Want to Be a Forensic Accountant? Here's What You Need to Know

By Robert Half on December 7, 2020 at 5:00pm

Forensic accounting is a specialized area of accounting — and a challenging one. A forensic accountant investigates incidents of fraud, bribery, money laundering and embezzlement by analyzing financial records and transactions, tracing assets, and more. Securities fraud, identify theft, compensation disputes, and trademark and patent infringements are just some areas of focus for forensic accountants.

Law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), often turn to these highly skilled professionals for help in uncovering and analyzing evidence used for solving and prosecuting financial crimes. Legal teams also ask forensic accountants to serve as expert witnesses for their cases. In addition, many corporations are increasingly seeking forensic accountants in their internal audit, finance, compliance and global investigation departments.

You can find forensic accounting jobs in many types of organizations, including public accounting firms, the compliance departments of major corporations, consulting firms, financial institutions, government agencies and insurance companies.

Meet an expert in financial crimes

To get more insight on forensic accounting jobs, we spoke with Peter F. Grupe, a veteran white-collar crime fighter for the FBI, and now a director at Protiviti in their Forensic solution. (Protiviti is a global consulting firm and Robert Half subsidiary.) Here’s what he had to say about this career path in accounting:

What is forensic accounting? How would you define it?

“Forensic accounting is 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. Regardless of the purpose of your engagement — civil or criminal — forensic accounting is usually all about following the money.”

What should people know about a financial accountant career?

“This job will keep you on your toes. There really isn’t a typical day in forensic accounting. Some days you might be crunching numbers, some days you might be conducting interviews, and on other days, you might be reviewing documents.

You also have to stay on top of the financial industry and markets to know how changes, such as new or updated regulatory compliance mandates, can affect the finances of a company or individual.”

What attracts people to the financial accountant role?

“One particularly fascinating aspect of the job is how finance and accounting work hand-in-hand with the real-life decisions that people make. Personally, I enjoy the variety that comes with working in multiple industries, as well as the challenge of solving financial ‘mysteries.’

The forensic accountant job can get exciting at times. While I worked for the FBI, for example, I handled cases involving drug dealers, organized crime, terrorists and Wall Street professionals.”

What do you need to succeed in financial accounting jobs?

“First, you need to have a desire to investigate. Naturally, you’ll also need a degree and/or background in accounting and finance. While you don’t have to be a CPA for the forensic accountant role, having that expertise could set you apart from the competition when you’re applying for jobs — especially if you also have a background in internal investigations and financial crime matters.

Many employers also look for candidates with forensic accounting credentials, such as the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) designation. It’s also important to a forensic accountant’s success to stay abreast of trends in the financial industry.

Additionally, you’ll want to take advantage of professional development opportunities in your field to maintain a firm grasp on banking, investment or accounting transactions.”

Forensic accountant salary benchmarks

If you think the forensic accountant path is right for you, what type of salary might you expect to earn? Robert Half’s latest Salary Guide for the accounting and finance profession reports that $95,500 is the projected midpoint salary for this role in 2021.

At the midpoint salary, candidates have average experience with the necessary skills to meet the job requirements. The role also may be in an industry where competition for talent is moderate.

The salaries listed in the Salary Guide reflect starting pay only and are based on actual placements throughout the United States, as well as an analysis of the demand for the role, the supply of talent and other market conditions.

Starting salaries can vary widely from city to city. Consider using Robert Half’s Salary Calculator to understand compensation trends in your local area.

Finding forensic accounting jobs

Ready to start looking for forensic accountant positions? You can begin your job search on the Robert Half website. Explore our listings for on-site and remote accounting and finance job opportunities here.

Peter Grupe
Peter Grupe

Peter Grupe has a B.S. in Business Administration from Central Connecticut State University, as well as an MBA in Finance from Long Island University’s C.W. Post School of Business.

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