As forensic accounting gains a higher profile, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is working to expand the profession’s role in the field by educating CPA firms and college professors about the skills required.
The Institute published a report, Characteristics and Skills of the Forensic Accountant, which analyzes the results of a survey of attorneys, forensic CPAs, and academics. The AICPA sought their views on the qualities they believed were essential in a forensic accountant. The report notes that in the wake of the economic crisis that began in 2007, forensic accounting has grown as a discipline for CPAs. The Institute estimates that 20,000 to 30,000 CPAs now provide forensic accounting services.
“The CPA is the ideal professional to conduct forensic accounting,” said Robert Harris, CPA, chairman of the AICPA and a holder of the institute’s specialty credential, Certified in Financial Forensics. “The CPA profession’s essential values include integrity and objectivity, which are critical for forensic accounting.”
All three groups surveyed overwhelmingly cited analytical ability as the most essential characteristic of a forensic accountant: 78 percent of attorneys, 86 percent of CPAs, and 90 percent of academics.
There were differences, however, in how the three segments ranked core skills. Attorneys believed oral communications to be the most important skill, reflecting the need to express an opinion effectively in a court of law. CPAs, on the other hand, identified critical and strategic thinking as most important, with written and oral communications as second and third, respectively. The academics agreed with the CPAs that critical and strategic thinking was the prime skill, but, interestingly, rated auditing skills and investigative ability as second and third.
“We reached out to the three critical constituencies in forensic accounting to confirm we’re meeting the marketplace’s wants and needs,” said Michael Ueltzen, a forensic CPA who chairs the AICPA Certified in Financial Forensics Committee. “We want to encourage more CPAs to enter forensic accounting.”
Forensic accounting encompasses collecting, analyzing, and evaluating evidence and then interpreting and communicating the findings in court, the boardroom, or other legal and administrative venue. Attorneys tend to be the primary clients of forensic accountants.
The AICPA is seeking to draw younger people into the field, as well, Ueltzen said. As a result, one key objective for the report is to guide academics on what a forensic accounting curriculum needs to encompass.
“Students see opportunities in forensic accounting, so we’re developing a program for the forensic accountant of the future,” Ueltzen said. “About 50 colleges offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in forensic accounting or a certification in the discipline. That’s five times what the number was only five years ago,”