Alumni

Lawbreakers Beware: Avneet Kohli (M.S. in Accounting ’13) of PwC Will Find You

Avneet Kohli's career in forensic accounting continually presents fresh challenges and creates new avenues for her to collaborate with people from a wide variety of businesses.

Avneet Kohli

Accounting has a reputation as being a rather quiet career, but M.S. in Accounting grad Avneet Kohli’s experience has been quite the contrary.

As the Senior Manager of Forensic Services with PwC, she’s pursued all manner of fraud-finding initiatives. Since she first began working in her chosen area, she’s been involved in projects ranging from anticorruption compliance assessments, M&A due diligence, and litigation/disputes cases to whistleblower, accounting, and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigations.

Most would agree there’s nothing that sounds particularly safe or rote about any of that.

Indeed, while Kohli is unable to divulge the details of her many forensic accountancy missions, she says the job continually presents fresh challenges and creates new avenues for her to collaborate with people from a wide variety of businesses.

“The most stimulating aspect about this field is that you are always working on something new, whether it is the type of work or the industry,” Kohli says. “I have had great exposure to industries such as pharmaceutical, manufacturing, education services, healthcare, consumer markets, hospitality, and aerospace and defense, among many others.”

Applied History
Earlier in Kohli’s working life, she held positions in management for an Indian manufacturing company and as a program coordinator for a nonprofit. And though she believes that an accounting career was “just meant to be” for her, she says that those prior experiences helped to develop her skill set.

After earning undergraduate degrees in economics and management from The London School of Economics and Political Science, followed by a master’s in International Management from the King’s College London, she worked in New Delhi, overseeing sales and operations, getting hands-on with everything from procurement, hiring, and manufacturing to pricing, selling—and her initial experiences in accounting. She says it was also where she first learned to work collaboratively with clients to understand and meet their needs.

The years following at the Kaur Foundation, a Maryland-based nonprofit, provided insight into the process of teaming with state and local government institutions and “understanding the challenges of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds.” The experience also stressed the importance of positively contributing to efforts that better the world, a lesson she continues to carry with her in her current position.

“The field of forensic accounting gives me an opportunity to leverage my skills while working for a good cause: ridding society of fraud and corruption.”

A Continual Education
Kohli recalls that she faced a learning curve during her first few years in accounting, but that began to change once she had the epiphanies and made the connections that came from getting familiarized with the entire forensic accounting process.

“You start getting your a-ha moments when you are working from start to finish on an investigation and get to experience all aspects of it, starting from data collection, performing fact finding analysis, and then reporting.”

McIntire’s M.S. in Accounting Program, she notes, provided the critical thinking expertise and specialized technical knowledge that helped pave the way for her success. “The program gave me the necessary insights of being able to use accounting skills in the field of corporate finance/business valuation, mergers and acquisitions, and forensics,” she says. “The professors brought valuable perspectives, relevant knowledge, and practical insights through their partnerships with the top consulting firms and companies.”

A licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Kohli also draws on skills in both certification areas. “Being a CPA provides a great foundation of technical skills, accounting analysis, and fact-finding exercises. CFE complements it by enhancing skills to apply professional skepticism, which is most essential in this field,” she says.

Now with more than six years at PwC, Kohli says that she still relies on that skepticism when facing new challenges, new types of responsibilities, and the changing roles that come with growth.

“I recently worked on a fraud investigation in the healthcare industry, and when I started on the engagement, it was very overwhelming to hear all the acronyms—they are common to the industry, but not outside of it,” she says. “Since we had to turn around the investigation in less than three months, not only did we had to bring ourselves up to speed on all the terminology while learning about healthcare practices and processes, we also had to perform the investigation and report our findings to C-level executives. And they were making several important decisions based on our report. Though challenging at certain times, the demands of the job also keep it very stimulating.”

Though she’s been based in PwC’s Washington, D.C., office for nearly seven years, her job has also led her to take part in FCPA assignments as far flung as South Africa and Egypt—which have coincidentally also been two of her “most cherished projects.” As it has provided intriguing work in the past, Kohli expects that her position will present her with more thrilling projects in the future.

“Forensic accounting is an exciting field to work in, and I feel so fortunate to be able to experience it. I’m grateful to UVA, which provided the necessary exposure in this emerging field of accounting and a platform for me to get in.”

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