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Your guide to starting out in Forensic Accounting

How to become a forensic accountant

What is a Forensic Accountant?

Forensic Accountants provide investigative support to clients such as businesses, lawyers, barristers and regulatory bodies. The work is varied, and can include assisting in cases of dispute resolution and litigation, valuation of businesses as part of a dispute, financial and regulatory investigations which may include assessing the conduct of auditors.

Could you investigate?

  • Money laundering
  • Insurance claims
  • Telemarketing fraud
  • Bankruptcy fraud
  • Credit card fraud
  • Embezzlement

As part of an investigation, Forensic Accountants will often need to review contracts, bank statements, correspondence and other documents related to a case.  They will scrutinise accounting records, emails and reports to identify discrepancies, or areas of inconsistency, then analyse and present their findings to their instructing party. Often, Forensic Accountants are asked to act as an expert witness and to attend court proceedings.

What can I expect to earn?

Forensic Accountants with a few years' experience in the field can earn between £50-£85k a year.

In your first role as a Forensic Accountant, you could see yourself earning up to £40,000, but typically you will be a qualified accountant and will have already been working in a Financial Analysis or Auditing role prior to that.

What skills do you need to be a good Forensic Accountant?

  • Problem solving ability – You will have to scrutinise accounts, try to understand why things do not look right, find where money may have been hidden, then categorically find a way to prove it that will stand up in court. An ability to think laterally and critically is key.

  • Personal skills - A Forensic Accountant works with a variety of people, consequently a collaborative attitude will stand you in good stead. You will need to deal with vast amounts of data speedily and efficiently - being methodical and organised is an important attribute of professionals who succeed in this specialism.

  • Strong communication skills (written and oral) - Linked with problem solving, you will have to be confident and articulate in explaining complex problems and presenting your findings in layman’s terms, including to the court when acting as an expert witness.

  • Linguistic skills – Languages are required on most assignments as they tend to be multi-jurisdictional and rarely confined to the UK.

  • An inquisitive and commercial mindset - A good Forensic Accountant will exercise a degree of scepticism and will not just accept what they are told. You will ask questions, challenge what you see and dig deeper into areas that you think look suspicious. Knowledge of how businesses work will help you in determining exactly what to ask, where to investigate and what to challenge.

  • A working knowledge of financial law and accounting standards - Keeping up to date with the latest legal and ethical principles will ensure you are able to spot when laws have been broken. Forensic Accountants constantly interact with the law so there will be a degree of reading and interpreting the legal and regulatory frameworks involved.

  • A desire to work in an intellectually stimulating, dynamic role - No two assignments are the same which lends variety and unpredictability to the work.

How do I get into a career in Forensic Accounting?

If you're brand new to accountancy, the AAT Professional Qualification is a great entry point, covering all the main areas of accountancy and tax. Other options include the ACCA Foundation Diploma or the ACA Certificate in Finance or Business (CFAB). These qualifications will help you get your first role in an accounts department or public practice, allowing you to get hands-on experience.

On completion (or if you have exemptions), you can then proceed to study towards the Professional ACCA, ACA or CIMA qualifications. After qualifying you could apply for a role in Financial Analysis or Auditing. After working in one of these fields for 2-3 years you will be a suitable candidate for conversion to Forensics.

If you would like to find out more about training options or ways to fund your studies, call our friendly advisors on 0161 259 7400.

We would like to thank Kaplan Alumna Kerry Martin of Ballamy LLP for her input and assistance in writing this article. Kerry is an FCCA, an ICAEW accredited forensic accountant, a member of the LCIA European Users’ Council and an associate member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in addition to being on the Steering Committee of the Fraud Women’s Network.