Becoming a Forensic Accountant

Forensic accounting is a specialized accounting career that focuses on analyzing financial information to detect if a white collar crime has taken place within an organization. Accountants who choose to go into this type of investigative accounting combine their understanding of the law with their knowledge of finance and accounting. Forensic accounting has become a growing field in recent years because of an increased awareness for financial discrepancies within corporations. According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accoutants, (AICPA) forensic accounting is one of the most rapid growing, niche specialties in accounting and there will continue to be a high demand for these professionals.

Forensic Accounting Employment Opportunities

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners credits the need for more forensic accountants to the heightened intolerance for fraudulent activity. Thus, forensic accountants are no longer solely needed in an accounting firm’s forensic division, but are finding employment in a number of other settings, including:

  • government agencies
  • law firms
  • financial institutions
  • consulting firms

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide salary specific for the specialized field of forensic accounting, the highly focused nature of this profession makes it among the highest paying accounting jobs. The upper end of the BLS pay scale (75th – 90th percentile) for accountants was $97,530 – $128,680 as of May 2020, which is likely representative of what forensic accountants are earning.

Forensic Accounting Job Description

A forensic accountant will analyze and investigate financial evidence to look for signs that a crime such as embezzlement, securities fraud or bankruptcy was committed. Forensic accountants are not responsible for determining fraud; rather they identify inconsistencies and anomalies by providing the “who, what, where, how and why” so that the court can determine fraud.

Forensic accountants, who are often times referred to as investigative auditors, fraud investigators or forensic auditors, may be asked to:

  • trace funds
  • identify assets
  • prepare reports of financial analysis findings
  • present financial findings reports in court as an expert witness

In a recent survey conducted by the AICPA the most essential characteristics for a forensic accountant to have are:

  • being analytical
  • detail oriented
  • ethical
  • effective oral communication skills

Other traits that are beneficial for a forensic accountant to possess include being objective, credible and independent.

Forensic Accounting Career Path

To become a forensic accountant, one must have obtained a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting, but most forensic accountants have a master’s degree. Numerous schools also give students the option to pursue an undergraduate degree in forensic accounting. As a student studying to become a forensic accountant, you can expect to take a number of courses in the following areas:

  • Accounting
  • Business
  • Law
  • Fraud Auditing

Many schools also offer programs for a forensic accounting certificate, which includes courses such as:

  • Interview Techniques and Legal Aspects of Fraud
  • Principles of Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination
  • Investigating with the Computer
  • Detection and Prevention of Fraudulent Financial Statements

These programs will allow the student to qualify to sit for the Certified Forensic Accountant (Cr.FA) exam and the Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE) exam. These are globally recognized credentials in the anti fraud and accounting profession.

AICPA offers an online program for already registered CPA’s interested in forensic accounting that would result in a Forensic Accounting Education Certificate. Although it is not required, a number of employers encourage forensic accountants to become a Certified Fraud Examiner, Chartered Accountant or Certified Public Accountant.

May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job market trends for accountants and auditors represent national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data Accessed May 2021.