How to Become Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF)

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Certified public accountants (CPAs) who want to investigate financial crime and discover fraud can become certified in financial forensics (CFF). The American Institute for Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) offers this certification for CPAs who pass the CFF exam and possess adequate education and professional experience. These accountants need expertise in areas such as bankruptcy, computer forensics, and fraud detection.

Although candidates undergo a lengthy process to earn the CFF credential, they can receive career benefits for doing so. Employers and clients trust that CFF-certified professionals provide high-quality service, so many CFF accountants earn higher pay than they made prior to certification, even if they worked in forensic accounting before.

Why Become Certified in Financial Forensics?

CFF-certified accountants benefit from higher salaries and more opportunities for career growth than accountants without the certification. Certifications also demonstrate a commitment to personal and professional growth to clients and employers. Furthermore, CFF credentials allow accountants to join a community of specialized professionals, expanding their professional network and opportunities.

  • Increased Pay: Because employers see accountants with CFF credentials as experts, many organizations pay these professionals much more than their uncertified peers. PayScale reports that the average forensic accountant earns $65,537 per year, while CFF-certified accountants earn an average of $104,000 annually.
  • Career Mobility: CFF-certified professionals qualify for more positions and responsibility than their peers without the credential, enjoying strong upward mobility in their careers. Some of these experts work in the highest levels of management as chief financial officers and accounting firm partners, while others work for themselves as independent consultants.
  • Join a Community: The AICPA offers exclusive memberships for CFF-certified accountants. Members enjoy access to cutting-edge research, guidance for consultants, management toolkits, an exclusive LinkedIn group, discounts on conferences, and online continuing education materials.
  • Lifelong Learning: When accountants pursue a CFF credential, they commit to advancing their education and professional growth. Even seasoned professionals can learn new techniques, theories, and skills to improve their services. A dedication to lifelong learning helps professionals stay on top of their field.
  • Personal Fulfillment: CFF-certified professionals invest time, energy, and money into obtaining their certification, qualifying them for specialized and senior roles that bring personal fulfillment and enrichment.

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Understanding the Certified Financial Forensics Exam

The CFF exam is a critical component of obtaining the credential, so candidates should research what to expect. The following section covers important information about the exam, including where to take it and when it is administered.

Frequently Asked Questions for the Certified Financial Forensics Exam

  • What does someone with a CFF do? CFF-certified accountants use financial documents to uncover evidence of financial crimes like fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering. They may work for law enforcement agencies, company accounting departments, law firms, or third-party accounting firms. Some CFF-certified professionals work as the top financial executives within organizations.
  • When is the CFF administered? In 2018, the AICPA made the CFF exam available year-round. Applicants can take the test during any testing hours provided by approved facilities or on their own time through online proctored services.
  • Where can I take the CFF exam? CFF candidates can take the exam at any of the 300 Kryterion test centers in the United States or Canada, or they can take the exam in their own homes. Applicants earn the same certification regardless of the center they choose.
  • How is the CFF exam taken? The CFF exam is a computer-based test with multiple-choice questions. Candidates must answer 175 questions within four hours. Some questions stand alone, while others use accompanying case studies.
  • How often can I take the CFF exam? The AICPA does not limit the number of times candidates can attempt the exam. Applicants pay significantly lower registration rates for reexamination.

Fulfilling the CFF Credential Requirements

Candidates must meet certain experience and education requirements to qualify for the CFF credential. The following sections provide information on these requirements.

Educational Requirements

Candidates must hold a CPA license to qualify for the CFF credential, which requires at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Candidates also need at least 75 continuing professional development (CPD) hours in forensic accounting in the five years leading up to their application.

Candidates can earn CPD hours through structured and unstructured learning opportunities. Professionals can take forensic accounting courses through state-approved agencies like the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) or accredited education providers.

Professional Requirements

Applicants need at least 1,000 hours of professional experience in forensic accounting or a related area to qualify for the credential. Candidates can count experience toward this requirement if they practiced in areas such as bankruptcy; fraud prevention, detection, and response; family law; litigation support; or valuations.

Candidates who work in academia can fulfill the experience requirement by teaching at least four classes related to forensic accounting at accredited schools. These courses should cover at least half of the CFF body of knowledge.

Exam Composition and Timing

Students can take the CFF exam on their own computers through remote proctoring services or at one of 300 approved testing locations. The test consists of two parts, and candidates receive two hours for each section. Candidates get pass or fail results rather than numeric scores.

Both sections include multiple-choice questions, some of which follow case studies or sets of data. The first part covers core forensic knowledge, while the second part covers specialized areas of the practice. The chart below details the test’s two sections.

