE, who has been a kind and encouraging friend, as well as a great resource for me since I attended my first ACFE conference; and Bruce Dorris, President and CEO of the ACFE, who provided generous support to me and students at my alma mater Purdue University. Looking back at my journey of pursuing my passion in the anti-fraud field, I am deeply grateful for all of the kind support and encouragement I’ve received.

Stay hungry to keep learning. Stay humble and keep looking for ways to give back.