Love accounting, a good detective story and the chance to play private investigator? Forensic accounting may be the career for you.
As a forensic accountant, you analyse financial evidence to see if a crime such as an embezzlement or securities fraud has been committed. This may mean working on projects to investigate rogue trader or bribery allegations, commercial or transaction disputes – essentially anything that may require some form of investigation either in the public or private sector. It is important to note that a forensic accountant is not actually responsible for determining fraud, rather they establish the facts, collect and preserve evidence and lay the foundation for civil or criminal action.
Forensic accountants, also known as investigative auditors, fraud investigators or forensic auditors, are employed by a range of organisations including the Big Four accounting firms, specialist accounting firms such as FTI Consulting and McGrathNicol, government organisations such as the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), the police, and legal or insurance organisations.
Many forensic accounting positions require at least a couple of years of accounting experience, particularly at the larger accounting firms, although there are some exceptions.
If you are interested in a career in forensic accounting, you may look to get experience in general accounting first, for example, as an auditor, before transferring into a forensic accounting division.
As a forensic accountant, you will find that no project is ever alike – and depending on the client, may even be in the news! Your day-to-day work is often on-site conducting forensic analysis of financial data, creating financial or data models for use in investigations and preparing forensic accounting reports and analytical data for litigation. You may also be asked to calculate damages and economic losses that have occurred due to fraudulent activities.
Your role, however, is not limited to simply reviewing financial data. During most projects, you will work as part of a team, which may include other forensic accountants, private investigators and business stakeholders. In some cases, you may be required to mediate between various third parties or assist with negotiations – a great opportunity to extend your skillset!
Be mindful that any of your work could end up in court and you may be required to testify as an expert witness. Having excellent attention to detail and confidence in your ability to create accurate and well-founded work is critical.
The demand for forensic accountants has increased in more recent years given the increasing intolerance and awareness of fraudulent activity. This is particularly true with growing criminal and commercial threats to organisational integrity such as data security.
In the early stages of your career, most organisations, particularly large accounting firms, will help you to become a Chartered Accountant. For example, through financial support and study leave. Additional education is also encouraged, for example, in criminal justice or law enforcement. At some organisations, you may have the opportunity to gain training as a private investigator.
If you decide forensic accounting is where you would like to build your career, opportunities to progress to partner level are available at most accounting firms.
Alternatively, after a few years of forensic accounting, you may decide to specialise in a specific area related to or a sub-set of forensic accounting. For example, bankruptcy and insolvency, fraud and criminal investigations, insurance claims, personal injury claims, business valuations and audit.
Choose this if you have:
Check out our article about accounting specialisations to help you find the right career.