A career in forensic accountancy will suit you if you would like a specialist role which requires meticulous attention to detail, excellent numeracy skills combined with the mind-set of a detective

As a forensic accountant you will utilise your accountancy skills to investigate financial discrepancies and inaccuracies such as fraudulent activity, financial misrepresentation or misconduct and disputes.

The role involves an integration of accounting, auditing and investigative skills. You will carry out meticulous investigations to uncover information, identify specific irregularities in financial documents and reports, quantify the exact losses and trace and recover illegitimate funds. You will provide reports of your findings, offering reconstructions and insights into how the activities were carried out.

A common misunderstanding is that forensic accountants spend the majority of their time carrying out research in order to uncover criminal activity, however, in reality only a small portion of the work you will do focuses on investigating fraud.

Additional areas of work include commercial litigation, professional negligence, and loss of profits calculations, expert witness and matrimonial work. Some forensic accountants are employed by companies to focus on preventative activities, which aim to minimise the risk of financial problems and enhance their reputation for good practice.

You can be hired by a variety of employers including banks, police forces, insurance companies and government agencies. Most of the larger accounting firms, along with some smaller firms, have specialist forensic accounting departments.

A meticulous and accurate approach is essential as findings are often passed on to solicitors as evidence that can be used at trial. 'Forensic' means suitable for use in court, and so it follows that forensic accountants can be asked to give their expert testimony and present their findings in court.

In the aftermath of the financial crash of 2008, this career has become more prevalent and is likely to continue to grow as the business environment becomes ever more complex and there is a greater demand for accountability in both the public and private sectors.

Responsibilities

As a forensic accountant, you can expect to carry out a range of duties including:

  • extracting data from financial records;
  • creating and manipulating spreadsheets;
  • performing forensic research to trace funds and identify assets for recovery;
  • conducting forensic analysis of financial data;
  • preparing forensic accounting reports from financial findings;
  • undertaking interviews to uncover and verify information;
  • preparing analytical data for court;
  • attending court where required;
  • understanding the wider economic and legal implications of a case;
  • traveling abroad to conduct investigations.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for accountants vary depending on the location, sector, size and type of firm. As a graduate entering the career you can expect to earn up to £24,024 plus.
  • The average salary is £40,223 and this can rise up to £68,069.

For the first five to ten years in this position your pay can increase steeply but any additional experience does not have a big effect on pay.

Salaries can be enhanced through company benefits such as bonuses, profit-sharing schemes, medical insurance, pensions and car allowances.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours vary depending on the organisation, but are typically 9am to 5pm.

However, working extra hours in the evening and at weekends is quite common in order to meet deadlines and commitments. There is also the opportunity for you to work independently by setting up as a sole practitioner.

What to expect

  • The demand for forensic accounting services has grown in recent years since companies want to avoid corruption and scandal and are keen on demonstrating their commitment to financial reform.
  • Jobs are available in most areas throughout the UK, but are more commonly found in cities and larger towns.
  • Work is sometimes carried out at clients premises and overnight stays can be expected.
  • Investigations can start in the UK but enquiries may lead to international sources, meaning global travel is a possibility.
  • Conducting in-depth investigations can be laborious and a high level of commitment and attention to detail is required, however uncovering information vital to the outcome of the case can be very rewarding.

Qualifications

You can get into forensic accountancy with a degree in any subject, and although a degree in accountancy is not necessary, it can give you a good foundation to work from.

You will need to undertake a training contract with an employer and complete a qualification from a recognised professional body in order to then specialise in forensics. It is possible to study online for a certificate or diploma in forensic accountancy, and several UK universities offer tailored undergraduate and Masters programmes.

Search for postgraduate courses in forensic accountancy.

The Institute of Certified Forensic Accountants is a global professional body committed to the development of the multidisciplinary profession of forensic accounting. They offer a Certificate in Forensic Accounting and the higher-level Certified Professional Forensic Accountant - CPFAcct.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • high levels of attention to detail;
  • an ability to analyse data thoroughly;
  • creative thinking;
  • commercial awareness;
  • a methodical approach;
  • sound judgement;
  • organisation and time management skills;
  • excellent communication skills and the ability to produce quality written reports;
  • IT proficiency.

Work experience

It may be difficult for you to gain work experience specifically in forensic accountancy, but any experience in accountancy would be highly beneficial. Experience in internal audit, risk assessment and tax can also be useful.

If you are successful in obtaining a summer internship with a large accountancy firm you may have the opportunity to spend time in their forensic department as part of the rotational internship programme.

You could look at making speculative applications to forensic accountancy firms by sending a tailored CV and cover letter. You can find firms to contact through the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) - Find An Accountant website.

If you are unable to get work experience due to the sensitive nature of the work you could request an information interview to find out more about their role and how they started out.

Employers

There are a broad range of employers in the public and private sector, including insurance companies, banks, police forces, government agencies and other organisations.

You could also consider working for yourself and setting up your own forensic accountancy business.

Look for job vacancies at:

You could also consider registering with a specialist recruitment agency, such as Michael Page.

Professional development

Once you are fully qualified, you can look at gaining membership with a professional body that specialises in forensic accountancy. In the UK, there are two professional bodies which you could join the:

The Institute of Certified Forensic Accountants is a global body, which aims to promote and develop the profession of forensic accountancy to the public and to those people involved in providing forensic advice and guidance to their clients. It has members in over 18 countries.

Since forensic accountants are often asked to present their findings in court you can also choose to join The Expert Eye Witness Institute. This acts as a voice for the expert witness community, supporting experts from all professional disciplines and lawyers who use the services of experts. The institute functions to encourage, train and educate experts and to improve and maintain their standards and status.

Becoming a member of a professional body that specialises in forensic accountancy is not mandatory but it can be beneficial for increasing your credibility and keeping your skills and knowledge up to date. It is also essential if you are considering setting up your own business or working freelance.

Career prospects

Forensic accounting is a niche area, and once in this role you will already have chosen to specialise in an exciting and fast-paced field.

Options for progression to a more senior role within a team or department are often available, and you may be able to take on line management or team leadership responsibilities.

Some people may opt to branch out into self-employment by setting up their own independent firm.