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Fraud Accounting is the bee in professor’s bonnet

Kip Holderness

“Anyone can do it,” said Dr. Kip Holderness, pointing to a photograph of his two beehives. One is adorned with a flying WV in Mountaineer gold and blue, the other a “Y” in the colors of Brigham Young University, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. 

About six or seven years ago, while Holderness was at BYU, he saw the beekeeping setup that one of his professors had in his backyard. He was fascinated ever since. Upon moving to Morgantown in 2013, his interest became a reality.

“I’ve been reading about it for years, and this is the first year I’ve actually tried it. When I was considering options of schools, I asked my realtors about the beekeeping ordinances,” he explained, noting that he has joined a beekeeping association in Morgantown.

Holderness said he and his wife Carolyn fell in love with Morgantown right away. It is a great place, he said, to raise their four children, Lainey (7), Evelyn (5), Nora (3), and Mary, (1.) (As a side note, the white board in Holderness’ office was beautifully adorned with scribble masterpieces by Lainey and Evelyn, who sometimes visit their dad at work for a trip to the Mountainlair or a hot chocolate at the nearby Daily Grind.) After moving from Boston, the family is really enjoying the open space that allows them to grow fruit trees and blueberries and keep those bees. 

While nearly anyone can keep bees, not just anybody can conduct fraud accounting research, which is Dr. Holderness’ specialty.

 “I’m interested in why people do things they shouldn’t do. The causes and the effects. What we can do about it and how we can prevent it,” he said. “I feel like the results of this research can actually be applied to practice and businesses can really benefit from what I’m doing.”

He is very focused on his research, and loves that his job provides him the ability to focus and become an expert.

“Even if it’s an expert only on this one little piece of research,” Kip said, motioning his index finger and thumb about an inch apart, “it allows me to really know my stuff and teach it in a way, I hope, that students can use it to succeed down the road.”

This semester, Holderness is teaching two sections of ACCT 431, cost accounting. 

“I try to make my materials applicable to the real world, and bring out real experiences. This is something (students) will see in the next couple years,” he said.  

Holderness’ current research endeavors include a project that looks to determine whether people are more likely to embezzle from their companies during good economic times or bad economic times.

“There have been reports that employee theft is on the rise because of increased pressure (during the Great Recession) – perhaps a spouse lost their job. But I was thinking that it could be that companies are actually tightening down because of the recession and are simply finding more of these cases. Not necessarily that there are more cases now – maybe there are less now – but they’re being uncovered more frequently,” he explained. 

Another concept he’s examining closely is the idea of psychological entitlement. 

“How does (psychological entitlement) affect the way employees respond to their employer? When an employer provides feedback, will they take it into account and work harder, or will it backfire? Are they more likely to steal from employers if they’re being mistreated?”

These are just a few of the questions he hopes to answer as his research progresses. Discovering the answers to questions related to fraud is becoming increasingly important for the accounting profession.

“With the unethical behavior and shenanigans going on, there is a greater need for high standards of ethics in accounting and the business world,” Holderness said. “Now, more than ever, I think our focus on ethics and forensics is very valuable to the students who are becoming auditors.”