How to Become a Forensic Accountant (With Step-Guide)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 29 March 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

People who enjoy uncovering truths and taking part in investigative work may enjoy a career in forensic accountancy. This career requires strong detective skills to uncover a variety of financial discrepancies and criminal behaviour, meaning that forensic accountants can have a substantial impact on someone's life. Understanding how to become a forensic accountant can help you make more informed career choices and take the right steps to secure a forensic accountancy role.

In this article, we describe what a forensic accountant is, discuss how to become one, list their skills, explain their duties and provide information on the average salary for this role.

What is a forensic accountant?

A forensic accountant is an accounting professional who focuses on investigating financial criminal behaviour and financial discrepancies. Forensic accountants can investigate a variety of types of financial misconduct, from money laundering to cases of fraud. These professionals work with other organisations such as police, governments, private firms and insurance companies. Financial accountants are instrumental in the gathering of evidence in a financial misconduct case, as they analyse years of financial history and help the relevant authorities understand any gaps or inconsistencies in the evidence.

Related: What Does an Accountant Do? (And How to Become One)

How to become a forensic accountant

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to become a forensic accountant:

1. Gain a bachelor's degree

A career in accounting requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree in accountancy, finance or another related field. Possessing an undergraduate degree in these subjects provides candidates with broad theoretical knowledge and understanding of administering financial advice, analysing documents, understanding the details of business economics, personal finance and auditing. Although courses may not specifically study forensic accountancy, candidates are likely to benefit from the skills they may learn from these subjects.

Some universities may offer specific courses on fraudulent or financial criminal activity. This is a great opportunity to learn how financial misconduct affects a business and how to potentially resolve issues for their clients. Consider researching and applying for a university that offers modules on such topics.

2. Earn a postgraduate degree

A master's degree in accounting, finance or economics is an excellent opportunity to further develop your skill set. Master's degrees enable further specialisation and may allow students to study and research a specific topic, like fraud or criminal behaviour. This opportunity helps students develop a unique understanding that can provide them with a competitive advantage in the job application process. Your value as a candidate may increase if you have a higher education degree, which demonstrates expertise to potential employers.

A postgraduate degree in accounting may better prepare you for further certification and help you decide which speciality you wish to start your career.

3. Seek work experience

During or after your studies, you can consider gaining work experience as an intern or in a part-time position. Internships and part-time jobs in financial or accounting settings provide candidates with valuable practical experience that can help further develop their accounting skills. As an intern, you may observe a fully qualified accountant or find a professional mentor. During this, you may receive vital accounting advice or pick up skills that can substantially improve your chances of employment success in the future.

Internships and work experience on a forensic accountant resume may also impress an employer and demonstrate valuable skills that can help you progress and secure more clients.

4. Gain certification

Once you're equipped with the relevant education, you may then seek certification. Certification as a chartered accountant or certified public accountant is the typical industry expectation of most forensic accountants. Professional certification acts as an extra layer of testimony to your skills and demonstrates that you meet expert industry standards. Accountants with certification may attract more clients, as they assure customers they can provide expert financial advice.

Additionally, forensic accountants work within the law and criminal industry, so additional certification ensures that forensic accountancy candidates understand how to investigate and handle sensitive criminal data.

Related: Accountant Certification: 4 Programs to Enhance Your Career

5. Prepare your forensic accountant resume

Once fully qualified, you can now prepare your forensic accountant resume. When doing this, consider customising your resume to the job advertisement. You can do this by finding specific skills mentioned in the advertisement and incorporating them on your resume, as this can substantially improve your chances of success by enabling the recruiter to match you to the job more efficiently. Ensure you include any relevant experience and highlight additional certification on your resume, as this can also improve your chances of success.

Consider including any instances in your experience when your accounting services made a significant impact on your client's case or your employer's business development.

6. Apply for forensic accountant roles

You can now apply for forensic accountancy roles. Consider researching specific industries and forensic topics to help narrow your job search. This can include insurance forensic accountancy, criminal or business financial accountancy. Narrowing your job search can simplify your application processes and help tailor your resume to fit specific roles. Also, ensure you thoroughly study the job description and candidate requirements to ensure you know which skills to emphasise in your interview.

Related: CPA vs. CA: Choosing an Accounting Career For You

Forensic accountant duties

Forensic accountants cover many responsibilities. Their daily duties may vary depending on the type of case they are working on, with some cases being more demanding than others. Here are some forensic accountancy duties:

  • assessing evidence from financial records

  • liaising with police or relevant authorities about any new evidence

  • testifying in court

  • gathering statements and evidence from witnesses

  • establishing evidence procedures

  • helping prepare evidence to present in court

  • consulting with their client on any findings

  • organising meetings with relevant authorities

  • preparing reports on financial misconduct

  • taking part in presentations

Forensic accountant skills

Forensic accountants use a combination of hard and soft skills to identify discrepancies and work with relevant authorities to report criminal behaviour. Hard skills refer to industry-specific qualities that help accountants handle financial data and administer expert financial advice. Soft skills refer to general employability skills that allow forensic accountants to effectively communicate with their team and collaborate on cases. Here is a list of some forensic accountant skills:

  • Analysis: Authorities require forensic accountants to analyse large amounts of data every day. This means they require extensive analytical skills to notice any patterns or suspicious gaps in numbers that may provide evidence in a criminal case.

  • Data management: Forensic accountants manage data and evidence in their job, so sound data management skills can help accountants stay organised. This may help them identify patterns or themes more easily.

  • Mathematics: Accountants primarily deal with numbers in their job, so sound mathematical skills, specifically finance-related mathematical skills like interest rates, can help them work better. This is also important for identifying suspicious financial behaviour.

  • Critical thinking: Problem-solving is a critical skill in forensic accountancy, as you may hypothesise why there are suspicious patterns of financial behaviour. This can help you conclude how and why criminals operate.

  • Communication: Collaborating with authorities or different industry representatives requires strong communication skills. This improves the flow of information, which can help parties deliberate on cases easier.

  • Collaboration: Forensic accountancy requires collaboration across multiple departments and industries. Good collaboration skills can help improve working relationships and promote teamwork, which can lead to more efficient deliberation and analysis.

  • Positive thinking: Positive thinking can help forensic accountants remain calm in stressful scenarios. Handling criminal evidence and testifying in court can be challenging, so positive thinking helps professionals stay satisfied in their work and focus on their objectives.

Average salary of a forensic accountant

The national average salary for a forensic accountant is $81,748 per year. Salaries for forensic accountants may vary depending on the type of institution they work for. Large banks or accounting corporations may pay their staff more than smaller independent branches. Salaries may also fluctuate depending on the type of case an accountant is investigating, as high-profile cases that gain substantial media attention may offer more streams of income.

Related: An Accountancy Career: 12 Accountancy Jobs With Salaries

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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