Forensic accountants work in investigative capacities to follow complex money trails, identify financial improprieties, uncover criminal acts, gather evidence for legal actions and audit company records. Often working with law enforcement agencies, these professionals investigate bankruptcies, offshore money-sheltering schemes, people hiding assets in divorce settlements and suspicious insurance claims.
Resource: Forensic Accounting Degree
Forensic accountants earn a median pay of $103,000, according to a CNN report, and salaries can top $146,000, There are more than 1,216,900 of these accounting jobs in the United States and the career paths for forensic accountants span many industries.
FBI and Secret Service
Accountants have been critical to FBI investigations since the Bureau’s inception in 1908. Today, forensic accountants investigate spies, digital criminals, terrorists and entrepreneurs who misuse and mismanage other people’s assets. These financial specialists can follow complex money-laundering schemes, financial shenanigans, outright thefts, financial regulatory noncompliance and embezzlement cases. In addition to their accounting, software and computer skills, candidates for FBI, CIA, Justice Department or Secret Service jobs receive additional investigating training. The FBI training program lasts six weeks and covers legal training, learning how to testify as an expert witness and how to leverage the Bureau’s investigative resources during investigations.
Accounting managers often supervise staffs of accountants in large organizations or head accounting departments in smaller companies, and their duties often include auditing or monitoring the work of other accountants, vendors or business partners to uncover financial improprieties or mistakes in their work. In general, forensic accountants must obtain their credentials as Certified Public Accountants, and obtaining memberships in these organizations can strengthen student résumés:
- The Forensic CPA Society, which provides certification preparation and training in 37 countries
- The Institute of Certificate Forensic Accountants, which helps accountants strengthen their skills
- The Association of Chartered Certified Forensic Accountants, which promotes education and training in the latest forensic and investigative techniques
Forensic accountants can open their own companies in various fields that include consulting, investigating financial crimes for private companies and helping companies design systems and processes to build enterprise value in a business environment where complex regulations, economic strategies and legal obligations increasingly limit business options. Some of the potential services that private forensic accountants can provide include:
- Running complex credit checks and vetting potential business partners
- Investigating financial schemes, stock market offers, investments and fiduciary legislation
- Using computer forensics to investigate regulatory compliance, criminal behavior and asset-concealment strategies
- Auditing financial records and taxes for private companies
Financial controllers handle complex duties for corporations by supervising accountants or heading accounting departments for smaller companies. Supervision by a controller or comptroller is increasingly essential because The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners or ACFE reports that 5 percent of global revenue is lost to financial fraud. Financial controllers who are trained in forensic accounting techniques are in an ideal position to uncover fraud and theft and gather the evidence to prosecute these cases. Fraud cases, according to the ACF, generate average company losses of $140,000, and more than 20 percent of cases involve losses of more than $1 million dollars.
Credit analysts do far more than just run credit checks. These accounting professionals — who often study forensic accounting — compile financial records for small and global financial companies, assess the risks of extending credit or lending money and combine analyzing financial statements with assessing international financial market conditions. These accountants often recommend investments and business choices to companies and entrepreneurs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industries with the highest pay averages for credit analysts include:
- Securities and commodities brokerages: $119,180
- Company financial management: $80,490
- Nondepository credit mediation services: $79,400
- Depository credit mediation services: $80,490
Forensic accountants have extensive employment options because they can find employment anywhere investigations are needed. These options include the FBI, CIA, local law enforcement agencies, accounting firms, the IRS, banks, law firms, attorneys and many other public and private companies. Financial wrongdoing becomes increasingly complicated, and forensic accounting investigators must keep up with trends, schemes, conspiracies and financial regulations to discover wrongdoing and help to gather evidence in criminal cases.