How to Become a Forensic Accountant
Do you enjoy working with numbers and solving math problems? Are you looking for an exciting career where you can help solve problems and crimes? Individuals who choose to work as forensic accountants can put their love of math to work solving accounting crimes and discrepancies. If you’re like many people, you might be asking, “What is a forensic accountant?” Read on and learn how to become a forensic accountant and what a forensic accounting career might entail.
Overview – What is a Forensic Accountant?
When we think of accountants and what they do, crunching numbers is what comes to mind first. While accountants do spend a lot of time looking at spreadsheets and financial data, and crunching numbers, they do a lot more than that in the day. This is especially the case with forensic accountants.
A forensic accountant is an accountant who not only does accounting work but also uses his investigative skills to solve accounting programs, uncover fraud, discover embezzlement, and help stop financial crimes. Forensic accountants are not just accountants. They also use their knowledge and skills to assist in civil and criminal investigations.
Working as an accountant will provide you with various career opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that accountants and financial specialists should experience six percent job growth during the decade of 2021-2031. This growth extends to forensic accountants because of their accounting skills.
The growing economy plays a large part in putting accountants in demand. Additionally, as the number of white-collar crimes continues to rise, so will the need for qualified forensic accountants. The BLS also reports there should be about 81,800 new accounting jobs created by 2031. The expectation is that many of these new jobs will be forensic accountants.
There are lots of cool places you can work as a forensic accountant, including city and state governments, accounting firms, and even the FBI, helping to catch money launderers and other fraudsters.
Career growth will also vary according to location. Here are the states with the highest number of accountants employed along with the number employed as of May 2021.
- California – 148,500
- Texas – 114,410
- New York – 112,030
- Florida – 71,520
- Illinois – 51,740
Obtaining the education and training to become a forensic accountant also qualifies the individual to work in similar jobs. In fact, some forensic accountants choose to specialize in specific areas of accounting and forensic accounting. Some possible job titles include:
- Fraud and Forensic Accounting Consultant
- Internal Auditor
- Forensic Accounting Manager
- Fraud Examiner
- Fraud Investigator
- Anti-Money Laundering Specialist
- Forensic Accounting Manager
- Operational Risk Consultant
Forensic Accountant Salary
The salary earned by forensic accountants varies by several factors, including degree level, years of experience, certifications, geographical location, and employer. According to a 2021 BLS wage report, accountants earned wages ranging from $47,970 to $128,970 or more with the average annual wage at $77,250.
Salary.com reports that forensic accountants earned an average annual salary of $84,809. They also reported that forensic accountants with 10 to 19 years of experience earn the highest wages. Below are the states where the highest wages were paid followed by the states where accountants earned the lowest wages.
Top paying states for accountants:
- DC – $103,930
- New York – $98,650
- New Jersey – $91,960
- Virginia – $85,720
- California – $83,910
Top-paying nonmetropolitan areas for accountants:
- Northwest Colorado nonmetropolitan area – $84,460
- Alaska nonmetropolitan area – $82,960
- Southwest New York nonmetropolitan area – $82,220
- Northeast Oklahoma nonmetropolitan area – $80,350
- Central East New York nonmetropolitan area – $78,600
As you can see, an accountant is a lucrative position, regardless of location. While salaries may look higher in certain states or metro areas, when you take cost of living into consideration, the salaries tend to go further in a lower populated area.
How to Become a Forensic Accountant
1. Earn a bachelor’s degree
Before a candidate can become a forensic accountant, he or she must first become an accountant. Becoming an accountant requires at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or forensic accounting from an accredited school.
The most common path is first earning a degree in accounting. However, the best option is finding a program that offers forensic accounting as a major.
2. Earn a master’s degree for CPA credential
Earning a bachelor’s degree may be the first step towards becoming a forensic accountant or even an accountant. However, individuals who wish to work as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) must either earn a master’s degree or complete additional credit courses to be eligible to take the CPA exam.
This can add an additional 18 months to the four-year degree program. Aspiring forensic accountants will do best if they complete a forensic accounting program because most employers prefer to high candidates with the most training in this area.
3. Complete a forensic accounting certification
Once the student has completed the four-year accounting bachelor’s degree program, he or she may complete a certificate program in forensic accounting. Courses in this type of program include:
- Investigation Techniques
- Forensic Accounting
- Expert Testimony
- Fraudulent Financial Reporting
- Valuation Techniques
- Ethics in Business & Accounting
- Fraud Schemes
- Financial Statement Analysis
4. Complete an internship
As part of the forensic accounting training, the student may be required to complete an internship to obtain hands-on training. The experience gained in the internship is not only valuable to the accountant but also looks good on a resume. Forensic accountants can earn several types of certifications.
6. Get advanced training
In addition to having education and training to become an accountant, the forensic accountant must have advanced training in areas such as auditing, investigating, and discovering fraud. To be successful on the job, forensic accountants must have the following skills.
- Critical-thinking skills
- Analytical skills
- Attention to details
- Organizational skills
- Math skills
- Communication skills
- Creative thinking
- Strong sense of curiosity
Day in the Life
Forensic accountants research and go through financial procedures and policies to assist with risk reduction and risk management. They use their investigative skills to go through potential acquisitions and mergers and look for any signs of fraud. They investigate all sorts of crimes that are accounting-related, including assisting in bankruptcy proceedings.
Forensic accountants investigate any questionable data and act as financial detectives. One could almost say that forensic accountants bridge the gap between accounting and law criminal justice. Forensic accountants are trained professionals who help uncover criminal activities, such as debt concealing, embezzlement, fraud, and money laundering, among others.
While accountants go through and crunch the numbers to make sure they match, forensic accountants not only go through the numbers to detect and discrepancy but also determine where the discrepancy came from and by who. As technology continues to advance, more white-collar crimes are being committed every day. This is one of several reasons why the work of forensic accountants is so important. Forensic accountants have several duties.
- Preparing summaries of findings
- Preparing reports
- Ensuring compliance with federal and state regulations
- Preparing for litigation or legal disputes
- Researching and analyzing financial documents and account histories
- Investigating signs of discrepancies
- Utilize computer software to gather various financial documentation
Licensure, Certifications and Continuing Education
Accountants are required to be licensed in all states if they want to work as Certified Public Accountants, a credential that’s helpful to forensic accountants. To earn the CPA credential, the individual must have the required number of college credits and must pass a four-part examination.
Not all parts of the test need to be passed at the same time, but they must all need to be passed within 18 months of when the first exam was taken. There are also certifications the forensic accountant can earn through the American Board of Forensic Accounting. These include:
- Certified Forensic Accountant
- Forensic Intelligence Specialist
- Registered Forensic Investigator
- Certified Forensic Auditor
- Certified Forensic Bookkeeper
- Government Forensic Accountant
The Certified Forensic Accountant exam is an online exam that consists of five parts and 200 multiple-choice questions. Candidates must pass at least 70 percent to earn certification. They must also meet all eligibility requirements to be able to take the exam. Forensic accountants complete continuing education credits or courses to maintain certification.
Forensic accountants must keep current and stay up to date on the latest crime techniques and the newest technologies used to solve fraudulent activities.
Employers often require their forensic accountants to attend conferences, workshops, and relevant training sessions to keep up with forensic accounting news and certifications.
Here’s a look at just some of the many forensic accounting conferences that are held each year:
Forensic Accounting Research Conference
Fraud and Forensic Accounting Virtual Conference
LSU’s Fraud and Forensic Accounting Conference
AICPA and CIMA Forensic and Valuation Services Conference
If you are interested in an exciting career in forensic accounting, then your next step is to request information from a few schools.