Ready to be a Forensic Accountant? Here's what you need to know

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Forensic accounting is a specialized area of accounting that deals with investigating frauds and uncover financial crimes. It is the responsibility of forensic accountants to examine questionable financial data, investigate fraud, bribery, money laundering, and help in civil and criminal investigations by looking deep into financial data, assets, and financial transactions.

Forensic accountants may also be a fraud examiner or certified public accountants (CPA) reviewing financial documents to resolve civil disputes. Besides providing litigation support, professionals in this field may track financial assets, investigate fraudulent bookkeeping, money laundering, perform a regulatory compliance audit, investigate contract disputes, determine business valuation, and more.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there a number of tasks performed by forensic accountants, that includes analyzing financial records to create profiles and detailed reports, ensuring government and accounting regulations compliance (e.g., GAAP), tracing income sources and transaction histories, preparing search warrants or affidavits to more thoroughly investigate cases, and testifying as expert witnesses in court cases.

Careers for Forensic Accountants

As a forensic accountant, you will have the ability to perform a variety of tasks and functions depending on the area you are working in. You can specialize in any area of your interest after gaining the required education, professional experience, and certification. Some of the job position you can qualify for as a forensic accountant are:

  • Forensic Accountant.
  • Forensic Auditor.
  • Fraud Examiner.
  • Internal Auditor.
  • Fraud and Forensic Accounting Consultant.

Skills Required to Become A Forensic Accountant

In addition to strong analytical and investigative skills, a forensic accountant must have good knowledge of accounting and legal knowledge as they have to often act as an expert witness during trials. They need advanced skills and training in investigation and auditing related areas. Other skills may include:

  • Analytical and critical thinking
  • Investigative skills
  • Auditing skills
  • Communication skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Computer skills

What Does It Take To Become A Forensic Accountant?

To qualify for an entry-level position, you need to have a bachelor's or master's degree in forensic accounting, finance or related business specialty. You should seek out accredited programs—those which have met or exceeded quality standards related to faculty, facilities, student support services, and more—and there are several institutions that provide accreditation.

While most employers do require a CPA for an entry-level forensic accountant role, having a CPA could set you apart from the competition. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) recommends future forensic accountants complete the Fundamentals of Forensic Accounting Certificate Program, a 12 module course.

In addition to on-the-job training, most forensic accounting jobs require at least 1-3 years of experience in a general accounting profession for qualification. Professional experience has a huge impact on hireability and salary for forensic accountants.

Many employers also prefer candidates with Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credentials. CFEs are trained to understand complex financial transactions, recognize the warning signs that indicate fraud or fraud risk and know the methods for resolving fraud allegations. Besides obtaining a CPA or a CFE, you should also plan to earn CFF certification (Certified in Financial Forensics). If you have a CPA and CFE or CFF certification, you will be able to take advantage of professional development opportunities in your field.