Our forensic accounting course has received a lot of acclaim and has been generating a lot of interest. We believe that such skills will increasingly be a necessity in the next market downturn and the time to act therefore is now. The course is structured in 10 modules:

Part 1: The Theory

01 Introduction: Why understanding creative accounting is important, and why now

02 Bad actors and case studies

03 Issues with recognition of revenue

04 How companies manipulate expenses

05 Other tricks used to inflate profit

Part 2: How to Detect Earnings Manipulation

06 Warnings signals to watch for and common characteristics of manipulators

07 Tools and ratios used by short sellers and forensic accountants

08 Balance sheet parameters – what to look for and examples

09 P&L tricks, ratios and company examples

10 Cash flow: common tricks and company examples

Our Forensic Accounting Course is therefore designed to help investment analysts detect earnings manipulation. It focuses more on creative accounting than conducting detailed forensic analysis but we show the tools short sellers employ to detect fraud as well as some of the historical frauds perpetrated.

Your analysts will go away with an increased awareness of the importance of

  • Working capital ratios, and how best to modify them to detect early revenue recognition.

  • Cash from operations - how it can be boosted to make companies appear more valuable.

  • Expense capitalisation – how companies defer recognition of liabilities.

  • Accounting policy tricks companies use to flatter their earnings.

  • Expense manipulation to boost or in some cases, depress profits.

  • Other methods of temporarily boosting earnings, or faking earnings.

  • Warning signals to detect deteriorating accounting quality.

The course has some 200 real life examples of tricks and several in-depth case studies. Delivered by a veteran analyst with 30+ years of experience, it also draws on a number of relevant academic studies.

“The team, to a single person, found the Forensic Accounting Course very useful. From our point of view, it went very well and ticked the boxes we were after”

Robert Alster, Head of Research, Close Brothers Asset Management

The course uses many examples to build pattern recognition among students. We see little advantage in teaching how to calculate the Beneish M-Score (a popular indicator of earnings manipulation), as it is readily available on Bloomberg or in a spreadsheet. Instead, we focus on why it works, how it’s constructed, show its performance and flag current offenders. We then give examples of how companies manipulate earnings for each parameter in the M-Score. The benefit to students is they understand the philosophy and can better spot similar examples in future. It also makes for a more interesting course.

“After the long 1990s bull market, there was an explosion of accounting frauds, starting with Enron, and which did not finish with Tyco - this cycle will be no different”

We believe that at the end of a long bull market, we shall see a repeat of the series of frauds uncovered at the end of the tech boom. We believe that it could be worse now, as executive compensation encourages manipulation, auditors have become more sloppy, sell-side analysis has become “juniorised”, and company accounts are even more complicated.

We see this as likely to be most prevalent among small-caps but large caps are by no means immune and we believe that some highly rated glamour stocks will be exposed in the next downturn.

We show below a sample slide from the course which illustrates that sometimes Finance Directors can be overly conservative. Here we are looking at changes in accounting estimates and we illustrate how variations in warranty provisions can be used to boost margins and earnings, or in this case to depress them.


The illustration here is of a comparison of (1) the trailing 12 month ratio of P&L warranty charges to revenue vs (2) the trailing 12 month ratio of cash spend on warranty costs to revenue. Twice in the last few years, Apple has built up its warranty provisions way in excess of actual spend, possibly because of introduction of a new product. This depressed margins at the time by up to 1%. More recently, the P&L charge has been below cash spend, flattering earnings.

This is just an illustration of the type of examples we study - the course includes around 200 different examples of accounting chicanery, many considerably more complicated and in greater depth.

If you are one of the many asset managers which spend huge sums on the research team, yet whose training budget is not always successfully deployed, please consider giving us a trial. Research skills can be learned, honed, and advanced at a relatively limited cost. To find out more, please contact us at


We have a long list of testimonials from the 150 students who have attended our course so far. Please contact us for a fuller list than the small sample below.

“I was delighted with the professional approach from Behind the Balance Sheet. Over thirty of our team attend the Forensic Accounting Course, and I am really pleased with the results. The team are more aware of accounting risks, and this enhanced awareness was a key objective given where we are in the cycle. Steve was very helpful in customising content and even put on an additional workshop to help some of the team further develop their accounting skills. I would highly recommend this product, so much so, we are now discussing follow-up programmes.“

Eoin Murray, CIO, Hermes

“Steve’s course was an excellent refresher in detecting accounting red flags and included lots of interesting and relevant case studies to illustrate concepts. The breadth and depth of the content was vast, and delivered by Steve in his usual engaging and energetic demeanour. I think what gives the workshop an edge over peers’ offerings is Steve’s unique insights as a successful analyst, the sheer number of relevant case studies and the range of topics covered. Overall, well worth the investment and far superior than alternative courses that I have attended.”

Mahgul Ansari, Stockviews Analyst

“The content of Behind the Balance Sheet’s Forensic Accounting Course was selected and organised thoughtfully and well. The course was packed with useful pointers and tips, as well as rich examples and case studies that helped contextualise and bring the ideas and lessons to life.”

Rob Harley, Analyst, Stewart Investors Edinburgh office


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