From a CPA to an Academician to an award-winning FilmMaker: Meet Kelly who is pushing forensic accounting in exciting new directions

  • Hi, I am Kelly Richmond Pope, a CPA and Chicago-based unconventional educator with a passion for forensic accounting and ethics.
  • I say unconventional as I have directed and produced a documentary called All the Queen’s Horses (which tells the story of Rita Crundwell as self, the perpetrator of the largest case of municipal fraud in American history) which you can now stream on Amazon and I created a gamification-based training as well.
  • I thrive on seeing others excel in their chosen career path of Accounting, and it is my intention to make learning accounting fun while being meaningful.
  • Here’s my journey of how constantly feeding my mind and injecting it with new things and stimulating it in new ways, helped me to think beyond.

Back story

I remember even as a seven-year-old, the impact of money on people’s behavior always fascinated me

In fact, I had some strange behaviors of my own when it came to money, like ironing out my dollar bill so it would be crisp!

Even as a kid, I was always counting money and seeking for jobs to get more money. Thinking back, those were my early days of wanting to understand how money works.

When it was time to decide on a career path, a career related to finance seemed to be an obvious choice and so Accounting was perfect.

Taking the CPA route

For most, when you major in Accounting the natural outlet is to be a Certified Public Accountant, to enter the profession, and get a lifetime credential. However, my journey was very non-traditional.

I did not sit for the CPA exam immediately after I graduated from North Carolina A&T State University and honestly, pursuing CPA did not even cross my mind because I knew I wanted to get my Masters and Ph.D. in Accounting.

My father was an academician, and I loved the legacy he created. So from the very beginning, I knew that I wanted to follow in his footsteps and be a lifelong educator.

As I finished and completed my Ph.D. from Virginia Tech and started teaching at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, it dawned on me and I began to wonder how I could teach people about Accounting, and not be a certified public Accountant!

I felt almost like an impostor and so it became important for me to pursue becoming a CPA. I quickly enrolled in a CPA exam review course, and became a tenure track professor studying for the CPA exam, just like my students.

Of course, my CPA journey was a bit harder because it had been 8-10 years since I was in school. Therefore, I was relearning much of the material.

Luckily, I sat for my exam and passed. I was beyond excited!

What follows next?

Exploring Fraud issues  in Accounting

I grew up in North Carolina, and when I was 16 my neighbor went to prison for mortgage fraud. I always wondered what really happened, but I was young so I didn't know what was really going on.

Over the years, I was fascinated by the various fraud schemes that people would use, and so the lack of ethics was a sort of compliment to those schemes.

When I was in my Ph.D. program, my research area was in Ethics – Ethical Decision making among accounting students, to be precise.

I felt like ethics, in general, was too broad and I needed to streamline which led me to the field of forensic accounting.

Thinking beyond

Over the years, I educated others and helped them to become better forensic accounting experts.

In 2015-16, everything was going great but since I get bored very easily, I like to try new methods to see what works and what does not. So, I entered a film fellowship with Kartemquin Films called Diverse Voices in Docs (DVID). Here I learned the ins and outs of film production, fundraising, and film engagement.

By now, I was doing on-camera interviews around the United States with White Collar felons. This was great as my students enjoyed real-life fraud stories and it helped me add more value to classroom engagement.

Shortly, I thought to myself that, since I am always looking for a good story to turn into some type of content, why not make a documentary. So, when the Dixon story happened (the largest municipal fraud in U.S. history) I found it extremely interesting and thought it could make a good documentary.

What happens now?

From an Academician to an Accountant FilmMaker

Making a film is very expensive and I knew I had to raise money for the project.  As you all know, Fundraising is not easy but I somehow managed the same.

Another challenge was people not wanting to be interviewed - It’s a challenge to tell a story if an interviewee doesn’t want to talk. But, you can’t give in. The film had to be made.

Fast forward, I overcame several obstacles and in 2017, I made All the Queen’s Horses. The movie premiered as the #1 documentary on iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, and Google Play.

It was a life-changing moment for me because it did not only expose the story but also solidified me as the Accountant Film Maker, and probably one of the only ones.

Before All the Queen’s Horses, my career was just of an academician, however, now it brought a new level of attention and intrigue around me. All the efforts paid off and who says academicians have to be boring!

Putting Gaming into Learning

Getting better is my biggest motivation,  so a few years later; I was looking for my next challenge.

I realized there is no game-based investigator learning for higher education and professionals, and that is when I started a company called Red Flag Mania with my partner Roni Jackson.

We have two seasons out; season one is titled, ‘When We Prey’, and season two is called ‘When We Heal’. If you go to our website www.redflagmania.com, you will learn all about the various episodes that we have under each of our seasons.

You can play a game and try to be an investigator and solve a case.

Wrapping up...

When you do things that are outside of the status quo and not in line with everyone else, you sometimes risk lacking support. However, I am always willing to do things differently and be different because you cannot say you are innovative if you are doing what everybody else is doing.

My message to you is - always keep learning. Never feel like you cannot or there is something blocking you from trying to learn something new. In most fields, you can be self-taught, since there are many free resources from which you can learn by yourself.

Kelly has been teaching at the College level 2000. She holds a Certified Public Accountant with a Bachelor’s of Science in Accountancy from North Carolina A&T State University and a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in Accounting from Virginia Tech. Her research area focuses on Forensic Accounting and White Collar Crime, and that led her to do two big projects. Kelly has also delivered a TED talk entitled “How Whistle-Blowers Shaped History”. 

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