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What is a Forensic Accounting Degree?

It seems that each major economic downturn brings with it new companies that leveraged the power of manipulative accounting to hide money, dodge tax requirements, and explore international loopholes that safeguarded them from regulation and investigation. That’s certainly true of the most recent economic recession, which exposed a number of questionable accounting practices and business dealings across virtually every industry.

These business practices require investigation and identification, and that’s where forensic accountants come in. Essentially, forensic accounting degrees prepare individuals in the broader accounting profession to become skilled investigators, teaching them how to find red flags in everyday tax or bookkeeping documents and showing students how to “follow the money” when investigating the ethical and legal nature of routine business practices.

A Focus on Investigative Work and Current Regulation

Today’s forensic accounting degrees are mostly offered at the graduate level, and most schools encourage their graduates to have already achieved an undergraduate degree in the field and a passing score on the Certified Public Accountant examination. Those two things are hard enough, but even more challenging is the way that the degree itself forces accountants to re-think the tenets of their profession.

Accountants pursuing a more traditional degree are taught how to actually perform accounting services, and they’re educated in the various legal requirements enforced by federal law, state laws, and local guidelines. That’s a good start, but the forensic side of the profession goes quite a bit further, focusing on how to identify shady accounting practices and how to follow a trail of underhanded accounting work to find troves of missing money, profits used for personal enrichment, and much more.

Taught by Experts in the Forensic Accounting Field

Forensic accounting is actually a relatively new degree, driven in large part by the rise to prominence of international tax loopholes, corporate enrichment schemes, so-called “golden parachutes” by CEOs, and the far more common nature of tax abuse and corporate fraud in the present century. For this reason, many classes are taught by the very professionals who originated the forensic side of accounting over the course of the 20th century.

Those professors draw from their own personal experience, many of them having worked on major cases like the Enron and WorldCom scandals of the late 20th century, the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s, or even the collapse of major financial firms like Lehman Brothers during the mid-2000s recession.

Accountants are sent into the field to perform work at internships, working with smaller banks, government agencies, and major corporations to help track down money and eliminate risky practices before they become a much larger headache and the target of further investigations.

A Promising Career Path for Degree Candidates

Candidates who obtain a degree in forensic accounting can expect robust job growth, especially within government agencies and regulatory bodies like the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most of these jobs pay a salary that is above and beyond the annual pay offered to more traditional certified public accountants, making the process of earning a graduate-level degree or certificate in the field a rather rewarding one after graduation.

Candidates looking to blend their accounting expertise with their fondness for investigative work simply have no better option than forensic accounting. It’s the best way to use skill, investigation, and smart questioning to get ahead of financial schemes and potential fraudulent investments.