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Become a Forensic Accountant

Overview

U.S. News & World Report called forensic accounting one of the "20 hot job tracks of the future." In recent years, forensic accountants have been in high demand as they have played a major role in tracing terrorists around the world. Forensic accountants combine their financial and auditing expertise with investigative prowess to assist in criminal or legal matters. A forensic accountant must consider all alternatives, scrutinize the fine details and at the same time see the big picture.

Forensic accountants involved in litigation support provide factual reporting of economic issues related to existing or pending litigation. Forensic accountants quantify damages sustained by parties involved in legal disputes and assist in resolving disputes, even before they reach the courtroom. If a dispute reaches the courtroom, the forensic accountant may testify as an expert witness.

What does a forensic accountant do?

Forensic accountants are trained to look beyond the numbers and deal with the business realities of situations. Analysis, interpretation, summarisation and the presentation of complex financial and business related issues are prominent features of the profession. A forensic accountant will also be familiar with legal concepts and procedures.

Public practice or insurance companies, banks, police forces and government agencies are the common employers of forensic accountants.

Activities carried out by forensic accountants involve:

  • Investigating and analysing financial evidence.
  • Developing computerised applications to assist in the analysis and presentation of financial evidence.
  • Communicating their findings in the form of reports, exhibits and collections of documents.
  • Assisting in legal proceedings, including testifying in court as an expert witness and preparing visual aids to support trial evidence.

Forensic accounting career opportunities

Forensic accountants work in most major accounting firms and are needed for investigating mergers and acquisitions, and in tax investigations, economic crime investigations, all kinds of civil litigation support, specialized audits, and even in terrorist investigations. Forensic accountants work throughout the private and public sectors in the following areas:

  • Public accounting firms
  • Private corporations
  • Banks
  • Police agencies
  • Government agencies
  • Insurance companies
  • Law firms

Scope

Given the pace at which skeletons are tumbling out of corporate cupboards, forensic accounting professionals should not have a hard time finding work. Companies are scurrying to hire them by the busload to prevent and investigate money-sucking crimes, and prepare for court cases.

Forensic accounting is especially hot in the US, with nearly 40 per cent of the top 100 accounting firms expanding their forensics and fraud services. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners has grown from just 5,500 members in 1992 to 25,000 in 2002.

Remuneration

Since the evolution of forensic accounting is at a nascent stage so far, the US is where most of the action is. There, one can start with a little over $30,000 (Rs 14 lakh per annum), easily going up to $110,000 (Rs 53 lakh) as one gets better.

This can lead to high-level careers at law firms, corporations, and government agencies.

Qualification needed

For becoming a forensic accountant, a bachelor's degree in accounting is required, plus two to four years of accounting experience. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licence is almost always required. The CPA is a professional qualification, similar to CA in India, which is awarded by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

In addition, an accountant can learn about forensic accounting by attending various seminars and courses and obtaining the Certified Fraud Examiner designation offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

In India, the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India has set up the Society of Certified Public Accountants, a non-profit institution, to develop and regulate the profession of Certified Public Accountants in India on sound ethical lines by setting rigorous standards of certification, membership, professional practice and continuing education.

The National Institute of Certified Public Accountants is a constituent of the SCPA and offers the "Certified Public Accountant" Programme.

Eligibility for the course is a graduate degree from any discipline.

For Comments: psjamwal@amity.edu

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