Forensic Accounting: The Science Behind CSI

Forensic accounting

What do you get when you combine investigation with accounting and auditing? You get the exciting field of Forensic Accounting. The word forensic means “suitable for use in a court of law,” and that is the high standard that Forensic Accountants are held to. Forensic Accounting provides an accounting analysis that is suitable to a court of law and is used to help resolve both civil and criminal cases. Accountants that have completed Forensic Accounting Certification programs and thus earned their CrFA Degree are Forensic Accountants.

What is a Forensic Accountant?

Forensic accounting encompasses three main areas: litigation support, investigation, and dispute resolution. Litigation support represents the factual presentation of economic issues related to existing or pending litigation. In this capacity, the forensic accounting professional quantifies damages sustained by parties involved in legal disputes and can assist in resolving disputes, even before they reach the courtroom. If a dispute reaches the courtroom, the forensic accountant may testify as an expert witness.

Investigation is the act of determining whether criminal matters such as employee theft, securities fraud (including falsification of financial statements), identity theft, and insurance fraud have occurred. As part of the forensic accountant’s work, he or she may recommend actions that can be taken to minimize future risk of loss. Investigation may also occur in civil matters.

Forensic accountants often have to give expert evidence at trial. Forensic accountants investigate everything from tax fraud to copyright infringement to fact checking for divorce cases. Forensic Accountants are crucial to many legal issues facing both public and private organizations today.

Forensic accounting involves looking beyond the numbers and grasping the substance of situations. It’s more than simple accounting, and more than basic detective work. Because of its unique elements, it is a combination that will be in demand for as long as human nature exists. Who wouldn’t want a career that offers such stability, excitement, and financial rewards?

Becoming a Forensic Accountant

The first step toward becoming a Forensic Accountant is taken by earning a Bachelor’s degree in accounting. This is a standard four-year degree available at most colleges and universities, and many now offer this degree as a distance learning option online.

Next, you must prepare for and sit for the Certified Public Accountant exam to become a CPA. There are also online prep courses available to help you easily pass your CPA exam.

Once you’ve earned your Bachelors in Accounting and passed the CPA exam, it is a good idea to then pursue the Certified Forensic Accountant (CrFA) accreditation. While this is a fairly new certification, it is well on its way to becoming standard. Then you can begin practicing as a Forensic Accountant.

To have the best foothold in the field (as well as the best salary) you might also consider graduate school. A Masters Degree in Forensic Accounting is now available, both as a traditional Masters degree and also as a Masters of Business Administration with a focus in Forensic Accounting. Earning a graduate degree serves dual purposes—it further trains you for work in the field, and also helps to fulfill the continuing education requirements that are needed to maintain your CPA status.

You will find that additional coursework in areas like law enforcement and criminal justice is usually required, and some legal training is helpful. Last, but not least, you may want to pursue an accreditation as a certified fraud examiner (CFE) from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. This is a nationally recognized accreditation similar to the CPA designation.

Forensic Accountant Career Outlook and Salary

Forensic Accountants work in most major accounting firms and are needed for investigating mergers and acquisitions, and in tax investigations, economic crime investigations, all kinds of civil litigation support, specialized audits, and even in terrorist investigations. Forensic Accountants work throughout the business world, in public accounting, corporations, and in all branches of government. Forensic Accounting firms are everywhere.

If you do an Internet search, you’ll find article after article worrying that the demand for Forensic Accountants far outstrips the current supply. This translates into an anticipated growth in this field of nearly 25% over the next ten years! You would be hard pressed to find a more stable and in-demand career.

You will most likely start out earning between $30,000 and $40,000 a year, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But after just a few years of experience in the field, you can easily earn $70,000 to $80,000 a year. At the highest levels, particularly in the private sector, forensic accountants can command $125,000 to $150,000 annually.

Forensic accountants are professionals who use a unique blend of education and experience to apply accounting, auditing, and investigative skills to uncover truth, form legal opinions, and assist in investigations. If this sounds like you, consider a career in Forensic Accounting—you won’t regret it!