Forensic Accounting: Salary and Job Outlook

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A forensic accountant uses a calculator and laptop to review a financial report.

A master’s degree in accounting can open up a number of career paths. From management and leadership positions in general accounting practice to highly specialized roles, the opportunities are far-reaching. A prime example is the field of forensic accounting. This unique career combines financial and legal expertise to produce a type of accounting that can go beyond raw numbers.

The specialized coursework in a Master of Accountancy (MAcc) degree program can help individuals gain the unique skills to perform forensic accounting and position them to advance their careers in that segment. But first, it’s important to understand forensic accounting job description and consider the average forensic accounting salary.

Forensic Accounting Job Description

Forensic accounting opportunities exist in many sectors, but the actual work is similar regardless of setting. A forensic accountant analyzes financial data and other information regarding an investigation, engages in interviews and similar practices to gather more information about cases, and reports on their discoveries. The level of analysis conducted by a forensic accountant produces findings that are suitable for use in various legal scenarios.

The goal of forensic accounting is to dig into an organization’s operations to uncover any financial crimes that may have taken place. Forensic accountants accomplish this by applying analytical practices such as asset identification, asset recovery, due diligence reviews and tracing of funds. Today, the data analytics techniques involved with accounting and financial investigations incorporate the latest digital technology. By using advanced algorithms to sort through large quantities of unstructured data, forensic accountants can more quickly and accurately produce in-depth results.

This data distinguishes between what is perceived and what is reality from an accounting standpoint. Finding discrepancies between perception and reality can lead to the discovery of serious financial crimes, such as security and tax fraud and embezzlement. It can also uncover issues that point to a company’s financial weakness, such as poor business valuation, insolvency and various economic damages. These discrepancies could range from altered documents to misappropriated funds.

Typical duties of a forensic accountant include the following:

  • Discussing potential concerns with prospective clients to gain a better understanding of the situation.
  • Analyzing financial records to identify information that seems suspicious and investigating that data in more detail. For example, through a close examination of organizational charts and meticulous analysis of the company’s books, a forensic accountant might find that a former CFO had embezzled money.
  • Interviewing stakeholders and gathering further information on cases. Using our previous example, this might involve tracking down the former CFO to ask questions and gaining access to their financial records.
  • Identifying specific evidence of fraud, reporting the incident in a formal criminal complaint and testifying in front of a jury to present evidence.

Successful forensic accounting requires strong accounting knowledge, but it also requires an understanding of the psychology behind financial criminal behavior as well as general business practices.

A MAcc degree can help build these skills through courses that provide in-depth coverage of such issues as:

  • Ethical accounting practices
  • Accounting requirements in government and not-for-profit settings
  • Specialized regulations for corporate and international accounting
  • Auditing and business analysis
  • Advanced data analytics, including data transformation and the use of SQL servers

Courses covering these topics are key components of a MAcc program and can lay the groundwork for the specialized and highly varied tasks that define forensic accounting. This kind of skill development is essential, since forensic accounting practices can be applied to a wide range of uses.

Job Opportunities and Salaries in Forensic Accounting

In a broad sense, the accounting industry features fairly strong job prospects. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2020 median annual salary for accountants and auditors was $73,560. The BLS projects 7% job growth in the field between 2020 and 2030, or about the same as job growth projected for the labor market as a whole (8%), as the need for skilled auditors and accountants is expected to remain consistent due to the nature of accounting and its role in taxes and legal compliance.

According to the compensation website PayScale, the median annual salary for forensic accounting jobs as of February 2022 was approximately $71,000, with the top 10% making about $113,000. PayScale also highlights the diversity of work environments in the sector, with respondents from various types of organizations reporting their salary levels. These organizations include:

  • Government agencies, such as the FBI and NSA
  • Major consulting firms, such as KPMG and PwC
  • Smaller private-sector businesses and state government agencies

Factors such as industry, location and experience level can determine an individual’s salary. Whatever the environment, the specialized skills required for forensic accounting jobs point to careers that are exciting and offer work that is anything but typical.

Forensic Accounting Skills

Forensic accountants work in diverse fields, with responsibilities that include everything from performing an accounting audit to providing litigation support. These professionals can function in government, corporate, consulting, nonprofit and law enforcement settings.

Forensic accountants often perform fraud investigations — seeking falsification in reporting — in tax, securities and similar areas. Other key tasks can include identifying evidence of money laundering, analyzing business economic losses and bankruptcy cases, or identifying assets that have been hidden or misappropriated. The work of forensic accounts has been instrumental in solving a number of notorious financial crimes, such as the Enron scandal and the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal.

Forensic accountants may also be involved in litigation that seeks to quantify damages caused by legal disputes. Their work can help resolve compensation disagreements between employer and employee for example, or locate hidden assets during a divorce. In some cases, forensic accountants may also apply their knowledge and skills to counterintelligence measures, such as investigating the funding behind instances of terrorism.

Whatever the work environment or investigation type, forensic accountants must have a well-developed skill set to succeed in the role. Strong analytical, communication, technical and presentation skills are key, along with a deep knowledge of issues that may trigger an investigation, such as asset misappropriation, money laundering, embezzlement or bank fraud.

Forensic accounting is a varied profession that offers many engaging applications. For those seeking to explore an exciting branch of the accounting sector, it could be a great fit.

Take the Next Step Toward a Future in Forensic Accounting

In many cases, individuals who pursue forensic accounting spend a few years in a general public accounting role and receive training, sometimes in-house, in forensic accounting. Those who are specifically interested in the field can build their expertise by earning a MAcc degree and attaining some of the specialized knowledge to pursue forensic accounting jobs.

The online Master of Accountancy program at University of Nevada, Reno, provides a flexible, accessible way to attain this advanced degree. The fully online program empowers you to fit your academic work into your professional schedule, creating an opportunity to develop specialty skills without having to put your day-to-day job on hold.

Contact us today to learn more about how our online MAcc program can help you advance your career.

Recommended Reading:

Accounting Trends to Look For in 2022

How to Prepare for the CPA Exam

7 Worst Accounting Scandals in U.S. History

Sources:

Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, Forensic Accountant

Business Insider, “Bernie Madoff Died in Prison After Carrying Out the Largest Ponzi Scheme in History – Here’s How it Worked”

The CPA Journal, “The Past, Present, and Future of Forensic Accounting”

The CPA Journal, “A Successful Career Transition to Forensic Accounting”

Forensic CPA Society, What is a Forensic Accountant?

HG.org, Role of Forensic Accountants in Divorce Cases

Investopedia, “Enron Scandal: The Fall of a Wall Street Darling”

Investopedia, “Forensic Accounting”

The Nest, “The Role of Forensic Accounting in Terrorism”

PayScale, Average Forensic Accountant Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accountants and Auditors