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An accounting degree can lead to many different rewarding careers in the business world. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants and auditors make up nearly 1.5 million professionals of the workforce, and those professionals earn a mean annual wage that equates to nearly double the national average.
Accounting graduates enjoy a diverse selection of careers and industries, and they can influence their career path by choosing a concentration. This guide information explores forensic accounting, a discipline that uses investigative techniques to uncover financial crimes and damages. Continue reading for details on the forensic accounting degree, career potential, and other helpful resources.
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What Is a Forensic Accounting Concentration?
The forensic accounting concentration combines accounting skills with investigative techniques.
Professionals in the field bring attention to, solve, prevent, and limit the damage caused by financial crimes. Professionals learn to identify signs of malicious activity and help organizations resist it.
Compared to general accounting, this discipline focuses more on criminal acts and behaviors within finances. While auditors may investigate financial errors and identify problem areas, forensic accountants often engage with law enforcement and the legal system. Students typically learn the same fundamental skills in their early years of education before branching off into career-focused training during their later years.
Forensic accountants work in many of the same industries as other accountants. They find employment in forensic divisions of public accounting firms, financial institutions, and government agencies. These professionals also work for lawyers, risk consultants, and law enforcement agencies.
Students can pursue this specialization at many levels. Many bachelor's and master's programs offer concentrations, but some learners simply choose electives to complement their desired career path.
At the bachelor's level, forensic accounting programs differ from other programs in the discipline by focusing on fraud detection, business law, and the legal aspects of accounting. All graduates with accounting bachelor's degrees can access similar career fields, but forensic accounting graduates may have an advantage in finding work within the government, law enforcement agencies, and law firms.
Forensic accounting concentrations appear under several different names, such as fraud examination. Schools may offer the following degrees in the field:
- Bachelor of arts in accounting - forensic accounting
- Bachelor of science in accounting - fraud examination
- Bachelor of business administration in forensic accounting
Compared to bachelor's degrees, master's-level forensic accounting programs differ much more from other accounting disciplines. Most of the courses in these programs emphasize the forensic aspects of accounting training, such as financial statement fraud and advanced accounting systems auditing.
Forensic accounting master's graduates can typically access more advanced and specialized positions in the field. Some of the possible degrees available in this discipline include:
- Master of science in forensic accounting
- Master of arts in accounting - fraud examination
- Master of accountancy - forensic accounting
- Master of forensic accounting
Why Get a Forensic Accounting Concentration?
Earning a forensic accounting degree can lead to many different positive outcomes. Some graduates may find their employment more meaningful, financially rewarding, or promising for advancement. The following list details some of the major benefits that many professionals experience in this field.
- Career Options: Specialized forensic accounting training opens the door to many different careers. In addition to traditional accounting jobs, graduates can pursue accounting positions with an investigative and litigious slant.
- Certifications: Along with the numerous certifications available to accounting professionals, such as the certified public accountant (CPA) certification, forensic accounting students may pursue a certified fraud examiner (CFE) certification.
- Career Development: Forensic accountants can access desirable positions within the industry through certifications, continued learning, and advanced degrees.
- Earning Potential: Advanced forensic accounting skills may qualify professionals for higher-paying positions within the industry. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), professionals with CFE certification earn 30% more than those without the credential.
- Professional Demand: As the professional world becomes more aware of and protective against criminal activity, the demand for professionals trained in this field will continue to grow.
When Is a Forensic Accounting Concentration Better Than a General Accounting Degree?
Completing a forensic accounting concentration provides several advantages over a traditional accounting degree. Concentrations can open the door to specialized credentials like a CFE, which can result in significant wage increases. The concentration can also grant easier entry into investigative accounting careers. Students should note that the training emphasizes forensic accounting, but it does not limit graduates to only this field.
When Might a General Accounting Degree Be Better Than a Forensic Accounting Concentration?
A forensic accounting degree offers great benefits, but certain students may prefer a general accounting degree. Learners who have not yet decided on a career path may not want to focus in one specific area. An individual who has set their sights on a particular accounting discipline but cannot find a degree specialization in the field may also prefer a general accounting degree.
What About Other Concentrations?
With so many different concentrations available to accounting students, choosing just one can present a significant challenge. Read through the information in the following links for help with this decision.
Explore Specific Accounting Concentrations
Courses To Expect with a Forensic Accounting Concentration
Each program features a unique curriculum with different offerings within the forensic accounting concentration. In general, most programs feature courses in core accounting training, electives, and concentration classes. Additionally, students can focus their capstone projects, theses, and internships in areas of their choosing.
At the bachelor's level, core training delivers the fundamentals of accounting, whereas only concentration courses delve into forensic accounting. Master's programs, however, typically deliver a more unified approach to forensic accounting. While students typically encounter courses like cost accounting, auditing principles, and taxation in all types of accounting programs, the following classes appear more often in forensic accounting concentrations.
Detection and Prevention of Fraudulent Activity
Enrollees learn to use common tools and technologies for fraud detection and explore methods for helping organizations prevent potential criminal activities. These courses may appear at different degree levels.
Advanced Business Law
This course provides students with an understanding of the laws that govern business and how law enforcement agencies handle violations and criminal activity in this area. Learners examine methods for identifying legal issues in businesses, as well as how their skills may apply to the investigation and litigation of business-related crimes.
Digital forensics courses teach learners how to use different technical tools and methodologies to identify and investigate suspicious and criminal activity on the internet, computers, networks, and cell phones. Various versions of this course may occur at the bachelor's or master's level.
Financial Statement Fraud
Students in this course explore some of the common methods and strategies used in financial statement fraud. They test out various applications and strategies used to detect and thwart these criminal activities. The courses also observe how the legal system can use forensic accountants and their findings.
