Forensic accounting is the perfect career for those with a keen investigative eye and a passion for working with numbers
With a career in this area, you could put your detective skills to work to uncover fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, and other financial crimes. You could also specialize in risk management, developing relevant policies and procedures to help companies safeguard their resources.
Forensic accounting is a versatile field that allows you to bring value to businesses, financial institutions, nonprofits, government and law enforcement agencies, estates, and individuals. It’s also part of an industry that’s growing at a steady pace, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting 4% job growth for accountants and auditors between 2019 and 2029. Keep reading to learn more about how to become a forensic accountant and the benefits that come with the job.
Why pursue a career in forensic accounting?
Companies are looking to lower their financial risk, and governments are cracking down on fraud and financial crimes. That’s where you come in.
Both the private and the public sectors need forensic accountants to perform these jobs, and the growth of the industry means there’s room for advancement. The investigative element of forensic accounting also makes it an interesting and gratifying career. More benefits you can expect from this career include:
High growth is expected due to tightening financial regulations and increasing demand from companies for financial risk management. Expect to see many new job openings in the coming years as these needs continue to rise.
Forensic accounting dynamically blends data, analytics, investigative skills, and sometimes criminal justice. For someone with an innate sense of intuition and curiosity, this can be an incredibly rewarding career.
According to Investopedia, a forensic accountant’s average salary is $80,000. At the upper end of the pay scale, forensic examiners can make $150,000 per year.
Independence on the job
For self-motivated people, forensic accounting offers an advantage in that it’s often an independent job. You’ll conduct examinations and investigations at your own pace with minimal managerial oversight.
A bachelor’s degree is usually required for forensic accounting jobs. However, many employers will waive this requirement if you’ve completed at least 24 credit hours of accounting coursework.
Specialized coursework and certification programs are available to help give you a competitive advantage and bring you closer to achieving your career goals.
Industry trends in forensic accounting
Here’s a quick look at trends in the industry according to Burning Glass Technologies:
Advances in technology challenge forensic accountants to think about new ways to visualize data to better manage information and identify financial crimes. Along with critical analysis, you’ll need to employ technological tools to examine various business situations.
While valuation standards are typically handled by finance professionals, forensic accountants are increasingly being called upon to perform valuation services delivered in connection with litigation. With this certified valuation trend, you’ll evaluate complex accounting and financial issues to help determine a well-researched opinion on the financial value of a business.
Areas of opportunity for forensic accountants
Forensic accountants have a wide range of job opportunities in both the governmental and the business sectors. You can also choose to work as an independent consultant.
Industry opportunities for forensic accountants
Government agencies (FBI, CIA, IRS)
Risk management departments
Banks, brokerages, and other financial services firms
Where are the forensic accounting jobs?
Career growth for forensic accountants is largely based on location, according to PayScale and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
Some states have particularly high demand for accountants, including those specializing in forensics. Utah, for example, has a projected growth rate of more than 30% by 2028.
Other states with high growth rates include Tennessee, Colorado, and Nevada. At the entry level, a forensic accounting salary may start at $63,000, while upper-level employees could earn $147,000 or more.
You can expect to see rapid expansion in the number of forensic accounting jobs in the business, finance, legal, and governmental sectors.
Local law enforcement and government agencies such as the FBI, CIA, and IRS are seeing an upswing in demand for forensic accounting services. At these agencies, you would investigate criminal activity, terrorism, and other threats.
You would also build financial profiles of individuals and organizations under investigation and gather evidence as part of the discovery process. In this role, you may also be called on to testify as an expert witness in court proceedings.
Corporate security and risk management
Risk management and corporate security is another field experiencing substantial growth. Major companies want to protect their assets by making sure that their financial procedures are compliant with regulations.
In this position, you would work to protect a firm’s resources and analyze risk levels by keeping a close watch on their financials. You would also be responsible for monitoring changes in finance law and other factors that affect corporate accounting.
Accounting and law firms
You can also expect to find promising job opportunities at accounting and law firms.
At an accounting firm, you may be responsible for interviewing employees and monitoring financials to ensure that no laws are being broken. If fraud is discovered, forensic accountants are tasked with collecting evidence, performing computer forensics, reviewing financial statements, totaling economic damages, and testifying in court.
Accounting firms may also use forensic accounting during business valuation services on behalf of their clients.
In a law firm, forensic accountants perform many of these same duties, and additionally may serve as a consultant to oversee in-house financial issues.
Entry-level positions are typically found with corporations or accounting firms. These jobs focus on financial analysis and risk management rather than investigation.
Risk analyst: $64,180
Senior accountant: $67,744
Senior financial analyst: $80,467
Advanced job options
For advanced forensic accounting jobs, a bachelor’s degree is typically required — possibly a master’s degree for top-level jobs. Experience also matters, and compensation goes up to match your work experience.
Forensic accountant with a federal agency: $100,496
Forensic accountant for a major financial institution: $140,739
Forensic accountant for a transportation company: $104,110
Sources: Glassdoor, PayScale, and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Top skills and tools for a forensic accountant
As a forensic accountant, you’ll be involved in many parts of the accounting process. Check out the top skills employers are looking for in this field as well as the tools many forensic accountants use to accomplish their work. You can use this information to enhance your employability as you pursue a career in forensic accounting.
The most sought-after skills in forensic accounting
Recent research indicates that many of the fastest-growing desired skills in accounting job posts cover many of the areas a forensic accountant would interact with as a part of their job function. We’ve listed these skills and their projected growth rate through 2023:
Here are the top requested technical or specialized skills in job posts for forensic accountants:
Research shows that these soft skills are just as important as technical skills to employers when evaluating potential forensic accountants:
Attention to detail
Top emerging skills
The forensic accounting industry will see even greater impact from technology and the need for specialized skills over the next five years. You can expect to see the following skills in more job posts in the future:
Projected Posting Growth (2018–2023)
Full-cycle accounts payable
Source: Burning Glass Technologies
While Microsoft Excel dominates the accounting landscape, other tools and programming languages are becoming more popular to conduct more robust data analysis, such as:
Forensic accounting internships
Internships are a great way to add experience to your resume as you pursue a career in accounting. Some employers that have internship programs include:
The forensic accounting career path has plenty of opportunities for growth. Federal agencies are expanding their investigative departments, and corporations are seeking risk management analysts and financial security specialists. You can also work as a private consultant and help firms that need forensic accountants to go over their financials.
Not only is this career personally satisfying, but it’s also financially rewarding. Starting salaries for forensic accountants are respectable, and your income potential should grow with experience.