Accounting professionals with strong critical thinking skills, impeccable ethics, and a penchant for today’s crime scene dramas, may enjoy specializing in forensic accounting. This popular specialty area is the field of accounting that deals with uncovering and documenting accounting abnormalities in such a way that those findings can be used in a court of law. While most forensic accountants work mainly on low profile auditing cases, many are aware of the high profile cases of exorbitant white collar crimes documented by forensic accountants in recent years. But is this field for you? Consider the following industry-related facts and see for yourself.
Governmental job outlook indicators reveal that certified accounting professionals proficient in their areas of specialty will remain in higher demand than usual over the next decade. In order to boost consumer confidence, businesses are using accountants to document and verify that corporate accounting practices are solid, and are also investing in audits that will show areas where spending could be trimmed. Having certification in a specialty area like forensic accounting can boost professional versatility and earning potentials. For accounting professionals who earn a certified forensic accountant (Cr.FA®) credential, starting salary and job security is typically increased.
Most forensic accountants work traditionally set hours. If a high profile case is underway, or if there is a deadline to meet relative to the investigative work, then the accountant may work much longer hours until the task at hand is complete. While no less important, most forensic accounting is not as glamorous as what T.V. viewers experience in the crime dramas. Forensic accountants often work closely with other professionals in an organization, such as IT professionals, to generate appropriate data reports and to streamline IT related accounting practices. The highest paid accountants are those with the most experience and who are fully certified, since law requires that in order to file a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the accountant must be certified. For this reason most accountants working for companies with public holdings do seek to acquire their CPA from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy for long-term career advancement.
Most states require CPA’s to have completed a college program from a regionally accredited institution of higher learning. Only a handful of states still allow work experience alone to substitute for the degree requirement. Generally CPA candidates must have successfully mastered at least 150 hours of college coursework, which is a more rigorous program than the accepted 120 hours of most bachelor programs. Some colleges offer a combined five year degree leading to a master’s degree, but this is not required.
In addition to coursework, CPA’s must pass a nationwide standardized test. This test, typically referred to as the CPA Exam, is given in a series of four sections. Over half the graduates will need to take the test more than once in order to pass all parts of it and there are many review courses to help students hone the skills necessary for passing the exam. Most jurisdictions require that CPA’s pass all parts of the exam within 18 months of first passing the first section of the test. In addition to gaining certification, work experience through internships or other rigorous means is highly valued.
Just as in many highly-respected fields, continuing education credits are a requirement to maintain a CPA license. Professional associations often sponsor seminars, events, courses, and other opportunities for CPA’s to network while completing required material and earning continuing education credits. Many online opportunities also exist to fulfill this professional need.
As technology continues to automate accounting practices, CPA’s with a comprehensive knowledge of how the technology conceptually and practically interfaces with accounting practices continue to retain the competitive edge in a competitive job market. Depending on the area of specialty, like forensic accounting for instance, additional certifications are available to enhance credentials and demonstrate to potential employers that you are willing to take the steps necessary to fully prepare yourself for career success.
Students interested in accounting, or accounting professionals seeking to improve job opportunity and aptitude, should consider specializing in an area such as forensic accounting. Although all fields of accounting are rigorously credentialed, graduates of regionally accredited degree and certificate programs could be rewarded with higher-than-average starting salaries, a variety of available working environments, and projected job prospects that indicate a growing need for competent professionals. In tough economic times, a specialized associate’s in accounting just may be what you need to jump start your current career or transition into a field with a growing demand.