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Why Choose A Career As A Forensic Accountant?

Updated on September 28, 2012

What is a Forensic Accountant?

A forensic accountant is an accountant who investigates rather than provides accountancy services. He or she is effectively looking into the accounting activities carried out by others and reporting on anything that might be wrong or inappropriate.

Forensic accountancy is used to assist the law enforcement authorities to understand and deal with fraud and it is also used to help parties to any dispute involving arguments over amounts of money, profits or valuations to come to agreement either by negotiations or through the courts.

By far the biggest area that a forensic accountant will deal with is fraud. They will either work for the victims of fraud, for the fraud regulators or solicitors and lawyers dealing with fraud cases.

A forensic accountant operates in a very specialised area of accountancy and is often considered to be an "expert" in the field of accountancy. As such they are allowed to attend court to give evidence that is of an opinion nature, whereas all other witnesses in court must speak to facts that they believe to be true.

How can You Become a Forensic Accountant?

To become a forensic accountant you must first become an ordinary aaccountant. Unfortunately the glamorous job of a fraud accountant starts with the boring necessity to be a good ordinary accountant!

However, accountancy is a good career and not quite as boring as the jokes would make out. If truth be told, all jobs are boring if you are at a junior level and don't really understand what you are doing. Once you are experienced, as an accountant as well as any other career, the job becomes more interesting - and in the case of forensic accountancy it can be quite exciting also.

An old saying by the Chinese philosaopher Confucious goes as follows:

"Choose a job that you enjoy and you will never need to work a day"

Accountancy training can commence with an academic qualification such as a University degree or it can begin with professional qualifications and on the job training. Whichever route you take will involve moving on to both professional and on the job training so if you have a subject that you would like to study and would enjoy at university or college, such as engineering or zoology, you will not be at a disadvantage if you pursue this prior to commencing your accountancy training. In fact this would help you with your experience and potentially give you a broader understanding of a number of business and other areas that you will encounter in your working career.

Getting your professional training is made easier if you join a firm - this can either be within the accountancy service practice or it can be within a large industrial or commercial company. However, if you are intending to pursue a career in forensic accountancy you would be best to choose a practicing firm.

You will not be guaranteed forensic accountancy training from the start when you join an accountancy firm. Most forensic accountancy teams expect some accountancy experience before you start but you do not have to wait until you are fully qualified. Forensic accountancy work can form part of your professional training towards your professional qualifications.

What Can You Expect From a Forensic Accountancy Career?

A successful forensic accountant is a highly regarded professional leading teams of investigators often around the world pursuing multi billion frauds. A successful forensic accountant is also a business leader, a partner in a firm or a sole consultant that is sought after.

Salaries of senior accountants can even match those of lawyers! A good forensic accountant will easily reach $100,000 per year within a few years and the sky is almost the limit. You can work in your own neighborhood or you can travel internationally - it is your choice and will depend on how hard you work.

Conclusions

Forensic accountancy is suitable for those people with a precise and inquiring mind who are not too bad with numbers. It is a particularly good choice for the accountant who feels that his career is a little too mundane as it is, preparing accounts and tax returns day in and day out.

Forensic accountants tend not to have repeat clients, and therefore every job is different. It is unusual for the same fraudster to require another investigation on a similar business he has set up - and on the few occasions this happens it is unlikely that the same forensic accountant is chosen to do the work again.

Much of the work is delving into accounting records, but some involves attending court or pursuing people and information leads. It can be quite exciting at times and certainly sounds better at dinner parties when you say that you investigate fraud rather than prepare tax bills!

Many forensic accountants are asked to travel during the course of their investigations. If you end up working for one of the big accountancy firms this is very likely to be the case. Much of the work is carried out in the financial centers around the world, and many of the big investigations will span several countries.

Even a small town forensic accountant is not really such - based in a regional location he or she will still have to take work from the financial centers. They might well find them traveling between these centers, if less likely to travel abroad.

Many accountants dabble in forensic accountancy, seeing it as a lucrative sideline. However, it is the full time practitioners that will deliver the quality of service on a regular basis. The full timer will also tend to specialize further, ensuring very high levels of expertise in different areas such as:

  • Fraud
  • Civil disputes
  • Matrimonial disputes
  • Personal injury claims
  • Royalty disputes
  • Profit claims

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