What Does it Mean to Study Forensic Accounting?
A forensic accountant investigates suspected financial misconduct and helps to prepare the evidence used to argue a case in civil or criminal trials. This field is also referred to as "investigative accounting." A forensic accounting specialist works by auditing and verifying records, collecting evidence, and interviewing people involved in the case.
A business degree in forensic accounting is ideal for you if you have excellent analytical and communication skills, are inquisitive by nature, and have a strong accounting operations understanding. You can be called upon as an expert witness in civil and criminal litigation cases, so it's important that you not only know how to collect all the information needed to support the investigation, but that you recognize the areas of concern, follow up on any inconsistencies, and can then present the data in a way that people outside of the accounting field can understand. There is an expectation that forensic accounting evidence will be aggressively challenged, so you should have a basic understanding of the legal process.
The Forensic Accountants Society of North America (FASNA) lists these common types of cases taken on by their membership:
- Inventory/property loss
- Employee dishonesty
- Business income loss
- Personal injury or wrongful death claims
- Truth in lending/ truth in leasing
- Post judgment matters/calculations
- Loss of income/earnings
- Divorce and fidelity claims
- Business valuation
- Expert testimony
And their membership has worked on cases in the following industries:
- Consumer dealerships / retail and wholesale
- Education institutions
- Construction, contracting & engineering
- Financial/money management
- Indian tribal government
- Real estate
- State government
- Travel and transportation
- Trust and estate
As a forensic accountant, you can work within a firm or as a freelance consultant. Salaries for forensic accountants are usually higher because firms charge more for litigation support than for regular accounting.
Types of Forensic Accounting Degrees
The standard education requirement for a forensic accountant is a four-year business degree in accounting or finance. You also need to have your CPA (Certified Public Accountant) designation and industry certification.
Certificate Programs and Master's Degrees
Online college courses, certificate programs and master's degrees in forensic accounting help students to learn how they can help with the litigation of contract disputes and bankruptcies, investigate white-collar and electronic crime, and navigate complicated and possibly criminal transactions such as money laundering.
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Forensic Accounting?
Potential job titles for a forensic accountant include:
- Internal Auditor
- IRS Auditor
- GAO Auditor
- Defense Department Auditor
- SEC Accountant
- Bankruptcy Specialist
- Bank Examiner
- Chief Financial Officer
- Defense Department Auditor
As your professional experience grows, you may be able to move into management positions within litigation support teams, or even gain partnership status at your firm.
Forensic Accounting Certification and Licensure
Forensic accountants require a CPA license. To become a CPA, you must complete 150 credit hours of college-level education, which translates to about five years of bachelor's- and master's-level work. You must also pass all four parts of the Uniform Certified Public Accountants Exam, and have about two years of professional accounting experience.
You also need forensic accounting industry certification, such as the Forensic Examiner Diplomat or the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) designation. The CFE designation denotes proven expertise in fraud prevention, detection and investigation. You should be able to apply for your CFE designation after completing a bachelor's degree program and passing the CFE exam.
Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
The Certified Forensic Accountant certification is an advanced credential that recognizes your expertise, additional training, experience, education, knowledge or skill in forensic accounting. It also proves that you have met all of your State Board of Accountancy requirements.
- Accountants and Auditors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm
- Lawyers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm
- Financial Managers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/financial-managers.htm