The increasing demand for forensic accounting services from businesses of all sizes, including nonprofit organizations, has made qualifying for a second certification in forensics and fraud examination an attractive option for accountants.
Organizations around the world lose an estimated 5 percent of their annual revenues to fraud, according to research performed by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). Small businesses are especially vulnerable to fraud because of the lack of internal controls. The ACFE estimated the median loss suffered by organizations with fewer than 100 employees to be $200,000 in 2008.
The most common types of occupational fraud include asset misappropriation, fraudulent statements, bribery, and corruption.
A fraud and forensics credential can add value to existing audit and tax services. Accountants can set up fraud prevention programs for clients and help them identify weaknesses in their controls and red flags in their business environment. They can raise employee awareness of exposure to potential fraud. And, they will be the first call a client makes when he suspects fraud in his organization or is a defendant in litigation.
On its Forensics and Valuation Overview Web site, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) highlights the business value of the connections an accountant will make through the certification. It will increase opportunities for referrals from other practitioners, and "include you in a community of CPA financial forensics professionals with similar interests and practices."
Candidates for certification in forensic accounting need special skills and personality traits.
“Forensic accounting involves the detailed examination of data, typically accounting and business records such as accounting system output, bank documents, shipping and receiving records, and financial statements,” Brad Sargent said, writing for the Illinois Society of CPAs. “Given this, there are three must-have traits that successful forensic accountants possess: big picture vision (or, to put it another way, the ability to connect the dots), attention to detail, and tenacity.”
In the case of a suspected fraud, forensic accountants will be asked to analyze financial data, computer application design, and the integrity of evidence. They use a range of investigative techniques, including conducting interviews to gain information. If fraud is discovered, they will be required to prepare written reports and testify as expert witnesses at trial.
Not all forensic accounting involves fraud. Forensic specialists may be called upon to perform business valuations and various kinds of due diligence.
Forensics and fraud credentials currently are granted by the ACFE and the AICPA. The ACFE, founded in 1988, grants the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credential to accountants and other professionals, including attorneys and law enforcement personnel. The AICPA approved the Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) credential in May 2008. A CFF candidate must be an AICPA member in good standing and hold a valid CPA license.
Candidates for both credentials must meet substantial experience requirements. The AICPA requires that the applicant have a minimum of 1,000 hours of relevant forensic accounting experience in the 10-year period preceding the credential application. The 75-hour continuing education requirement for the CFF may be met over a period of five years. The AICPA offers a bundle of courses to help the candidate meet the education requirement.
The ACFE requires at least two years of professional experience in a field directly or indirectly related to the detection or deterrence of fraud. The CFE education requirements are similar but are based on points. Candidates also must pass an exam.
Since its introduction by the AICPA, the CFF credential has been awarded to more than 4,000 qualified CPAs. The ACFE has more than 55,000 members, including accountants, attorneys, and law enforcement specialists.