Forensic accountants are the financial world's crime watchdogs. Using sophisticated technology and accounting and auditing procedures, they investigate white-collar crimes, help with the litigation of contract disputes and bankruptcies, and navigate complicated and possibly criminal transactions like money laundering. Additionally, forensic accounting professionals may be called upon to act as witnesses in legal proceedings.
Forensic Accounting Degrees and Career Training
While there is no specific education or certification requirement to set up shop as a forensic accountant, accounting degrees and appropriate certification certainly increase your credibility and marketability among employers. Ideally, a forensic accountant would possess:
- A bachelor's degree with at least a minor in accounting and preferably a major in accounting or forensic accounting. A master's in accounting program and/or licensure as a Certified Public Accountant is even better.
- Certified Fraud Examiner or Certified Financial Forensic Accountant designation, obtained by taking and passing either the CFE or CFFA exam. Candidates for the CFE must have a bachelor's degree, two years of relevant experience, and the ability to pass a four-part exam. Related work experience may, in some cases, be substituted for the educational requirement.
- Membership in the American College of Forensic Examiners or similar professional association.
Employment Growth in Forensic Accounting
The corporate accounting scandals of recent years have led to increasing scrutiny over corporations' financial reporting practices, and the establishment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. This federal regulation forces companies to strengthen their internal financial systems and reporting accuracy, making them rely more on accounting professionals. Therefore, opportunities for accountants in all specialties are projected to grow rapidly in the coming years.
In particular, work opportunities in forensic accounting will grow. Companies' increased focus on financial crimes such as embezzlement, bribery, and fraud will definitely increase the demand for forensic accounting professionals who have received specialized career training in how to address and report such issues. Most accounting firms maintain separate forensic accounting departments specializing in insurance claims, personal injury claims, fraud, royalty issues, etc. Forensic accountants are also in high demand on audit committees, insurance companies, banks, police forces, and other government bodies.
Additionally, as companies continue to increase their reliance on technology, there will be a greater demand for professionals trained in monitoring and investigating technological security. A 2008 survey of 1,400 chief financial officers found that of all the career training they'd received--including finance, accounting, sales, marketing, and the law--information technology surpassed all of these in importance in their day-to-day work. For those who wish to pursue forensic accounting, accounting degrees often provide excellent career training in the latest reporting software and security programs, which should provide an edge in an employment search.
A Forensic Accounting Career
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics currently doesn't track salary or employment statistics for the specific field of forensic accounting, its 2008-2009 Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that accountants in all specialties will experience faster than average growth over the next decade.