In this course, learners discuss the many types of financial fraud, along with the tools, strategies, and technologies used within the field. Students discuss emerging trends in fraud examination and discuss ways to improve the profession.
Careers for Forensic Accounting Degree Graduates
Forensic accounting concentrations can lead to many different accounting careers. Positions that focus on fraud detection, compliance, or financial security may prefer candidates with forensic accounting training.
According to BLS occupational data, the median annual wage for accountants reached over $70,000 in 2019. The top 10% of earners, usually those with experience and specialized training and credentials, earn more than $124,000 per year. ACFE employment data indicates that CFE-certified forensic accountants in the 75th percentile earn about $147,000 per year.
While a forensic accounting specialization at any level can improve employment prospects, some employers may require additional training, experience, degrees, or credentials. Candidates should contact companies and organizations to identify their specific employment requirements. Continue reading for more detailed information on some of the possible career options for forensic accounting graduates.
Forensic accountants identify and protect against financial crimes. They investigate and analyze suspicious and criminal activity, working with various organizations within the legal system to bring perpetrators to justice. These professionals may also take part in investigations or litigations.
Annual Median Salary: $68,530
Learn More About Forensic Accounting
These professionals work within government organizations to ensure that outside individuals and companies adhere to rules and regulations as set out by the government. These workers may find employment within federal or state governments, along with law enforcement agencies.
Annual Median Salary: $70,180
Learn More About Government Accounting
Compliance officers work to ensure that their employer follows all laws and regulations. They may conduct regular checks and audits on their organization to detect any incorrect, suspicious, or criminal activity. These professionals typically find work in regulated industries.
Annual Mean Salary: $72,520
Internal auditors ensure that all documents and procedures follow the laws and regulations of their respective states and industries. They may perform audits regularly or in response to suspicious or criminal activity. Auditors with forensic accounting training may qualify for more law-focused positions.
Annual Median Salary: $58,840
Tax consultants work for individuals or organizations to provide advice for filing taxes properly and legally. Professionals with forensic accounting training and certifications may qualify for consulting positions within the government and law enforcement agencies to identify tax-related criminal activities.
Annual Median Salary: $60,390
Selecting an Accounting Program with a Forensic Accounting Concentration
When choosing an accounting program, several factors may affect studentsâ€™ decision. First, each learner should seek an accredited program in the location and delivery format that best suits them. Students can typically only receive federal financial aid and transferable credits at regionally accredited schools.
Programmatic accreditation can improve employment opportunities. Accounting program accreditation may come from the Association for Advancing Collegiate Schools of Business, the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs, and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education. These organizations certify that a particular department or program prepares learners for a future career in business.
Online learning can expand the range of available programs for students by allowing them to attend schools outside of their immediate vicinity without moving. However, online programs may still feature some on-campus requirements.
Aspiring forensic accountants should consider other program-specific factors, including coursework, program length, admission requirements, and faculty experience. School-specific conditions, such as tuition cost, alumni network, and available student and career resources should also play a part in the decision.
Students should identify their most important factors, then prioritize them and rank their potential programs. Learners can access the Database for Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs for up-to-date information on accreditation.
Common Questions About Forensic Accounting
How do you become a forensic accountant?
Candidates can become forensic accountants in many ways, but earning a bachelorâ€™s degree in accounting with a forensic accountant concentration is one of the most direct routes. Some employers may require a masterâ€™s degree or additional certification.
What do forensic accountants do?
Forensic accountants investigate and prosecute financial crimes for organizations. They search for evidence and suspicious activity and work with and within the legal system to provide a resolution.
What can I do with a master's in forensic accounting?
A masterâ€™s degree in forensic accounting typically qualifies graduates for more advanced positions and wages. Graduates may access more specialized forensic accounting positions within law firms or law enforcement agencies and may qualify to pursue industry certifications.
What skills do you need to be a forensic accountant?
Forensic accountants typically require accounting software and technology skills, financial documentation abilities, and mathematics skills. They also need skills in critical thinking, communication, and decision-making.
What qualifications do you need to be a forensic accountant?
Forensic accountants typically need a bachelorâ€™s degree at minimum, but many employers require candidates to possess a masterâ€™s degree, significant professional experience, and/or industry certifications.
How long does forensic accounting take?
The length of professional pathways to forensic accounting careers vary, but most people take a minimum of four years for their bachelorâ€™s degree. Earning a masterâ€™s degree adds two or more years, and certifications may require 2-5 years of experience.
Can you get a forensic accounting degree online?
Many forensic accounting programs now offer online options for distance learners and working professionals. When looking for online programs, students should research if the school requires any on-campus elements.
Professional Organizations and Resources
Professional organizations provide many benefits for members and visitors at all levels, including students, new graduates, and experienced professionals. These groups offer access to industry news and publications, educational and career development resources, and networking events. The list below highlights just a few of the many organizations available to forensic accountants.
- Association of Certified Fraud Examiners
As the largest anti-fraud organization in the world, the ACFE provides training, certifications, and industry resources to members and visitors. Members can also access the career center, webinars, and networking events.
- Institute of Certified Forensic Accountants
Committed to promoting and advancing the profession of forensic accounting, this organization provides a set of ethical standards for professionals to follow. Members can access educational resources, certification assistance, and industry publications.
- National Association of Forensic Accountants
Founded in 1991, NAFA promotes the profession of forensic accounting and helps meet the growing demand for forensic accountants. The association provides CPAs with training and certification opportunities. Additionally, members receive access to industry publications, newsletters, and membership discounts.
- American Board of Forensic Accounting
Established in 1993, the ABFA seeks to promote the profession through training, evaluation, and certification. The association publishes a set of principles and practices and helps improve the abilities of its members to satisfy the needs of the industry.
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