Forensic Accountant Career Profile

Forensic accountants are investigators. They're experts at tracking down problems and their causes. They often work on fraud cases and other serious issues.

The work environment

The forensic accountant works in a very sensitive business environment. The work includes detecting embezzlement, fraud, illegitimate payments, and intensive data gathering and research. This work can involve very difficult work like tracking organized crime money laundering scams, bribery and other hard cases.

This sort of work involves a lot of sifting through transactions, identifying sources of payments, and in many cases following the payments through complex schemes designed to prevent detection. It's mental work, as much as accountancy, and in most cases forensic accountants have to start from scratch.

Case study:

A routine report lodged by a local government authority was checked by the state government department regulating these authorities. A figure of $600,000 in expenses appeared in an item in report, where in previous years the item hadn't had any money allocated, and no basis of payment was specified. The state authority queried the item, and didn't get a satisfactory answer. The local authority confirmed the payment of the money, but couldn't identify the exact nature of the services received. The actual sum quoted in the report was also wrong, and was $612,485.25.

A forensic accountant was called in by the state authority. Examination of the local authority's accounts showed that all related payments were sourced from a Miscellaneous Expenses cost center. They were all approved by accounts, and appeared to be routine drawings. It was discovered that a group of employees, with the assistance of one of the junior accountants, had been milking the account. The $600,000 figure was used to produce a balance in the accounts.

The result of that information was that the accounts manager was sacked, and the auditor replaced. Accounts records showed sufficient evidence for the staff involved to be sacked and charged with fraud.

That was a very simple case, a fraud committed by amateurs. At higher levels, it's not that easy. Forensic accountancy work can take years, in some cases. In many cases forensic accountants work for police and agencies like the FBI on major investigations. The big rise in crime on the net has also created another area of specialization, involving complex monitoring and surveillance systems.

Salary and wages: Forensic accountants are usually highly experienced senior accountants. The median salary range averages $70,000 to $95,000.

Hours: Nominally, forensic accountants work standard business hours, but the quantity of work defines actual times.

The career environment

Forensic accountancy is a real growth industry, even by the standards of accountancy, which is one of the world's biggest professions. There's a big demand for forensic accountants, which is also driving rapid career progression for experienced people in this tough role.

Career progression is based on achievements and areas of specialization. Career paths can be complex. A person specializing in a high demand employment area like corporate fraud will progress rapidly through the organizational hierarchy. An expert on internet fraud, however, may work as a consultant, making more money as a contractor.