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What Is Forensic Accounting? - Job Description, Certification & Requirements

Read on to learn about the skills needed by forensic accountants to uncover evidence of fraudulent activities inside financial records. You can also learn about the salary expectations and education requirements for a career in this field.

Forensic Accounting Overview

When financial crimes are suspected, law enforcement, public accounting firms, private organizations, and consulting firms reach out to forensic accountants to get the facts. Forensic accountants are experts at finding evidence of fraud or negligence hiding behind balance sheets, often searching for proof of embezzlement, theft, money laundering, or other types of financial crimes. Often, the outcomes of their investigations are shared in reports and court testimonies. Read the table below for a general overview of this career.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree is generally required
Education Field of Studys Forensic accounting, accounting, finance, or related
Key Skills Accounting, communication, financial analysis
Certifications Certifications such as Chartered Accountant, Certified Fraud Examiner, and Certified Public Accountant are preferred but not required.
Job Outlook (2018-2028) 6% growth (for all accountants and auditors)*
Median Yearly Earnings (2019) $66,535**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

What Kind of Education Is Expected of Forensic Accountants?

Forensic accountants need to be well-versed in advanced accounting and financial analysis concepts, which is why an undergraduate or advanced degree in accounting, finance, or forensic accounting is generally required. Beyond accounting basics, an understanding of law enforcement is not required but considered a plus. To be well rounded in both areas of forensic accounting, you could combine your undergraduate or advanced degree in accounting with complimentary studies in criminal justice.

What Are the Skills Required to Be Considered for a Position in Forensic Accounting?

While basic accounting and financial experience are a must, many more skills separate the role of a forensic accountant from that of a general accountant. Forensic accountants are expected to have excellent communication skills, as they are often required to share their findings verbally or in writing. Due to their frequent visits to courtrooms as expert witnesses, forensic accountants must also be able to present complex information in simple terms for judges and juries.

What Are Other Aspects of the Job That Separate Forensic Accountants from Regular Accountants?

Criminals go through great lengths to hide evidence of their fraud, so forensic accountants need to be well versed in applicable federal and state laws. They should also be knowledgeable of the most frequent types of crimes (such as money laundering, embezzlement, and securities fraud) and the common strategies criminals use to cover the evidence of those crimes. The skills specific to forensic accounting can be developed with professional experience or the completion of a Certified Fraud Examiner certification.

Are There Any Certifications Necessary to Pursue a Career in This Field?

Certifications related to forensic accounting include CPA (Certified Public Accountant), CA (Chartered Accountant) and CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner). While none of these certifications are required, they are generally preferred by employers and can demonstrate you have the technical skills required for a forensic accounting career. A 2017-2018 study by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners demonstrated that forensic accountants with the CFE certification earned about 31% more than their peers.

What Kind of Salary Could I Expect, and What Is the Career Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated a 6% growth in job opportunities for all accountants and auditors between 2018 and 2028. According to PayScale.com, the median salary for forensic accountants is $66,535 per year as of April 2019. Depending on the type of employer they work for (corporate vs. government), the annual earnings of forensic accountants might include bonuses, which PayScale.com estimates to average $4,844 per year.