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Serious money from spotting funny numbers
Arun Rajendran |
April 08, 2003 13:31 IST
A couple of months ago, we had talked about 10 hot jobs of the future, based on a list drawn up by the US-based Smart Money magazine. It's time now to pick up the threads once again.
This time we move on to forensic accounting.
If you don't have a clue, welcome to the club. Think Enron, fraud, financial skullduggery. Basically, the job of a forensic accountant is to sniff out fraud and criminal transactions in corporate financial records.
Thus, if you have a nose for accounting and numbers - especially funny numbers - this is your chance to play Sherlock Holmes with Annual Reports. If you're good, you could send people off in handcuffs.
Given the pace at which skeletons are tumbling out of corporate cupboards, forensic accounting professionals should not have a hard time finding work. Companies are scurrying to hire them by the busload to prevent and investigate money-sucking crimes, and prepare for court cases.
Forensic accounting is especially hot in the US, with nearly 40 per cent of the top 100 accounting firms expanding their forensics and fraud services, according to Accounting Today. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners has grown from just 5,500 members in 1992 to 25,000 in 2002.
Forensic accountants become involved in a wide range of investigations, spanning many different industries. The practical and in-depth analysis that a forensic accountant can bring to a case helps uncover trends that bring several relevant issues to light.
A forensic accountant must develop two opposite skills to be successful: the ability to scrutinise fine details while at the same time not missing the big picture. He must know the wood and the trees.
In addition, a forensic accountant must be able to listen effectively and communicate clearly and concisely. Business investigations can involve tracing funds, asset identification and recovery, forensic intelligence gathering and due diligence reviews.
Employee fraud investigations often involve procedures to determine the existence, nature and extent of fraud and may concern the identification of a perpetrator.
Now, the all-important question: What kind of loot can you expect to collect? Well, since the evolution of forensic accounting is at a nascent stage so far, the US is where most of the action is. There, one can start with a little over $30,000 (Rs 14 lakh per annum), easily going up to $110,000 (Rs 53 lakh) as one gets better.
This can lead to high-level careers at law firms, corporations, and government agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
For becoming a forensic accountant, a bachelor's degree in accounting is required, plus two to four years of accounting experience. A Certified Public Accountant licence is almost always required. The CPA is a professional qualification, similar to CA in India, which is awarded by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
In addition, an accountant can learn about forensic accounting by attending various seminars and courses and obtaining the Certified Fraud Examiner designation offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
In India, the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India has set up the Society of Certified Public Accountants, a non-profit institution, to develop and regulate the profession of Certified Public Accountants in India on sound ethical lines by setting rigorous standards of certification, membership, professional practice and continuing education.
The National Institute of Certified Public Accountants is a constituent of the SCPA and offers the "Certified Public Accountant" Programme.
Eligibility for the course is a graduate degree from any discipline.
Digging the right number
Prior audit and accounting experience is of tremendous help in putting you on the road to a career in forensic accounting. But, ultimately, it is only by working with experienced forensic accountants on various cases that one can learn the skills necessary to become a capable forensic accountant.For more details on the CPA programme you could visit www.cpaindia.org. Another great site for finding information on forensic accounting is www.forensicaccounting.com.