Your Career Move from Internal Audit to Forensic Accounting
Forensic accounting and investigations may seem like the obvious career move for someone working in internal audit, and while there are lines where the two interconnect there are important differences to be aware of. While audit is focused on the assurance element of financial statements, roles in forensic accounting require a far more analytical approach in order to examine a specific set of transactions or to locate misappropriated assets. The accounting skills utilised by each may be similar but the purpose of engagement is different.
Skills for jobs in forensic accounting combine the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes and a financially-geared business acumen. The job of the forensic accountant is to analyse the numbers in their review of financial reports, which is a painstaking task that requires intense attention to detail. This in turn relies upon the accountant knowing which questions to ask within their investigation both in order to complete their analysis and to obtain any relevant supporting documentation needed to match the numbers on the report.
For candidates looking to move from internal audit into forensic accounting and investigations, demonstrate to your intended employer (or current employer if moving internally) that you are capable of being assertive, being methodical with your report findings, working under pressure to deadline and understanding which questions to ask and to who.
Due to the nature of the work involved in forensic accounting jobs, which is often included in legal matters in a court of law, the salaries tend to be higher than for those working in Internal Audit. Average salaries vary depending on where in the world you are working, with UK-based forensic accountants earning a median annual income of £30,000, while in the US and Australia forensic accountants are looking at average yearly salaries of $85,000.
Fluency in matters of litigation is a key part of working in forensic accounting and investigations, if you decide to specialise in that particular area where you’ll be relating details of particular transactions to the outcome of a court case. There are other areas of specialisation within forensic accounting, including insurance, personal injury, fraud, Anti-Money Laundering (AML), construction and royalty audits.
In terms of where to focus your job search, the boutique firms are likely to hold more rewarding opportunities than other outlets as many of them have a strong focus on forensics and fraud investigations. Other options of course include the Big Four accounting firms which give candidates a wider scope to pursue forensic accounting across different industries working with lots of clients, though be prepared to pull your proverbial comb through close on 100,000 transactions for any one client and spend around 70% of your time travelling. Meanwhile many of the private companies won’t have a requirement for forensic accounting unless they specialise in the area.
Traditional commerce, finance or accounting degrees are common among candidates applying for jobs in forensic accounting with the addition of CPA and CFE (certified fraud examiner) certifications for added credibility. Ultimately, certifications and skills will likely get you the job even without a BA degree, so be prepared with examples that show your aptitude for maths, as well as demonstrating excellent financial understanding and thorough business knowledge.