The field of forensic accounting concerns itself with the analysis, interpretation, understanding, and presentation of complex issues relating to businesses, finances, and taxes. The goal is to translate these complex issues into plain English. Forensic accountants can be found everywhere, from government agencies to banks, and from police forces to insurance companies.
The role of a forensic accountant is to analyze and investigate financial evidence. They also develop computerized methods to ensure this analysis is done properly, and presented in an understandable manner. These professionals are also excellent communicators, using documents, exhibits, and reports to discuss their findings. They also often assist in legal cases, being expert witnesses in court cases and providing trial evidence in the form of visual aids. It is for this reason that a forensic accountant also has to be very familiar with legal procedures and concepts.
Forensic Accounting Degree Opportunity
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants and auditors earned an average annual salary of $68,150 as of May 2016 at the bachelor’s degree level. In 2014, there were some 1,332,700 accountants and auditors across the country. The BLS has also reported that they expect an 11% growth in demand for these professionals from 2014 to 2024, which is faster than the national average and should translate to around 142,400 new jobs.
The BLS points out that the reason for this significant increase in demand is due to an increasingly complex regulatory and tax environment that they have to work with. Furthermore, the economy as a whole is growing, and there is an increase in globalization as well. That said, should the economy once again contract, which is possible due to significant geopolitical changes such as the new presidency and the “Brexit” of the United Kingdom from the European Union, then demand is likely to decline.
That said, the financial sector increasingly faces stricter regulations and laws. This means that there will likely be always at least some demand for those with forensic accounting skills. Add to that the tighter lending standards, and it will likely be that auditing will be more and more important in the workforce as whole. That said, there is significant competition as well. Hence, it is advisable to complete a graduate degree and to obtain certification as well, in order to take on a really prestigious career in forensic accounting.
Forensic Accounting Degree Career Paths
The BLS has reported on the most popular employment sectors for forensic accounting, and their associated annual salaries:
- Finance and insurance, with average annual earnings of $72,950. 8% of all accountants and auditors work in this sector.
- Management of companies and enterprises, with average annual earnings of $70,790. 7% of all accountants and auditors work in this sector.
- Manufacturing, with average annual earnings of $69,040. 6% of all accountants and auditors work in this industry.
- Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services, with average annual earnings of $68,130. 26% of all accountants and auditors work in this sector.
- Government, with average annual earnings of $65,820. 8% of all accountants and auditors work here.
- Senior Accountants earned an average annual salary of $69,027.
- Financial Analysts earned an average annual salary of $64,633.
- Senior Internal Auditors earned an average annual salary of $65,000.
Forensic Accounting Degree Salaries
The BLS has reported that, as of May 2016, the average annual earnings for accountants and auditors was $68,150. The bottom 10% earned $42,140 per year or less, while the top 10% earned $120,910 per year or more.
Geographical location is a factor in terms of how much someone can earn in forensic accounting. That being said, it is important to understand that areas with relatively higher salaries also often have a higher cost of living.
The BLS has reported on the top five states to work in as an accountant or auditor, which are:
- New York, with average annual earnings of $93,280.
- The District of Columbia, with average annual earnings of $93,210.
- New Jersey, with average annual earnings of $88,940.
- Virginia, with average annual earnings of $83,380.
- California, with average annual earnings of $82,620.
The Payscale.com report also showed average annual salaries for certain geographical areas, such as:
- Florida, with average annual earnings of $67,610
- Illinois, with average annual earnings of $67,500
- Pennsylvania, with average annual earnings of $58,718
Forensic Accounting Degree Employers
What is perhaps of greater importance when estimating the annual earnings for someone in forensic accounting is the company that someone works for.
Indeed.com has reported on popular employers and their associated salaries:
- Consortium International, with average earnings of $120,683 per year.
- Execu Search, with average earnings of $102,996 per year.
- Ascendo Resources, with average earnings of $111,574 per year.
- Selby Jennings, with average earnings of $105,949 per year.
- Robert Half Finance & Accounting, with average earnings of $100,459 per year.
- Kforce Finance and Accounting, with average earnings of $102,420 per year.
- WholePoint Systems, with average earnings of $102,758 per year.
- Creative Financial Staffing, with average earnings of $100,000 per year.
- Federal Government Jobs, with average earnings of $94,926 per year.
- Robert Half Management Resources, with average earnings of $46.53 per hour.
Forensic Accounting Bachelor’s Degree
In order to gain a lucrative career in the field of forensic accounting, you will certainly need to have a good education. This starts with a bachelor’s degree. Fortunately, many of these accounting degree programs are now available online in some colleges and universities. One example of a bachelor’s degree in forensic accounting is offered by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Their curriculum includes:
- Software Based Bookkeeping
- Principles of Management
- Financial Accounting
- Governmental & Not-for-Profit Accounting
- Public Administration
- Managerial Accounting
- Managerial and Organizational Behavior
- Social Responsibility and Ethics in Management
- Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination
- Corporate Finance
- International Accounting
- Auditing Principles and Procedures
- Business Quantitative Methods
- Business Law
- Accounting Information Systems
- Federal Taxation
- Introduction to Computer Forensics
- Personality and Profiling
- Introduction to the U.S. Legal System
- Courts and Criminal Justice
- Interview Techniques & Tactics
- Procedural Laws and Evidence
Forensic Accounting Master’s Degree
If you want to advance your career in forensic accounting, obtaining a master’s degree or MBA degree is vital. This will help you gain truly advanced skills and knowledge in your field, and set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd. Luckily, many of these master’s programs are now also offered online, which makes it easier than ever to complete a degree without having to completely stop working.
A degree that you may want to consider is the masters in forensic accounting offered by Florida Atlantic University, which is AACSB accredited and is available online. The program is designed to provide students with solid knowledge regarding fraud investigation and prevention, litigation support, dispute resolution, money laundering investigation, valuation, expert testimony, and other kinds of criminal investigation.
Forensic Accounting Degree Admission Requirements
Each school is entitled to set its own admission requirements but these are usually quite similar across the board because these are used to find out whether or not the applicant has the academic capacity to complete a program at the graduate degree level. For example, the admissions requirements for Florida Atlantic University are:
- A bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
- A competitive GPA
- NACES evaluation for international degrees
- TOEFL for non-native English speakers
Uniquely, Florida Atlantic University has very easy to manage admission requirements. The vast majority of other schools will also look for supplemental information such as:
- Official transcripts
- A resume
- Letters of recommendation
- A personal statement
Forensic Accounting Degree Curriculum
Schools are allowed to specify the courses for each curriculum as they see fit. This is why it is very important to study with an accredited university, as this guarantees prospective employers that your degree included courses that meet the minimum requirements for the profession.
For the Masters in Forensic Accounting offered by Florida Atlantic University, the curriculum gives students the opportunity to be educated by faculty made up of industry experts and professors. This ensures that students can perform academic research, while at the same time focusing on real life practice. Faculty members have also worked with a number of guest speakers in order to create textbooks and articles specific to the field of forensic accountants. There is also a strong focus on active investigative work and expert witness testimony.
Through the intensive curriculum, students build up their knowledge of fraud prevention and investigation, litigation support, dispute resolution, expert testimony, valuation, and money laundering investigations. Graduates are respected for their extensive knowledge on criminal investigation from a financial perspective. They are known to be excellent critical thinkers with superior communication skills. They are effective writers and know all about investigative reading at the same time.
Forensic Accounting Degree Financial Assistance
Getting an education, particularly a master’s degree, is very expensive. This requires substantial amounts of time and money. Fortunately, the university or college will be able to signpost you to financial aid, and they may also have scholarships and grants available that you can apply for. At the same time, there are a number of external scholarships that you may want to consider. These include the:
- Wiley CPAexcel Accounting Student Scholarship Program
- American Woman’s Society of Certified Public Accountants Scholarships
- Government Finance Officers Association Scholarships
- Mensa Education & Research Foundation Scholarships
- National Association of Black Accountants (NABA)’s National Scholarship Program
- National Society of Accountants Scholarships
- Peace Corps Benefits
- Scholarship America
- This Way to CPA Scholarship
- United Negro College Fund Scholarships
It should be mentioned that when applying for scholarships, you will usually be required to meet certain requirements. For instance, these may include studying at a certain school, taking on a certain concentration, aiming to work in a certain field, demonstrating financial need, holding a minimum GPA, belonging to a certain minority group, being a member of a professional organization, or being of a certain gender.
Forensic Accounting Degree Certifications
It is recommended that you get certified in the field of forensic accounting. Through certification, you are able to demonstrate that you are committed to your own professional development, and to the advancement of the field in general. That said, completing certification does require a further investment of time and money, and you often have to maintain certification through continuous education credits. However, most people would agree that this is a very worthy investment, as it opens new career doors. Some certifications that you may want to consider in the field of forensic accounting are:
- Certified Forensic Accountant (CFA)
- Chartered Public Accountant (CPA)
- Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
- Certified Forensic Financial Analyst (CFFA)
Forensic Accounting Degree Associations
It is a good idea to become a member of certain professional organizations as soon as you decide to study towards a forensic accounting degree, even at the bachelor’s degree level. This is because professional associations and organizations often offer scholarships and grants that you could then become eligible for. More importantly, by being a member of such associations, you will always be at the forefront of new developments within your field, ensuring that your skills are always be up to date. Additionally, you may be able to complete certifications and continuous education credits. And perhaps the greatest benefit of being a member of a professional association or organization, is the fact that you can build a professional network that will serve to further your career.
Some of the associations in the field of forensic accounting you may want to consider becoming a member of are the:
- Institute of Certified Forensic Accountants
- Association of Certified Fraud Examiners
- Association of International Accountants
- Forensic CPA Society
- National Association of Forensic Accountants (NAFA)
- Occupational Outlook Handbook – Accountants and Auditors. (2016, May). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm
- Master of Business Administration (MBA), Forensic Accounting Degree Average Salary. (2017, Apr. 29). Retrieved from http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Master_of_Business_Administration_(MBA)%2C_Forensic_Accounting/Salary
- Forensic Accountant Salaries in the United States. (2017, Apr. 28). Retrieved from https://www.indeed.com/salaries/Forensic-Accountant-Salaries?from=serpsalaryblock
- Bachelor of Science in Forensic Accounting & Fraud Examination. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://erau.edu/degrees/bachelor/forensic-accounting-fraud-examination/
- Masters in Forensic Accounting. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://accounting.fau.edu/online-master-of-accounting-in-forensic-accounting/