Forensic accountants use a combination of accounting and auditing expertise to search financial statements for insights that can be presented in court or other legal proceedings. These skilled professionals are frequently called upon to scrutinize a business's dealings with the goal of uncovering fraud.
An Overview of Forensic Accounting
Banks, government agencies — such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission — and insurance companies are common employers of forensic accountants. The investigative professionals must have a deep understanding of finance-related crimes, which could range from money laundering and falsified insurance claims to bankruptcy and credit card fraud. Beyond testifying in court, forensic accountants may be asked to compile reports or provide visual aids for use during court proceedings.
There are several reasons a specialty in forensic accounting may be appealing to students. Some enjoy the variety of cases forensic accountants process, while others are drawn to the criminal justice aspects of the profession.
Tiffany Couch is a fraud investigator with more than 13 years of experience. For her, being self-employed is one of her favorite aspects of the profession.
I enjoy "the personal connection I have with my clients," she said in a blog post for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. "There is a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that the personal service I have provided has served to guide my clients through a very stressful and emotional time for them. They would have never gotten that level of attention with a bigger firm."
Careers in Forensic Accounting
Forensic accountants have a wide range of job opportunities. The average yearly pay within the field is $66,311, according to PayScale.
Certified fraud examiners (CFE) must earn accreditation from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). The examiners are tasked with employing forensic techniques to resolve allegations of fraud. The median annual compensation for a CFE is $91,000, according to ACFE.
Forensic investigation managers help clients prevent fraud while minimizing exposure to criminal activities by examining financial irregularities, speaking with whistleblowers and investigating instances of misappropriated funds. The managers oversee a team of accountants and investigators, and report to senior managers.
Many forensic accountants work for the government. The FBI employs these professionals to work with special agents to trace and link funding sources to criminals. According to the government website FBI Jobs, these accounting professionals are expected to acquire, organize, analyze and report suspicious financial data.
"Intuition and curiosity is the bedrock of a FBI Forensic Accountant," the website reads. "We don't stop at the easy answers; we dig through faulty foundations to determine who, what, when, where, why, how and how much of the financial aspects of the case. We package the financial facts for our law enforcement and judicial counterparts and, if necessary, provide testimony concerning cases."
A deep understanding of accounting is crucial for forensic accounting roles such as fraud examiner or forensic manager. The online Master of Business Administration program with an emphasis in Accounting from the University of West Florida teaches the fundamental skills employed by forensic accountants — problem-solving, business analytics, corporate finance and regulatory analysis are among the topics covered. There are even courses on advanced auditing and business law.
Forensic accountants fulfill many roles within the public and private sectors, but the investigators all share a solid foundation in accounting, and many within the field have realized the benefits of earning an MBA.
Learn more about the UWF online MBA program with an emphasis in Accounting.
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