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Forensic Accountant: Career Guide

Forensic accounting is one of the fastest-growing fields in law enforcement today. These specialized accountants examine tax and business records to identify irregularities that can impact major criminal and civil cases. They are often certified public accountants (CPAs) who use forensic accounting to detect and/or find evidence of embezzlement, corruption, and other financial crimes. Forensic accountants may work in state or federal law enforcement, including with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the United States Secret Service, or on behalf of public accounting firms and large corporations. Accountants who specialize in forensics may start their own consulting business or advance to a supervisor position.

Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Accountants who specialize in forensics use their financial expertise to investigate suspected financial crimes, such as embezzlement. To accomplish this goal, they:

  • Conduct forensic auditing
  • Identify discrepancies in funds for private and public companies and government organizations
  • Prepare expert witness testimony for criminal or civil cases
  • Review statements from Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller firms

Steps for Becoming a Forensic Accountant

Forensic accountants generally need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting or business. Some employers additionally require a certification or a master’s degree in public accounting and advanced coursework in fraud or criminal investigation, especially as it relates to financial record keeping. There are also forensic accounting degrees that focus on specific preparation for a forensic accounting career. If you are aiming to become a forensic accountant, you can expect a process similar to this:

  1. Attend a degree program and/or gain experience in a related field.*
  2. Take and pass the Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Examination.**
  3. Apply for an open position as a forensic accountant.
  4. Complete an interview.
  5. Get hired as a forensic accountant.
  6. Receive training on the job once hired.

*The degree level required may be a bachelor’s in accounting or a master’s in accounting depending on the job. Sometimes relevant experience may be used to supplement an educational requirement. Check the job posting for details.
**Certification may be optional depending on the job.

Forensic Accountant Job Training

Training depends on the organization for which the accountant works. Forensic accountants who secure a position with the FBI, for example, must complete six weeks of training upon hire. That training covers such areas as financial investigation techniques and topics, how to testify as an expert witness, and legal training.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Candidates must be able to communicate effectively both in writing and orally as they may have to write reports and to testify as an expert witness in court. Accountants who specialize in forensics generally obtain certification from such organizations as the American Institute of CPAs. Successful candidates should also possess knowledge of such topics as credit card fraud, embezzlement, insurance claims, and white collar crimes. Accountants with experience in law enforcement or within the criminal justice system may have a hiring advantage.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

  • Certified Forensic Accountant
  • Certified Fraud Examiner

Forensic Accountant Salary and Job Outlook

Forensic accounting jobs are seeing strong growth, in large part due to increasingly stringent federal and state regulations concerning financial disclosures and dealings. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t provide statistics for specialized forensic accountants, it reports that the median annual salary for all accountants and auditors, which includes forensic accountants, was $67,190 in 2015.1 The BLS projects that employment will grow 11% for all accountants and auditors from 2014 to 2024.1

Related Careers

Interested in a career similar to forensic accounting? Check out these related careers:

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can forensic accountants specialize in a particular area?

Answer: Yes. They can and often do specialize in such areas as computer forensics, bankruptcy fraud, insurance claims, and personal injury.

Question: What type of hours do forensic accountants work?

Answer: They generally work a normal 40 hour a week schedule. However, overtime may be necessary when preparing for a court appearance or for a trial or during tax season.

Question: Is CPA certification necessary to become a forensic accountant?

Answer: Yes. You generally must obtain your Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential to find employment as a forensic accountant. Pursuing specialized certifications such as Certified Forensic Accountant (CR.FA), Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), or Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) can increase job opportunities.

Additional Resources

References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accountants and Auditors: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm