The Growing Importance of Forensic Accounting

Stock image of an accountant sitting at a desk

In March 2019, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation announced the opening the Miami International Corruption Squad office, a special group dedicated to investigating matters related to money laundering, bribes and dark money coming from individuals and entities connected with foreign governments. This task force will collaborate with existing offices in Los Angeles, New York and the District of Columbia; the Miami office will also work with the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). Aside from FBI field agents and investigators, this office will hire forensic accountants and other personnel experienced in financial compliance matters.

By virtue of being the financial capital of Latin America, Miami and the greater South Florida region have become hotbeds for financial crimes such as fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, and the relatively recent trend of dark money being used for political purposes. It is not surprising that the FBI has opened a corruption squad in Miami; what is surprising is that it had not been established before. In essence, forensic accounting at the criminal level is similar to what happens on the popular “CSI: Miami” television series; however, instead of detectives looking for clues in a murder scene, forensic accountants and their assistants pour over financial statements looking for evidence that prosecutors can introduce in court.

In recent years, the importance of forensic accounting has been growing rapidly. This is a professional field with a landscape that is being shaped by the rise of financial technology (FinTech). Forensic accounting specialists do not only work for law enforcement agencies; they can also be found in the compliance departments of business entities, at law firms, banks, and government agencies. The majority of forensic accountants are hired for compliance purposes; the make sure that a company’s finances are being kept safe and in good order.

While many companies have always had in-house accountants to monitor and minimize any irregularities or complications that may arise over the course of regular business, sophisticated instances of fraudulent activity are becoming increasingly common. Modern businesses are bound to find cleverly masked fraudulent activity when they go through their books, but only when forensic accountants find such evidence. Forensic accountants are often called upon by insurance companies to investigate specific suspicions of fraudulent activity, or they can sometimes be brought on as a preventative measure.

Florida National University, an accredited private college serving the South Florida community, gives individuals interested in the forensic accounting field a solid chance to get started. FNU offers both associate and bachelor degree programs to help students get started in accounting, the first step to take before getting into forensics. Prospective students stand to gain valuable information through FNU accounting degree programs that can be fully completed online and with the benefit of financial assistance for those who qualify. Get in touch with FNU admissions counselors to learn more about the career opportunities waiting for you in the world of accounting.

What is Forensic Accounting?

Forensic accounting is the use of accounting skills to investigate fraud, embezzlement and other irregularities hidden as financial transactions. In many cases, forensic accounting investigations are used in legal proceedings, but they are also used for compliance efforts and to prevent crimes. Whereas traditional accounting deals in the assessment of business funds and properly conveying information to investors and management, a forensic accountant is called upon to investigate the flow of funds through a business for the purpose of evaluating the paths they take and determine whether illegal transactions have occurred.

A forensic accountant investigates a wide range of different activities related to fraud that can take place within corporate, healthcare, real estate, mass marketing, hedge funds, and securities trading fields. These professionals may also investigate other crimes such as contract disagreements, money laundering, bribery, and embezzlement. While the duties of forensic accountants mainly lead them to investigate and analyze, they may also be called upon to serve as expert witnesses in court.

There are instances in which the skills forensic accountants employ are used in more personal matters. In a dissolution of a marriage, for example, a forensic accountant will review the financial situations of both parties as well as their spending to advance the settlement process or to provide attorneys with accurate information to use in court. Forensic accountants are able to trace assets through investments accounts, and they can also identify hidden income or assets.

Why Has Forensic Accounting Become So Important?

As a modern discipline, forensic accounting is beginning to see many avenues for additional skills that go beyond accounting and finances. There is a greater need for knowledge of the legal process and information technology. Forensic accounting has seen increased demand because we have seen the emergence of hopeful entrepreneurs and business professionals setting up their own enterprises. Each year, half a million startup companies are established startups, many of them with the intention of operating solely online.

With the current reliance on internet technologies, the role of forensic accountants has expanded accordingly. Online financial transactions give prospective lawbreakers a false sense of security because they believe that they can easily conceal their tracks; nonetheless, sophisticated individuals can use the internet to obfuscate illegal transactions, and this is when the expertise of forensic accountants is called upon. With new eDiscovery tools, forensic accountants can sift through countless email messages and ledgers as they look for fraudulent activity, but in many cases, they must still sort through boxes of paper files.

How Does One Become a Forensic Accountant?

The process of becoming a certified forensic accountant is similar to that of a traditional accountant. For the most part, you start off with a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related subject. To truly advance in your field, you will need to pursue the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) path, which requires passing a national exam and meeting other state requirements. Nearly all states require CPA candidates to complete 150 semester hours of college coursework to be certified, which is about 30 hours over the traditional four-year bachelor’s degree. Additionally, forensic accounting positions require a minimum of one to three years of accounting experience, which can be acquired by working as a general accountant.

Often, employers will encourage obtaining the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credentials because of the technical knowledge it provides for carrying out investigations. With CFE credentials, forensic accountants have an advanced understanding of fraud and data analysis procedures that will aid them considerably in the search for criminal activity. In the U.S., the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners issues certificates to members in good standing who have completed a bachelor’s degree program.

FNU: Helping You Build Your Future as a Forensic Accountant

FNU takes pride in giving students the knowledge and skills necessary to take advantage of fresh opportunities like those found in the forensic accounting field. Staying informed about current developments in the workplace is the key to building a solid career plan that will bring you closer to your dream job. Put your educational aspirations in motion by contacting one of our admissions advisers today.

Works Cited

“Forensic_Accounting_Career_Information_and_Education_Requirements.” Study.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.

“Forensic-accounting-one-of-the-fastest-growing-careers.” Http://truthbehindnumbers.com/. N.p., n.d. Web.

“Santa Barbara Tax & Accounting – Forensic Accounting.” Bartlett Pringle Wolf Santa Barbara Accounting Tax Audit Services. N.p., 14 May 2013. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.