Forensic accounting, sometimes referred to as investigative accounting, is a unique career field that combines accounting with information technology. A forensic accountant uses sophisticated computer programs to analyze financial data and find evidence that would be legally valid during a court proceeding.
Forensic accountants are often asked to review financial records for mergers and acquisitions. They may also serve as advisers to a corporation’s audit committee or work to resolve shareholder disputes within a company.
Objective verification is the primary goal of forensic accounting. For this reason, many accountants who specialize in forensics are asked to testify in court cases as expert witnesses for either the prosecution or the defense. They can work in both civil and criminal court cases. In a civil case, the accountant may be asked to calculate economic damages that occurred as the result of a breach of contract or provide insight into a case based on a claim of professional negligence. In a criminal case, a forensic accountant may be asked to present evidence of insurance fraud, identity theft, money laundering, embezzlement, price fixing, stock market manipulation, or other related offenses.
To be successful as a forensic accountant, you must be detail oriented, persistent, ambitious, and highly organized. Forensic accounting also requires a great deal of creativity, since you must often explain complex financial concepts to an audience that lacks basic accounting knowledge.
A forensic accountant typically has a bachelors or masters degree in accounting supplemented by additional courses in forensic accounting. However, as the field continues to grow in popularity, many colleges and universities are redesigning their accounting programs to provide additional education for students interested in forensic accounting careers. In fact, some schools are adding courses to help students specialize in insurance claims, fraud cases, or other specialized areas of accounting.
A forensic accountant may also be known as a Certified Public Accountant or a Certified Fraud examiner. A Certified Public Accountant has met his/her state’s licensing requirements and has successfully passed the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination. A Certified Fraud Examiner is a member of The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and has completed this professional association’s rigorous certification requirements.
Experienced forensic accountants are in high demand throughout the world. Forensic accountants can own their own accounting firms or be employed by lawyers, insurance companies, banks, or large corporations. Police departments, courts, and governmental agencies also offer many career opportunities for forensic accountants.