Financial fraud is a huge problem in the American economy and on a global scale. Research published in the Review of Accounting Studies suggests that approximately four in ten companies take part in accounting violations, while one in ten is involved in securities fraud. All too often, these organizations evade detection.
At the front lines of this battle against fraud? Forensic accountants. These professionals are enthusiastic about stopping fraud and restoring justice. It takes years of targeted training to enter this field, but forensic accountants strive to make a difference.
Whether you are just starting to explore accounting opportunities or feel ready to take your career in a new direction, you will want to take a close look at this exciting field. As the demand for forensic accountants grows, there is real value in acquiring the elite skills needed to make your mark in this critical role. From there, you may wish to rise through the ranks and take advantage of today’s exciting career opportunities.
Not sure if forensic accounting is right for you? Keep reading to learn what this specialty involves, why it is so influential, and how to prepare for the best forensic accounting jobs.
What Is Forensic Accounting?
Forensic accounting centers around in-depth investigations into financial misconduct. Sometimes referred to as ‘accounting pathologists,’ forensic accountants gather a wealth of evidence and use it to tell how, exactly, financial crimes are conducted.
This evidence diverges from that of a stereotypical forensics investigation. Instead of relying on DNA and ballistics reports, forensic accountants look to numbers to tell the story of financial fraud.
Forensic accounting also encompasses prevention and risk management, with the goal of limiting the effects of wide-scale fraud.
Forensic Accountant Duties and Responsibilities
The primary objective of any forensic accountant is to use accounting principles to fight and prevent financial fraud. Accomplishing this will vary based on the scope of the criminal activity and the specific strategies used to target organizations. In general, forensic accountants can expect to manage the following:
- Quantifying the economic impact of various types of loss
- Helping to conduct interviews and provide other forms of investigative support
- Preparing detailed investigative reports
- Presenting compiled information in briefings
- Using computer applications and software to interpret the implications of various transactions
- Participating in witness interviews or testifying in judicial proceedings when needed
- Developing more efficient and impactful forensic accounting techniques
Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities
Forensic accounting is a highly technical and analytical career field, but there is also a strong need for soft skills. The skill set necessary for this field can be gained by enrolling in a reputable accounting program.
Many forensic accountants have their bachelor’s degrees, although it is also common to go on to study at the graduate level. Specialized certificate programs are advised, as these go beyond standard accounting skills to include concepts unique to forensic investigations.
Key skills and concepts forensic accountants need to develop include:
- Indicators of financial fraud
- Accounting systems analysis
- Data visualization
- Internal controls relevant to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act
- Litigation procedures such as expert testimony
- Fraud evidence management
Forensic accounting also calls for a variety of soft skills. These might include:
- Written and verbal communication
Finally, forensic accountants must develop a comprehensive understanding of professional ethics. While this is important for all types of accountants, forensics specialists may encounter unique ethical challenges beyond what accountants see in other niches. Still, the Code of Professional Conduct of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants provides a solid framework for how forensic accountants should conduct themselves.
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Where Could Forensic Accountants Work?
Forensic accountants are employed in a variety of settings. There are accountants who work standard 9-to-5 jobs, although there could be occasions in which may be necessary given the high demands of this position.
Increasingly, self-starters are eager to carve their own paths by working as forensic accounting consultants. In this role, they can select their clients as they see fit, taking on the cases they find most compelling or limiting their schedule to allow for a much-needed work-life balance.
There really is something for everyone, as revealed by the sheer scope of forensic accounting jobs:
Federal government agencies are among the most desirable forensic accounting employers. This is, in particular, one of the most sought-after FBI careers. Here, forensic accounting involves in-depth investigations into many types of financial crimes, such as securities or commodities fraud.
FBI forensic agents are also heavily involved in investigations surrounding cybercrime and public corruption. Additionally, forensic accountants often work for the CIA or the IRS.
Forensic accountants provide invaluable litigation support for cases involving complex tax or finance concerns. Their assistance is especially important when legal professionals struggle to navigate a never-ending array of bank statements, ledgers, or receipts.
In this capacity, the forensic accountant’s role is to clearly and concisely distill high volumes of complex financial data into its most crucial elements, for use in discovery and, eventually, in the courtroom.
As one of the fastest-growing niches in forensic accounting, corporate security calls for extensive oversight from experts who can detect the first signs of trouble. Compliance reviews and fraud vulnerability assessments can help businesses avoid taking actions that could give the perception of being fraudulent — or, just as importantly, avoid becoming victims of fraud.
The increased presence of accounting in corporate security reflects a large-scale shift from the physical security of tangible assets to protection for vulnerable intellectual or financial assets.
Our typical image of the contemporary accounting firm centers around taxation concerns, such as tax return preparation or audit support. Increasingly, however, accounting firms focus on complex fraud cases, which require insight from highly skilled forensic accountants. Firms that specialize in forensic accounting may work with businesses or law firms that lack dedicated forensics teams.
Corporations and government agencies may experience some degree of fraud-related risk and fear that this is on the rise. Determining the scope of preventative measures can be difficult, but risk management can provide a clear roadmap for implementing targeted and effective anti-fraud solutions. Risk consultants work with a variety of organizations to determine which strategies will produce the greatest return on investment.
How to Become a Forensic Accountant
The first step in any forensic accounting career path involves a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from a respected college. This program will provide a foundation in the skills and topics that could come into play as you specialize in forensic accounting.
Many aspiring accountants also secure their Master of Science in Accounting, which expands upon core accounting topics and also encompasses leadership training. Increasingly, employers prefer professionals secure high-level training from a graduate program prior to taking on leadership positions.
While a bachelor’s or master’s degree should provide powerful preparation to enter the accounting profession, you could specialize your training with a Certificate in Forensic Accounting. This provides targeted insight into everything from accounting’s impact on fraud prevention to deterrence and even investigations. This 18-credit certificate takes about eight months to complete and is available online.
The Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credential is helpful in this demanding field. Administered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), this credential ensures that qualified accountants have the training and expertise to manage the most challenging investigations. Top forensic accounting employers are more likely to hire applicants who have passed the CFE exam and hold at least three to five years of overall experience in accounting.
Gain Critical Skills With a Certificate in Forensic Accounting
Are you enthusiastic about fighting fraud? Do your part by securing high-level training in forensic accounting. Post’s Certificate in Forensic Accounting provides a crucial starting point to apply your accounting and technical skills to fraud investigations and deterrence initiatives. Reach out today to learn more about this certificate and our other accounting programs.
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