Why the FBI requires advanced forensic accounting training

Why the FBI requires advanced forensic accounting training

When you think about the FBI, you might imagine stereotypical “feds” from movies busting down doors and arresting dangerous mobsters. You might also imagine agents infiltrating terrorist organizations in daring undercover operations. One thing that might not come to mind: accountants!

In truth, accountants with specialized expertise have played a central role in the FBI’s work since its inception. More than a third of the Bureau’s first employees were bank examiners, and today 15% of the FBI’s staff are forensic accountants.

Becoming a forensic accountant is an impactful and rewarding way to use your accounting skills. It’s also a demanding career path that requires higher-than-usual levels of expertise. And it’s not just the FBI that’s hiring: intelligence agencies all over the world like Britain’s MI6, Israel’s Mossad, India’s CBI, and Australia’s AUSTRAC recruit qualified candidates for these jobs. If you want to make the cut, here’s what you need to know:

In recent decades, the FBI has taken on savings and loan scandals, the war on terror, and the rise of increasingly complex financial crimes. During this time, accounting experts have become increasingly important to the Bureau’s operations. Their expertise is vital to investigations of cyber-crime, organized crime, public corruption, and even counterintelligence and counterterrorism.

According to the FBI website, forensic accountants at the agency investigate a wide range of financial crimes, including corporate fraud, financial institution fraud, healthcare fraud, mortgage fraud, and securities/commodities fraud. This requires them to identify suspicious activities and package these financial facts for law enforcement and judicial counterparts. This may include providing expert testimony in a courtroom.

Forensic accountants work side by side with FBI agents on cases, and in the words of one FBI section chief, “they do everything an agent does except for executing arrest warrants and carrying a gun.” It’s an extremely important position requiring a high level of performance. It’s no surprise that the Bureau looks to hire candidates with high levels of qualification.

Due to the complex and challenging nature of the financial crimes they investigate, FBI forensic accountants are more qualified than typical accountants. At a minimum, the FBI requires a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in accounting, or a bachelor’s degree with 24 semester hours in accounting (six of which may be in business law).

That’s just the beginning. The Bureau strongly prefers candidates to have professional certification in at least one of the following:

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
  • Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF)

Specialized accounting expertise can also give your application an edge. Additional preference is given to candidates with experience in fields like public accounting, government accounting, financial services, and corporate accounting.

There are also certain types of training that only the Bureau can provide. Once hired, forensic accountants take part in an intensive five-week training program at the FBI Academy to develop their investigative abilities. Skills taught include financial investigative techniques, interviewing strategies, and search warrant execution.

Forensic accountants are more important than ever, and the FBI is actively recruiting top-quality professionals. In their words, they’re hiring candidates at “all stages of career and specialized experience.”

If you’re just starting out in your accounting career, or you’re a mid-career accounting veteran looking to elevate your game to the highest possible level, forensic accounting could be a part of your future. And if you’re worried that your résumé isn’t quite FBI-ready (or MI6-ready, or AUSTRAC-ready), don’t worry! With Coursera, you can find accounting degree programs and Specializations to put you over the top. Visit Coursera to learn more about how the University of Illinois iMSA can prepare your career for the future of accounting.