Forensic Accounting Jobs – Following the Number Trail

Forensic Accounting Jobs are an exciting opportunity within accounting.  According to AccountingToday nearly 40% of the top 100 public accounting firms are expanding their forensics related services. 

The aftermath of the recent financial crisis and the related and highly publicized fraud cases highlight what law enforcement already knows.  Embezzlement, fraud, and money-laundering leave audit trails as valuable evidence of crime.

There are essentially two components of Forensic Accounting:

  • Investigative accounting; and

  • Litigation support

Not only must a forensic accountant review the financial records, processes, and working environment of individuals and organizations, they must prepare evidence to support criminal and civil legal proceedings.

In many cases Forensic accountants are called upon to testify at trial if needed.

If you liked Law & Order this could be the career for you!

Role and Responsibilities

Forensic accounting combines audit skills and financial knowledge and experience with investigative skills.  It’s not enough to find discrepancies.  A forensic accountant must follow the audit trail until they can tie those discrepancies with individual actions.  As a forensic accountant, you will be asked to:

  • Collect and analyze all types of financial records and documentation ranging from complex reporting to credit card receipts, memos, emails, and general ledger accounts
  • Create management level reporting on your findings for private companies, audit firms, even governmental and law enforcement agencies
  • Work within organizations and observe the general culture and working environment as a part of your investigation
  • Gather and document evidence to support civil and even criminal litigation
  • Testify or give a deposition as to your findings

Audit skills and intuition, along with problem solving ability, are the key traits of a good forensic accountant.  In addition, you must have high professional ethics.  Your ability to conduct complete, thorough, efficient, and totally ethical investigations must be unquestioned if you want to be successful.

A good forensic accountant is tenacious.  Investigations are like complex puzzles that require dedication to solve.  You should also be able to work independently.  You will travel more frequently than the normal accounting professional and follow leads on your own much of the time.

Applications for Forensic Accounting

Forensic accounting jobs demand that you work in many different environments and settings.  You might find yourself “under cover” as an outside auditor performing a routine audit within a company.  You may work with the FBI or local law enforcement as part of an investigative team.

Let’s look at some of the applications for this type of investigative accounting:

  • Private Companies – Fraud can be the difference between profit and loss.  Private companies use forensic accountants from CPA firms to investigate fraud, business loss, and professional negligence.  Forensic accountants are also asked to assist during shareholder or partnership disputes.  A national study by Kessler International found that two-thirds of corporations polled had used forensic accounting services in the recent past.
  • Insurance Companies – Forensic accountants are employed by insurance companies to investigate periods of business disruption.  Often these companies pay benefits based on profitability and use forensic accountants to verify the information used to substantiate claims.
  • Law Firms – Divorce, corporate civil claims, and inheritance disputes create a need for forensic accounting.  You may be asked to verify a spouse’s assets, find corporate diversion of profits or misappropriation of funds, or to audit the investments of an estate during a dispute.
  • IRS – Ever heard of tax evasion?  Investigating tax evasion can involve off shore accounts and complex Ponzi schemes.  The IRS is expanding the forensic accounting roles within its audit division.
  • Law Enforcement – embezzlement and fraud are just the beginning.  Forensic accountants investigate everything from arson and murder for hire to money laundering and racketeering.  Rather than using consultants, many groups like the FBI and State Police are hiring forensic accountants as part of their permanent staff.
  • Homeland Security – After the events of 9/11, forensic accountants have worked diligently to trace the terrorism money trail and gather evidence to both prevent future attacks but prosecute terrorist activity.

Qualifying for Forensic Accounting Jobs

Forensic accounting requires advanced audit skills, as we’ve discussed. While it’s not impossible to land an entry level forensic accounting position with only a Bachelor Degree in accounting, it’s very difficult.

Most forensic accountants begin their careers as Certified Public Accountants before pursuing forensic accounting. Employers generally consider a CPA License to be a minimum requirement for forensic accounting.

In addition to qualifying as a CPA, forensic accountants must have some background in criminal investigations. Undergraduate coursework or even a minor in criminal justice is recommended. It’s important that you understand evidentiary rules and basic investigative procedure.

You may decide to qualify for a top position by becoming a Certified Forensic Accountant.  To become a Cr.FA you must be a CPA in good standing and pass an exam administered by the American College of Forensic Examiners International (ACFEI).

Passing the exam demonstrates that you understand judicial and evidentiary procedure, general forensic procedure, and have the ability to remain impartial during an investigation.
To retain your certification, once you’ve earned it, you must meet a continuing education requirement.  Similar to the requirements for a CPA, continuing education is designed to keep you up to date on the latest information in forensic accounting.  It’s a way to keep your skills sharp.

The Future is Bright For Forensic Accounting Jobs

U.S. News and World Report lists forensic accounting as one of the top 20 job tracks of the future.  As an entry level forensic accountant, you can earn up to $60,000 per year.  

Experienced forensic accountants with the Cr.FA designation typically earn salaries in the $100,000 range.  
Forensic accountants working as consultants in private practice can earn even more. 

As society responds to the challenges of terrorism, criminal activity, and professional misconduct the need for skilled forensic accountants continues to grow.  A good forensic accountant is more than an excellent accountant.  

You must have an aptitude for this kind of work along with the tenacity to see it through to the end while maintain objectivity.  If you have these skills and a passion for justice, consider forensic accounting.