Ernie Cooper is a forensic accountant who gets hired when companies suspect there might be fraud on the inside. He’s also a former FBI special agent who once audited the Mafia and combed through suspicious balance sheets in Medellin, Colombia.
That made him the perfect person to join TheWrap for a screening of Warner Bros.’ guns-and-spreadsheets action flick “The Accountant” — and to make sure Ben Affleck’s number-crunching in the movie checked out.
And the verdict is good. “The ledgers that he’s looking through — those looked like real ledgers,” said Cooper, a partner at Glendora, Calif. firm Vicenti Lloyd & Stutzman. “The terminology they used was very accurate. From an accounting standpoint, I thought it was real cool.”
While it may seem far-fetched for Affleck’s autistic accountant Christian Wolff to lay waste to multiple heavily armed people at once — even for a guy who’s supposedly an expert sniper and martial artist — Cooper said the actual accounting scenes were legit.
For example, one scene in which Affleck’s Wolff examines the books of a medical robotics client to locate a suspicious discrepancy rang true to Cooper.
“It was very realistic when he came in and went to the conference room and he gets all those boxes,” said Cooper, who used to look at fraud at the FBI and now examines corporate clients’ books. “You get called in, ‘Hey, here’s all these boxes, go back X number of years and figure this thing out.'”
Cooper praised how Wolff became suspicious when he noticed that the company’s revenue was growing but its profit margin was falling, despite nothing that would increase its costs.
“That’s very, very classic,” he said. “You look at the numbers, you look at the years, you look at trends. You look at revenue, you look at expenses. That analytics is what he was doing mentally.”
Wolff also identified a series of suspicious transactions by the unusual frequency of the number 3 in their dollar values. Cooper said that was a use of Benford’s law, which lays out the predicted distribution of numbers in a naturally occurring set of data — and something accountants use all the time, through computer programs that analyze data, to sniff out possible problem spots.
“You apply Benford’s law to all your data,” Cooper said. “Say your disbursements to vendors for four or five years. You’re going to have millions of transactions. And what it does — exactly what he does — it identifies patterns that are against the normal. Because numbers go a certain way.”
Cooper also suspected the name of Wolff’s strip-mall based company — ZZZ Accounting — was a hat-tip to a famous accounting fraud, involving a company called ZZZZ Best Carpet Cleaning.
He said plenty of partners at accounting firms — including his own — already have nights out planned for staffers to celebrate the rare occasion of a badass accountant on the big screen. And he expects it to be a big hit in the CPA community.
“When they see him in that conference room, they’re going to love it,” he said.