Exam ModuleMajor Topics
I: Core Forensic KnowledgeAICPA & CPA Professional Roles and Responsibilities in Civil and Criminal Matters Laws Courts and Dispute Resolution Engagement Planning and Preparation Information Gathering, Preservation, and Analysis Expert Reports & Testimony
II: Specialized Forensic KnowledgeBankruptcy, Insolvency, and Reorganization Digital Forensics Damages Calculations Family Law Fraud Prevention, Detection, and Response Financial Statement Misrepresentations Valuations in Litigations

Registration and Fees for the CFF Exam

Before taking the exam, candidates must register online and pay fees. The following sections outline exam registration and fee information.

Registering for the CFF Exam

  • How to Register – Candidates register for the CFF exam on the AICPA website. Within two weeks, the AICPA sends notifications to schedule exams. Candidates get one year after the notice of schedule to take the exam.
  • What is Needed for Registration – AICPA members need their login credentials to receive registration discounts. All candidates need email addresses and credit or debit cards to register.
  • When to Register – Although many candidates wait until they meet the work and education requirements to register for the exam, it is not necessary. Candidates can register anytime within one year of their desired testing dates.

Paying for the CFF Exam

When candidates first take the exam, they pay $275 per section, or $220 per section for AICPA members. Professionals who retake the exam pay $60 per section regardless of membership status.

Scoring the Certified Financial Forensics Exam

Most postsecondary exams use unique scoring systems, which can affect the way testers treat each question. CFF hopefuls should learn about the test’s scoring before registering.

  • What Score Do You Need to Pass the CFF Exam? The AICPA does not issue numerical scores. Instead, candidates receive pass or fail results. The organization does not post information on the number of questions testers must answer correctly.
  • How Does CFF Exam Scoring Work? The organization’s psychometricians review each exam and ensure that scores remain statistically valid. In addition to reviewing answers, these professionals evaluate the fairness of each question.
  • Who Scores the CFF Exam? Psychometricians evaluate each exam. These specialized professionals understand the psychology and data behind testing metrics, excluding questions that the data shows are unfair.
  • When Are CFF Exam Scores Released? To ensure fairness and accurate scoring, it can take up to two months for candidates to receive their results.

After the Exam: Maintaining Your CFF Certification

To remain certified, professionals must maintain AICPA membership and CPA certification, earn 20 CPD hours, and submit renewal applications each year. The AICPA randomly selects professionals and audits their CPD requirements.

Preparing for the CFF Exam

The CFF exam is challenging for many candidates. The following tips and resources can make it easier to earn a passing score.

Top 10 Tips for Exam Preparation

  1. Wait Until You Have Experience: Although candidates can take the test before achieving CFF work and education qualifications, earning these qualifications better prepares candidates for the exam.
  2. Review the Content Specification Outline (CSO): The AICPA uses exam questions that cover all topics in the CSO, so candidates should use the CSO to guide their study plans.
  3. Take Practice Exams: Practice exams help applicants understand the types of questions they can expect on the test while showing them which areas they need to work on before sitting for the exam.
  4. Complete Review Courses: Applicants benefit from taking review courses through the AICPA to brush up on the exam’s material and increase their chances of passing.
  5. Do Not Rely Solely on Review: While candidates should use reviews in their studies, the AICPA does not recommend relying on these courses alone. Applicants should take advantage of other resources too, such as books, practice exams, and self-study.
  6. Pick the Right Testing Mode: Although the online test with remote proctoring is the most convenient option, it may not be the best option for all candidates. Applicants who encounter distractions at home may fare better in testing centers.
  7. Break Between Sections: Although candidates must complete each section in two hours, they can take breaks between sections. Applicants should plan to give their minds time to recuperate between sections.
  8. Join Study Groups: Studying with other candidates offers networking and advanced learning opportunities. The AICPA offers online and in-person study groups for CFF candidates.
  9. Gain Other Certifications on the Way: The AICPA offers two certifications that candidates can earn on the way to earning the CFF credential: the core forensic accounting credential and the specialized forensic accounting credential.
  10. Rest Before the Test: The evening before the test, candidates should avoid the temptation to stay up late studying. Candidates should sleep so that their minds are fresh and clear for the exam.

CFF Practice Exams and Study Resources

Practice exams and study resources provide excellent preparation for the CFF exam. Below are some of the best resources that candidates can use to study.

  • CFF Exam Review Course 2019: This in-person conference immerses candidates in the CFF industry and prepares them for the exam. Attendees receive printouts of presentations, comprehensive workbooks for studying, and practice exams.
  • AICPA CFF Exam Review Course: This online self-study course allows learners to study at their own pace. The course covers the entire body of knowledge tested in the exam. AICPA members save 20% on the course.
  • Fundamentals of Forensic Accounting Certificate Program: Newcomers to the forensic accounting field can start preparing for the exam with this certificate program. The program covers forensic accounting concepts and counts toward the work experience requirement.
  • CFF Exam Content Specification Outline: This document outlines all of the concepts that candidates may see on the test. Applicants can use it to ensure they adequately study each area.
  • Specialized Forensic Accounting Certificate: This certificate and corresponding study program help candidates prepare for the second section of the exam. It also counts toward the work experience hours necessary for CFF certification.

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