Outlook & GrowthCareers for forensic accountants and certified fraud examiners will grow 22 percent—faster than average—through 2018. Forensic accountants will be in high demand because of an increase in employee and management fraud, theft, embezzlement and other financial crimes. Growth also is fueled by high-visibility corporate scandals, the news after September 11 that terrorists were exploiting the international banking system to transfer money, and advances in technology that have made it easier to detect financial crimes.
Certified Fraud Examiner SalaryIn 2008, accountants and auditors earned an average salary of $59,430, with the top ten percent earning more than $102,380. Estimates on the web put the earnings of forensic accountants above the industry average, with starting salaries between $30,000 and $60,000 and forensic accountants working their way up to between $125,000 and $150,000.
Forensic Accountant Job DescriptionPublic accountants perform a broad range of accounting, auditing, tax and consulting activities for their clients, which may include corporations, governments, nonprofit organizations or individuals. Some public accountants specialize in forensic accounting: the application of accounting knowledge and investigative skills to identify and resolve legal issues. It is the science of using accounting as a tool to identify and develop proof of money flow.
Forensic accountants investigate white-collar crimes such as securities fraud and embezzlement; complex criminal financial transactions, including money laundering by organized criminals; and bankruptcies and contract disputes. Forensic accountants combine their knowledge of accounting and finance with law and investigative techniques to determine whether an activity is illegal. Many forensic accountants work closely with law enforcement personnel and lawyers during investigations and often appear as expert witnesses during trials.
Education & Degree PathMost accountants and auditors need at least a bachelor’s degree in business, accounting or a related field. Many accountants and auditors choose to obtain certification to help advance their careers, such as becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). It is also beneficial to become a Certified Fraud Examiner. Some employers prefer applicants with a master’s degree in accounting, or with a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting.
Licensing:For optimal career advancement, most states require accountants to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam post-degree after completing two years of supervised work under a CPA. Check with your state about the requirements to become a CPA. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners offers the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) designation for forensic or public accountants involved in fraud prevention, detection, deterrence and investigation. To obtain the designation, individuals must have a bachelor’s degree, two years of relevant experience, and pass a four-part examination.
Entering the Field:Most beginning accountants and auditors work under the guidance of an experienced accountant (CPA) or auditor. You can begin by earning a diploma or certificate in accounting or bookkeeping and working as a bookkeeper’s assistant. You can also begin as a payroll clerk or accounts receivable or payable clerk. Consider an associate degree in accounting or bookkeeping, followed by a bachelor’s in accounting as your career progresses. Those who earn a master’s in accounting or an MBA with a specialty in accounting or auditing will do extremely well.
Career Changers:People who work in law enforcement and legal services are ideal candidates for a career change to forensic accounting and/or fraud examination. Office managers and those who are good with computers often specialize in accounting as their careers mature.
Source for salary and growth data is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For more information on careers in forensic accounting and fraud examination, salaries, and job prospects visit: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Accountants and Auditors.