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, asset misappropriation, identify theft, compensation disputes, and trademark and patent infringements are just some areas of focus for forensic accountants.
Law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and IRS, along with fraud investigation units of major corporations and financial institutions, 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. Corporations are increasingly seeking forensic accountants in their internal audit, finance, compliance and global investigation departments.
If you're a forensic accountant job seeker, 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.
To get more insight on forensic accounting jobs, we spoke with Peter Grupe, a veteran white-collar crime fighter for the FBI, and now a director in the Protiviti Forensic practice at Protiviti, a global risk and business consulting firm that's also a Robert Half subsidiary.
Here are his answers to questions 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 used 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 forensic 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 forensic 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.
For the last 10-plus years, I have also enjoyed my work in the private sector protecting the assets of clients for Protiviti.
What do you need to succeed in forensic 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.
Read All You Need to Know About CPA Jobs on the Robert Half blog.
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 job seekers?
According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ latest Report to the Nations, 5% of revenue, or approximately $4.5 trillion, is lost globally to fraud each year. So, the need is there.
And the jobs? You can begin a job search for forensic accountant positions on the Robert Half website. Explore our listings for on-site and remote accounting and finance job opportunities.
Forensic accountant salary benchmarks
If you think the forensic accountant path is right for you, what type of salary might you expect to earn? The latest Robert Half Salary Guide for the accounting and finance profession reports that $98,250 is the projected midpoint salary for this corporate accounting role in 2022.
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, and the Salary Guide provides breakdowns for compensation trends in various locations.