How to find a job as a Forensic Accountant with no work experience? Are you wondering if starting your forensic accounting career in a ‘Big 4 accounting firm’ is the only way to succeed in life?
Many people suggest starting your career in bigger companies for better references. However, if you only focus on large-sized companies, you will only restrain your chances to get into the job market.
In fact, in today’s article, Toshaj Oza shares with us how he started his career in Forensic Accounting from a mid-sized firm and later on joined big accounting firms like EY and PWC in their Risk Advisory – Forensic Investigations Team.
My Journey Becoming a Qualified Chartered Accountant
I am a qualified Chartered Accountant from ICAI (The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India).
My journey studying to be a Chartered Accountant has been very intriguing.
To become a Chartered Accountant from ICAI, India one needs to clear 3 levels of exams:
- CA Final
- And 3 years of articleship.
I cleared CPT in the 1st attempt (1st level CA exam from ICAI). Then CA IPCC in the 3rd attempt (2nd level CA Exam from ICAI). And cleared CA Final in the 1st attempt (the last level CA exam from ICAI).
I guess I am a late bloomer!
I did my internship in Tax/Audit from J.T Shah & Co, a mid-sized accounting firm in Ahmedabad, India.
My articles experience was mainly traditional audit and tax (nothing related to Forensic Accounting).
How I Started my Career in Forensic Accounting
Here’s the deal: After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant, I decided NOT TO get into – the traditional auditing or tax practice.
I wanted to specialize in a field but I did not know which field. I researched the available alternatives and Forensic Accounting just seemed perfect for me.
Forensic Accounting interested me because:
- Every assignment had something new (this really got me excited!)
- There is no fixed way to reach a conclusion in each case, this novelty attracted me.
- If you are a Forensic Accountant, every day is a new day with a new challenge!
- Data Analysis has always been my strength.
The hardest part, I got offers from Big 4 international accounting firms like EY, Deloitte, etc after qualifying as a CA. However, they all offered me opportunities in Audit and not Forensic Accounting! Thus I had to reject the same.
In short, I got no offers for Forensic Accounting profiles, the reason was – No experience in Forensic Accounting during my internship.
So what did I do next – Did I give up? Obviously no.
I researched and realized I had to take up some certificate courses so I could find a job in Forensic Accounting.
Since I am from India and had just qualified as a Chartered Accountant I was eligible to register for a Certificate Course offered by ICAI – Forensic Accounting & Fraud Prevention.
A lot of professional accounting bodies have certificate courses for their members. Thus it is a good idea to check with the accounting body of your country. In fact, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountant (AICPA) Certified in Financial Forensics Credential (CFF) is very renowned as well.
The best part? It was at this course I connected to someone who offered me a job opportunity in a mid-sized accounting firm in India – Pipara & Co which specializes in Forensic Accounting.
And here started my journey as a Forensic Accountant.
Steps to Becoming a Forensic Accountant with No Experience
1. Attend Seminars
- As soon as I realized I want to get into Forensic Accounting I registered for a seminar.
- I attended the seminar held by our regional ICAI Branch on Forensic Accounting. This was conducted by Chetan Dalal – The Pioneer of Forensic Accounting in India. I was totally immersed in Forensic Accounting by the end of this session.
- So this rule applies to anyone from any country – Just attend a seminar (the most popular one) for Forensic Accountants.
- I applied for the post qualification course in Forensic Accounting & Fraud Prevention (FAFP) conducted by ICAI. This was immediately after my internship was over. I was the youngest member of that batch.
- My main goal of attending FAFP was to meet different Forensic Accountants and understand Forensic Accounting from them. I was also looking for potential colleagues who are into Forensic Practice.
- It was here where I got introduced to Pipara and Co LLP, Ahmedabad (India) and got a job offer.
- So my advice to all is – Even if you have no clue about Forensic Accounting join a few courses like this to network and connect to other firms.
- All in all, I would say that it is a good option if you’re looking for a course at the start of your forensic accounting career. However, as a professional certification, this is certainly not enough.
3. Work in a Mid-size Firm (if you have to)
- During my CA placements, I got selected by Deloitte (Statutory Audit role) and Capital First Ltd. (Credit Underwriting role). But I decided not to join them since I was determined to build my career as a Forensic Accountant only.
- It was a tough decision but I was clear what I wanted.
- A lot of us believe that to have a career in Forensic Accounting you need to get only into Big International Accounting Firms. However, it is not always true!
- I learned so much at Pipara and Co, it was the best decision ever to start in a mid-sized firm. When one starts off in a mid-sized firm the learning is always more.
- To avoid wasting time, take up an opportunity in a good firm (not necessarily big in size) and learn as much as you can.
4. Learn as Much as You Can
- During my 2 years with Pipara and Co, I have had the opportunity to work on many different kinds of assignments.
- In fact, not getting into a Big 4 Accounting firm at the start of my Forensic Accounting journey was a blessing!
- Always remember the learning in small/ mid-sized firms is always more.
- So my advice to all – Take what best opportunity you get at the start of your career.
- Remember smaller/ mid-sized firms provide learning opportunities in different areas.
5. Forensic Accounting Courses
- There are many certification options open to forensic accountants. However, the most widely recognized is the Association of Certified Fraud Examiner (ACFE) Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE).
- CFE is recognized globally. So if you are not a CPA USA then pursuing CFE from ACFE is the best option.
- Many fraud examiner positions will require one of these credentials. However, even if they do not, certified forensic accountants earn on average 25% more than their uncertified colleagues.
