As a service to readers, the Salary Sage periodically features jobs that are really hot. What is a hot job?
- A job that is in high demand,
- A job that is well paid,
- A job that has a bright future,
- A job that you don't have to be lucky, wealthy, or a genius to get,
- A job that I consider interesting, challenging and important,
- A job that doesn't have working conditions that would turn most people off.
This month's hot job is Forensic Accountant. Don't let the word "forensic" fool you. These are not coroners wearing green eye shades. The word "forensic" means suitable for use in a court of law, public discussion, or debate. Their similarity to forensic criminologists is that these are the guys who pour over the remains of failed companies and pick through the wreckage of bad financial decisions on behalf of shareholders to figure out what went wrong and who to blame.
WHY IS IT HOT?
Finally, it is cool to be a number-cruncher. For years, Wall Street has been chock-a-block with brilliant minds who have brought us such winning ideas as mortgage backed securities, credit default swaps, and hedge funds. Now that the economy has imploded, banks, financial institutions, and regulatory agencies are searching wildly for the right talent to sort all this out. If you are one of these guys, you can pretty much write your own ticket.
WHAT TO THEY DO?
Forensic accountants combine their accounting, auditing and investigative skills to analyze and interpret business and financial evidence, and can participate in trials as expert witnesses. They may work on anything from bankruptcy and divorce cases to major fraud and criminal cases. Forensic accountant are not new—it was a forensic accountant who caught gangster Al Capone.
Forensic accountants have the sometimes unlikely combination of an exquisite eye for detail, a solid background in both accounting basics and legal concepts, and a love of the excitement that comes with law as well as order. Forensic accountants, also referred to as forensic auditors or investigative auditors, often give expert evidence at trial.
Forensic accountants utilize an understanding of business information and financial reporting systems, accounting and auditing standards and procedures, evidence gathering and investigative techniques, and litigation processes and procedures to perform their work. They are also increasingly playing more proactive risk reduction roles by designing and performing extended procedures as part of the statutory audit, acting as advisers to audit committees, and assisting in investment analyst research.
WHO HIRES THEM?
All of the larger accounting firms, as well as many medium-sized and boutique firms, have forensic accounting departments. Forensic Accountants work in a wide range of settings from private corporations or firms that help specific companies deal with suspected (or known) fraud and embezzlement to government organizations like police departments, the FBI or the CIA. Forensic accountants also frequently work for public accounting firms, banks, the IRS, insurance companies and law firms.
HOW DO YOU BECOME ONE?
Forensic accountants must have a bachelor's degree in accounting and are generally expected to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). It is also beneficial to become a Certified Fraud Examiner(CFE) or a Certified Forensic Accountant(CrFA). In addition to strong accounting skills and legal knowledge, forensic accountants must have remarkable curiosity, attention to detail, persistence, and the ability to think creatively and communicate effectively. Analytical and research skills are also crucial.
HOW MUCH DO THEY EARN?
Most forensic accountants begin their career making $50,000 to $60,000 and good ones can rapidly (i.e., within 4 or 5 years) earn their way up to $125,000 to $150,000.
WHAT IS THE DOWN SIDE?
If you aren't already a CPA, you may be looking at several years to become one. The world of finance and accounting is moving fast right now, and a rapid recovery followed by strong regulation may take this job off the hot jobs list in a few years.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you are an accountant and CPA and are considering making a change into forensic accounting, beware that the job is not for everyone. With financial stakes high and legal ramifications abounding, this job is not for the faint of heart.