The Continuing Importance of Forensic Accounting

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Today, fraud is more sophisticated — and devastating — than ever. In recent years, the complicated nature of modern fraud has driven the growth of forensic accounting, a niche field that is often referred to as the CSI of accounting. Often trained in both accounting and criminal investigation, forensic accountants play a huge role in criminal justice and civil litigation.

The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) anticipates significant growth in the field of forensic accounting. In a recent AICPA survey, current forensic accountants claimed to have witnessed an impressive 20 percent increase in demand in recent years. Changes in regulatory enforcement are expected to spur even more positions for CPAs with forensics expertise. The future is clearly bright for forensic accounting — but why? Detailed below are a few of the many developments spurring the growth of the forensic accounting industry, along with the roles forensic accountants will be expected to take on in criminal and civil investigations:

Complex Litigation

Many of today’s financial disputes require specialized attention that even knowledgeable attorneys are unable to provide. Forensic accountants can lend a hand by deciphering complicated financial issues and relaying them in a way that both attorneys and their clients can understand. Forensic accountants may also play an investigative role in civil cases, working with attorneys to find unreported income or assets.

Government Investigations

Forensic accountants’ investigative abilities can be put to good use, not only in standard civil disputes, but also in larger government investigations. For example, in major criminal investigations, forensic accountants can play a chief role in tracing complex money trails. Although non-agent consultants may be relied on at the regional and state level, the hundreds of forensic accountants employed by the FBI typically handle sensitive matters. Accounting currently qualifies as one of five main FBI Special Agent Entry Programs. Other major government employers include the IRS and the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

Prevention and Risk Management

Corporate entities and government agencies are increasingly turning to forensic accounting experts for assistance with preventive measures, designed to keep fraud and the associated expense of the investigation (and litigation) process to a minimum. Forensic accountants may be asked to conduct thorough internal audits, through which potential pitfalls are uncovered. After identifying problem areas, forensic accountants can help corporate and nonprofit clients take the necessary next steps to minimize the potential for fraud. In the corporate environment, forensic accountants can also monitor for compliance with emerging regulations.

Forensic accounting is an exciting and rewarding field that allows professionals to use their accounting knowledge and investigative skills to catch criminals, settle lawsuits, and reduce the risk of large-scale fraud. Success in forensic accounting often requires a wealth of knowledge beyond that deemed necessary for traditional, entry-level accounting roles. A master’s degree in accounting is an important start for anyone interested in this field.

To learn more about career opportunities and options for those with advanced degrees in accounting, visit Maryville University’s online program.