My Work Experience as a Forensic Accountant
I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work on many different assignments. I tried gaining maximum knowledge from each and every assignment.
During my stint with Pipara and Co I got an opportunity to work in:
- Fraud & Financial Crime
- Investigation Assignments
- Regulatory Enforcement
- Crisis Management
- Dispute Services
- Reconstruction of Complex Financial Records
- Risk-Based Internal Audit
- Systems and Process Audit
- ERP Implementation and other allied Forensic Accounting & Internal Audit services.
My advice to all:
- There is always something to learn, one just has to be CURIOUS enough.
- It is not necessary that a Forensic Auditor has experience in all these services, in fact, Forensic Accounting in itself is a vast field and has many branches.
- One could choose to specialize in any one of them or just a few of them. It is pretty difficult to gain specialization in all the fields.
- Also, the services which I have mentioned is just a glimpse of what services a Forensic Accountant can offer.
Few Areas Forensic Accountants Could Specialize in
- Insurance Frauds
- Health Care Frauds
- Procurement Frauds
- Anti Money Laundering
- Fraudster Psychology
- Digital Forensic
- Data Analysis
- Expert Witness
- Conducting Interviews
- Bankruptcy and Insolvency Proceedings
- Calculation of Economic Losses
- Business Valuations, etc
Terms to Understand Forensic Accounting
Now my previous firm (Pipara & Co) did not give me exposure in all the services mentioned below but I did manage to learn quite a bit thanks to my curiosity!
Let us try to understand some of the jargons used above.
Fraud and Financial Crime
- It basically means White Collar Crimes. This is divided into Organizational Crime and Occupational Fraud.
- Organizational crime: It involves frauds committed by the Organization as a whole or it’s Corporate Executives like Financial Statement Frauds.
- Occupational fraud: It means a fraud committed by a person in his occupation/profession/ employment for his personal benefit or gain like Larceny!
- My experience: It basically involves investigation of the organizational crime committed by the organization and certain assignments of occupational fraud. In these assignments, there is suspicion of Fraud and it has to be established whether any wrongdoing has been done or not.
- This basically entails the following activities namely – Obtaining Evidence + Reporting + Testifying to Findings + Assisting in fraud detection and prevention.
- This is usually conducted when it is established that – Fraud has already occurred and the evidence has to be collected to incriminate the fraudster.
Fraud Risk Assessment
- It is the process through which we aim to identify and address an organizations vulnerability to internal as well as external fraud.
- Based upon the risk the assessment the organization will decide how to address the risks.
- Basically entails working with the Economic Offences Wing, CBI, etc. for assistance as requested by them during their investigations of financial crimes.
- Can also be termed as Fraud Risk Management.
- This basically refers to How to Respond when any fraud has occurred with the organization to minimize the potential impact of the loss.
- It means conducting an investigation of the Digital Data of the company.
- This is mainly done with the help of Digital Forensic Experts although our role is to coordinate in that process like making a list of potential fraud words that is to be looked into the dump collected by them and sorting through it to identify the useful files.
- From what I have understood Big 4’s do not usually have any specific criteria for hiring in Forensics. What matters to them is –That you are academically qualified for that job + have relevant experience.
- Digital Forensics team usually consists of computer engineer’s/ Tech guys but as discussed earlier they cannot work alone and have to work in tandem with core investigators.
- Someone with a CISA, Engineering qualification and with an audit background also has an advantage.
Systems and Process Audit
It includes an audit of Information Systems of the company which includes-
- Audit of where is information stored
- How the information flows,
- The logic of the ERP Programs,
- Business Continuity Planning,
- Disaster Recovery Planning, etc.
Risk-Based Internal Audit
- Basically entails that – The Audit Committee of an organization keeps a risk register for each of its processes.
- Based upon the scope identified by that committee we are to conduct an audit in high-risk areas to try to reduce the residual risk after implementation of controls.
- It means that – Even though the engineers develop the software, they still need guidance as to the design of the system. They can code but WHAT TO CODE is given by the Information System Auditors.
- This process includes the complete System Development Life Cycle.
- To design a robust ERP System as per the need of the business is what an information system auditor does primarily.
- The software engineer is only for the coding part and later on the resolution of the bugs.
Is System Audit and Forensic Accounting Interconnected?
- Yes, I agree system audit is not associated with Forensic Accounting but is intricately linked with it.
- In fact, I would go on to say that all the audits nowadays are closely connected with the systems.
- While conducting Forensic Audit it is of utmost importance to understand the auditee’s environment and the sources from where evidence can be collected.
- In the current digital age, almost everything is managed and stored in the system so it is inevitable to conduct a proper forensic audit without understanding the systems.
- To arrive at a proper conclusion and to get more evidence it is very much necessary to understand the flow of information hence understanding systems come with it.
- So all of you DO NOT STOP and chase what you want. Everything is possible.
- I realized I wanted a Forensic Accounting career, after qualifying as a Chartered Accountant. It is NOT NECESSARY that you have to know (it is good to know but it is not bad if you do not) what are your future career plans before becoming a Chartered Accountant.
- So DO NOT STRESS if you are clueless, just give your best.
- Most of all – It is okay to get lost, confused or to be unsure but it is NOT OKAY TO GIVE UP!
Now It’s Your Turn…
Which strategy from today’s post are you excited to try first?
Do comment with your question below so I can help you out.
I am very active on Linkedin and Quora – Toshaj Oza.