BBA 1989 (Accounting)
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dallas
Michael Anderson, BBA 1989 accounting, never thought he'd carry a badge, keep close watch on stakeouts, or carry a Glock pistol. It never occurred to him he'd have a career in the FBI.
But Anderson opened his mind to new career possibilities, and today he heads a branch of the Dallas FBI office encompassing the operation of intelligence, white-collar crime, civil rights, covert operations, and foreign language programs.
"The FBI likes agents who have a background in accounting because they're trained to have attention to detail and an organizational and structured way of thinking," Anderson explains. Logic and the ability to think critically, he says, are critical to understanding the complex issues of financial crime, "and they are helpful during investigations and prosecutions," he says.
From Accountant to Agent
After graduating from law school and while backpacking across Europe, Anderson first considered an FBI career when a friend suggested it. Because of his accounting degree from The University of Iowa, his practical accounting experience at KPMG, and his J.D. from Southwestern University School of Law, his friend said he could be a strong candidate.
"I didn't take him seriously. I've never considered myself a guns-and-ammo kind of guy," says Anderson. "Law enforcement hadn't entered my mind. I wasn't even a fan of FBI movies or TV crime shows."
Following Anderson's European trip, he returned to Phoenix to build a career in law. He secured a position at Double Tree Hotels as a corporate attorney, but kept an open mind about career possibilities.
That's when a newspaper headline grabbed his attention: FBI Lifts Two-year Hiring Freeze.
"I remember reading there was a need for accountants, lawyers, and former military officers. The article warned very few applicants get accepted for the formal interview process and a very small percentage of those people get through the selection," he says.
Anderson went to an information session and was intrigued by what he learned about the FBI's white-collar crime program, overseas assignments, undercover programs, and counterintelligence. He took particular interest in white-collar crime and was fascinated by the issues surrounding health care fraud, public corruption, and campaign finance.
"The organization was much more complex than I had thought," he says. "After learning more, I felt I would be intellectually challenged and I could use my accounting background and my legal background at the FBI."
Anderson endured a five-month hiring process which included a polygraph examination, numerous applications, and an extensive background check consisting of questioning his neighbors and family members. The selection process remains stringent today; a mere 3% of applicants were hired for special agent positions in 2008.
Anderson was 27 years old and his first FBI assignment was at the Miami division where he worked as a street agent. He developed relationships with informants, interviewed witnesses, reviewed subpoenas and other documents. In white-collar crime cases, he typically reviewed bank records and loan files as documentary evidence. He also built rapport with informants, convincing them to wear body recorders, tapped phone lines, and made arrests.
"My accounting background really helped me put it all together; especially when I joined the public corruption squad," he says. He was assigned public corruption-related fraud cases because he was the only accountant in the group.
"Because of my knowledge of accounting, I knew what I needed: trial balance, financial statements, and general ledgers. I knew how to read those documents and what they meant."
Today Anderson heads a branch of the FBI's Dallas division field office. He supervises the criminal investigations and ensures the right personnel are assigned to the right cases. He also works closely with other law enforcement agencies in joint investigations with federal, state, and local agencies. One of the highest priorities for his white-collar crime unit is mortgage fraud, which he says expanded as the housing bubble burst last year into an epidemic for investigators.
"There will always be a market for accountants in the FBI," explains Anderson. "With the mortgage fraud crisis, corporate fraud becoming more alarming, and guys like Bernard Madoff, the need continues to grow."
Choosing to study accounting in the Tippie College of Business gave Anderson the education and flexibility to pursue a somewhat unusual career. Accounting, the language of business, enabled him embark on his journey to a badge.