The Traits and Characteristics of Elite Forensic Accountants

jessica joseph
Brentwood Open Learning College
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Exactly what it takes to become a successful forensic accountant has always been the subject of mass debate. Some swear by strong educational backgrounds, while others argue it’s all about long-term experience. But what the vast majority appear to agree upon is that without a very specific set of personal traits and characteristics, getting by as a forensic accountant would be borderline impossible.

The difference,of course, being that while education and experience can be earned and accrued, personal traits cannot.

A Clear Consensus

In order to gain a better understanding of the specific characteristics that make for capable forensic accountants, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants conducted a survey. An audience of academics, CPAs and attorneys was asked to share its expert opinions as to the traits every practicing forensic accountant should have. Each sub-group had its own unique take on which traits took priority over others, but nonetheless came to the collective consensus that three specific traits outrank all others:

  • AnalyticalForensic accountancy centres primarily on the analysis of financial data and other forms of documentation/evidence. Success in the field therefore requires the natural ability to scrutinise and analyse records and documents, in order to determine validity, accuracy and authenticity.
  • Detail-Oriented – There are few fields in which attention to detail count for more than in the field of forensic accountancy. Overlooking or ignoring even the most seemingly-insignificant detail at any stage can cripple the investigative process. 
  • Ethical – Also consistently ranked within the three most important traits was a strong sense of ethics. The role of the forensic accountant is one that uses facts, figures and hard evidence to produce fundamentally objective reports. Personal opinion and emotion cannot be allowed to influence any aspect of the investigation.

Additional Traits of Value

Outside the top three, there were conflicting opinions with regard to the other character traits and qualities of importance in forensic accounting. Several examples did however gain widespread support from those polled, which included:

  • Insightful – Being able to pick up on key details and make intelligent observations that may otherwise go overlooked is a clear quality of important in investigative accounting.
  • Persistent – Gaining access to the required financial information and pinpointing important details is a process that requires persistence and tenacity. Quite simply, a forensic accountant cannot quit until a theory/allegation has been conclusively proven or disproved.
  • Scepticism – The role of the investigative accountant is one that personifies the sceptical attitude, one that refuses to take anything at face value. If there is no hard evidence to back up a theory, it remains an unproven theory.
  • Confidence – The daily duties of the forensic accountant involve prying extremely deeply into the financial activities and general dealings of other. Their presence is not always appreciated as the outcome of their efforts could have legal serious repercussion. This in turn calls for an individual of unshakable confidence and conviction.
  • Inquisitive – Having an eye for detail is one thing, but having the kind of inquisitive nature that compels you to uncover the truth is something else entirely. The very nature of investigative accounting is one of constantly questioning everything, stopping at nothing to find the answers.

Beyond the Books

The simple fact of the matter is that without these fundamental characteristics, all the education and experience in the world will not build an elite forensic accountant.

By contrast, those who tick all the right boxes perhaps couldn’t be looking at a more ideally-suited career path.

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