Forensic Accounting Is Hot Job

Risk consulting firm Kroll Worldwide, for example, now has more than 300 professionals specializing in forensic accounting compared to around two dozen in 1998. Larger firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers are also reporting an increased interest in these services from clients. Indeed, U.S. News & World Report recently named forensic accountant as one of the most secure career tracks over the next few years.

"There's more prevention at this point, which is something I haven't seen in the past," says Tedd Avey, president of Kroll's forensic, investigations, business intelligence consulting group, who has been working in forensic accounting since 1975. "We've had many clients do total business controls including security and fraud prevention in their business. A few years ago, many companies just wouldn't pay attention to that."

Push for Professional Degrees

Most professionals who have been working in the field for a number of years are certified public accountants who have learned forensic techniques simply through working on cases.

But in more recent years, some professional organizations dedicated to forensic accounting have sprung up and are offering certification in the field.

The Austin, Texas-based Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, or ACFE, was started in 1988 and offers a certified fraud examiner designation. The American Board of Forensic Accountants, founded more recently, in 1997, also offers its own certified forensic accountant credential.

In addition, the ACFE is working to add fraud examination classes to the curriculum of university and college-level accounting programs.

Still, only a handful of schools in the United States offer forensic accounting classes as part of their programs, says ACFE's special projects coordinator, Helen Clem.

"It has increasingly become recognized that forensic accountants have an arsenal of skill sets that are different from those of a regular financial statement auditor," says Harvey Kelly, the partner who heads up PricewaterhouseCoopers' corporate investigations practice.

"It's a totally different type of work that we do," adds Alan Zysman, a forensic accountant with investigative and forensic accounting firm BDO Hayes Smith in Toronto. "When you're doing auditing work, you're working within the guidelines of the institution and following accepted procedures. … In forensic work, a lot of it is much less defined in terms of what you do and how you do it."

Basic Training

For its part, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has proposed expanded fraud guidance for auditors to follow so they can improve their ability to detect fraudulent practices like putting fictitious entries in financial statements or misstating revenue.

"The bottom line is, any firm that does audits of financial statements could quickly do what's needed to do the forensic accounting work," says Al Anderson, the institute's senior vice president of member and public interest. "Forensic accounting to some extent is a bit easier because they've identified a problem."

Many forensic accountants agree that it's probably just a matter of time before their methods are used in all auditing practices.

"I think that we're going to be forced to put all of these forensic techniques into audit programs," agrees Crumbley. "It's going to be second nature."

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