Since 2004, Paul Peterson, CPA, CFF, CFE, CIA, has managed investigations in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, United Kingdom, India, Ukraine, Mexico, Chile, and, most recently, China
Grant Thornton, LLP
Shanghai City, China
Since 2004, Paul Peterson, CPA, CFF, CFE, CIA, has managed investigations in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, United Kingdom, India, Ukraine, Mexico, Chile, and, most recently, China — an unexpected turn for the forensic accountant who was first issued a passport in 2002 and grew up with a U.S.-centric view of the world.
“It sort of evolved from not having any international exposure at the beginning of my career and not thinking I would, to living in the Far East on a full-time basis,” Paul says.
Today, Paul is a senior manager for Grant Thornton’s Forensic, Investigation, and Dispute Services Practice in the Shanghai office and loving it. He says, “I am having a tremendous experience helping clients reduce risks and address fraud matters in China while learning about and understanding the Chinese culture and business practices.”
As a new venture for Grant Thornton China, Paul works with a forensic team that is focused on providing outstanding client service and letting the multinational companies in China know that Grant Thornton China offers a full suite of forensic services. The team works with companies (often based in the U.S. with a presence in China) to help them proactively understand and mitigate fraud-related risks and establish proper programs and controls that safeguard company assets and employees. Although a minimum 14-hour time difference can be a challenge when he’s working with offices based in the U.S., Paul says the quality of his coworkers and the work they are doing makes the job fulfilling and satisfying.
“I enjoy working through issues that clients have — especially when they are involved in a fraud matter — and teaching my colleagues about delivering exceptional client services,” he says.
Paul is from a law enforcement family. He first considered a career in accounting when he was in high school and his Dad hosted a barbeque with several FBI agents from the Chicago office. “I remember one of the agents saying, ‘The FBI loves accountants and lawyers,’” Paul says. “And I thought, ‘I’m good with numbers and math; I’ll go down the accounting route with the intention to eventually ending up in the FBI.’”
After an Accounting 101 class at DePaul University confirmed his interest in the profession, he joined the school’s student-run Internal Audit Department. “Through that job, I became friends with some of the upperclassmen and took note on how they were pursuing jobs and landing good offers, so I followed that path — knowing that going into public accounting was a great start for an accounting career.”
During the campus recruiting process, Paul learned that the public accounting firms had forensic accounting practices. “I felt like that group would be, in the corporate world, as close to the FBI as I could get,” he says, “so I looked into it further and felt like it would be a good fit for me after five busy seasons in the external audit group.”
And while he admits the CPA Exam was “the most difficult test I’ve ever taken,” he felt like his DePaul professors and the CPA review program at DePaul prepared him for it. He says, “Based on what my professors and people in the industry had told me, I figured getting the CPA was a crucial element in having a successful career in accounting. I knew it was going to provide job security and open many doors and opportunities in the future. ”
Since getting licensed, Paul has acquired several additional credentials, including the AICPA CFF (Certified in Financial Forensics), which he views as what set him apart from other CPAs working in the forensic accounting field. Still, he says, “I don’t think I would have been able to break into fraud and forensics accounting without the CPA credential.”
Paul will spend another two years working in China to continue to build Grant Thornton China’s forensic accounting and investigations practice. But when he returns to the United States, he wants to leverage his relationships and experiences from China. “I want to continue to make a positive impact at Grant Thornton, and being able to offer clients my experiences and knowledge from China is definitely one of the big impacts I hope to make.”
Hoping your CPA license will take you to exotic foreign lands like Paul? Find out how you can make it happen.
6am: Continuation of a conference call with U.S. client
My day starts at 5 a.m. Shanghai time, which is 4 p.m. in Chicago considering the different time zone. I am getting debriefed after the client internally discussed the latest finding I provided the previous day from China. This case relates to potential corruption within their Shanghai operations.
8am: Commute to the office
I join the more than 9 million people who commute on the Shanghai Metro. The crowded but efficient Line 1 drops me off at Grant Thornton’s office building, which is conveniently located next to People’s Square in Shanghai.
9am: Respond to international emails
I read and reply to emails that came through while I was sleeping. Some of these emails relate to the three other forensic accounting and investigation cases as well as requests by a few of the more than 100 countries Grant Thornton is located in throughout the world. Many of these requests relate to further understanding our forensic accounting and investigative capabilities in China.
11am: Client service status meeting
I round up the internal staff working on our practice’s various forensic matters and get an update regarding our progress and any new findings.
One of my ex-pat friends meets up with me for either soup dumplings (preferably from Din Tai Fung) or a $4 USD lunch at a Uighur restaurant.
1pm: Read latest white collar crime articles and whitepapers
In this line of work, it’s important to stay current on the latest cases, trends, and business practices in China; therefore, I carve out time each day to read such items as PRC attorney updates regarding regulatory compliance, China’s articles discussing the latest wave of the Communist Party’s crackdown on local corruption, and latest FCPA DOJ Case and Opinion.
2pm: Work with China senior leadership to discuss strategy
As Grant Thornton China continues to brand and market our strong Forensic Investigative and Dispute Services group, we continuously have discussions regarding expanding our resources and implementing our growth strategy.
3pm: Client service – FCPA distributor review
After receiving the accounting reports requested from a distributor of a large multinational corporation, I work with my local team and analyze the activity within the high-risk accounts. We identify specific transactions and request the supporting documentation.
5pm: Overnight forensic image of laptop hard drives
With our China Forensic Technology Services (FTS) group, I consult with the client’s local IT department regarding setting up the logistics of collecting and imaging designated company laptops. This is part of an investigation into embezzlement tipped off from a whistle-blower. FTS enters the company that night at 9 p.m. and starts the hard drive imaging.
6pm: Law firm office visit
International law firms in Shanghai are consistently having get togethers for various milestones like partner promotions, anniversaries, new office locations, or a visit from the firm’s global management.
8pm: Chinese language lesson
My wife and I meet with our Chinese tutor, and I spend an hour struggling while attempting to learn Chinese.
9pm: Conference call with U.S. client
As the U.S. begins to wake up, I have a conference call with a client to provide them the latest findings and discuss next steps.