Forensic accountants use accounting skills along with investigative and auditing expertise to examine the finances of a business or an individual. They scrutinize data to track missing money and identify ways to recover it. The difference between a certified public accountant (CPA) and a forensic accountant is that a CPA will often specialize in areas such as taxation, solvency or financial reporting and be licensed to open a business. A forensic accountant combines accounting knowledge with investigative skills.
Forensic accountants commonly work for large corporations, banks, insurance companies, government agencies and public accounting firms. They assemble financial evidence and present their findings in reports.
"Forensic accountants inhabit a cloak and dagger corner of the accounting world," writes Justin Pope with the Associated Press. "Their job: respond at a moment's notice when a client spots trouble — anything from procurement fraud to a top executive cooking the books to industrial espionage."
In a world that revolves around the internet and the proliferation of online banking and shopping, criminals are getting better at committing fraud. According to Experian's 2018 Global Fraud and Identity Report, business executives expressed concerns about fraud and rising fraud losses. Forensic accountants are trained to look beyond the numbers and see if fraud, embezzlement or another financial crime has been committed.
Forensic accounting incorporates two areas: litigation support and investigation. A career in forensic accounting can open opportunities in the public and private sectors.
Follow the Money
Peter F. Grupe, a veteran white-collar crime fighter for the FBI, describes forensic accounting as "an investigative methodology to follow money or proceeds, conducted under the premise that the results of the investigation may be utilized in a court of law." Whether the issue is civil or criminal, "forensic accounting is usually all about following the money."
Forensic accountants typically have accounting experience and are interested in learning techniques for fraud prevention, investigation and the use of technology to find fraud. Earning a Master of Business Administration with a Concentration in Forensic Accounting from UNC Pembroke can put you on track to work in the world of forensic accounting.
How to Be Successful
To succeed in forensic accounting, you need to be interested in investigation and have a degree in accounting or finance. Having forensic accounting credentials, participating in professional development opportunities, and knowing current financial trends can also help in securing a job.
A career in forensic accounting consists of crunching numbers, examining documents and conducting interviews, as well as working across multiple industries to solve financial mysteries.
ZipRecruiter places the average annual salary for forensic accountants in the United States at $86,267 (May 2021), with top earners making upwards of $133,000. Salaries can vary by city.
Earning an MBA from UNC Pembroke
UNCP's online Master of Business Administration with a Concentration in Forensic Accounting is designed for students with previous accounting coursework who want to transition into management or law enforcement, government agencies or a private auditing or accounting firm. Students explore occupational fraud, techniques for fraud prevention and investigation, litigation support services and the use of technology to find fraud within organizations.
The core curriculum in UNCP' s forensic accounting-focused online MBA program enables students to build a foundation in functional business areas like economics, marketing, management and strategic planning. Four concentration courses on Fraud Examination; Forensic Accounting; Legal Issues for Managers; and Forensic Analytics give students the niche expertise they need to work as forensic accountants.
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