With internal auditors taking a more prominent role in U.S. companies, the popularity of the field is surging.
"Our membership has more than doubled in the last 10 years," said Trish Harris, director of communications for The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA). "There's been huge growth."
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The IIA's membership has grown 38 percent since 2000, and the number of people taking the certified internal auditor exam rose from 30,634 to 38,000 in 2005, the Pittsburgh Business Times reported.
The Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reform legislation brought internal auditing out of the back rooms of corporate headquarters. Now, internal auditors are reporting directly to the CEO or board of directors, and their visibility makes it easier for them to get promoted.
"People who work in internal auditing have the opportunity to see every corner of the enterprise and interact with executives throughout the company," said Bill Strait, director of internal audit for Respironics Inc., which makes sleep apnea devices. "Because of (Sarbanes-Oxley), because of business failures, it's become even more of a launching pad for people moving into important areas of the company."
Students are finding the field intriguing, too. The Smeal School of Business at Penn State University is considering adding classes in forensic accounting and covering more internal auditing issues to meet the demand, said Dan Givoly, chair of the accounting department.
Tips from employees are a prime way to uncover fraud. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is holding companies accountable for investigating hotline tips and whistleblower complaints. That's when the forensic accountant comes in.
“I don't think there's any more fraud in the world today,” said Jeff Matthews, director of economic advisory services with Grant Thornton. “I don't think Sarbanes Oxley has changed the amount of fraud that's within organizations,” he told Inside Collin County (Texas) Business. “I think Sarbanes established some accountability. It created an avenue for fraud to come to light.”