An In Depth Chat to Brittany Davison, a Master-Degree Holder in Forensic Accounting
I earned my bachelor degree in economics at Sonoma State University. After I graduated from SSU, I was accepted into Florida Atlantic University's Executive Masters Program for Forensic Accounting. An executive masters program is made for the working professional, where you are able to hold a full time job while earning your degree. All of my lectures were on Saturday mornings, and I had the choice of attending them on campus, live on a web cam from home, or I could download the lectures and watch them at my leisure. FAU's Forensic Accounting program was a 2-year, 10 course program; however, since I did not hold a business or accounting degree, I was required to take two additional foundation courses, while making sure I maintained a 3.0 in order to graduate. It was no piece of cake--but it was certainly well worth it!
What is Forensic Accounting?
Forensic accounting takes on the legal and investigative side of the boring debit and credit accounting. It's different from being an accountant or an auditor because a forensic accountant looks "behind" the numbers, rather than "at" the numbers.
To put it simply, a forensic accountant is a detective and an accountant at the same time.
Officially, I earned a master of accounting with a concentration in forensic accounting. It's quite amazing that I was able to earn a full master degree in accounting without taking a single undergrad accounting course. I enjoyed most of my classes. I'd have to say Litigation & Valuation in Forensic Accounting was by far the toughest class. Well, they were all a challenge. Some of my favorite classes were Accounting for E-Commerce, Forensic Accounting & the Legal Environment, and Advanced Auditing Theory & Practice.
Earning Your Online Master Degree in Forensic Accounting
I attended the FAU forensic accounting program completely online while living in California. I watched my Saturday morning lectures at home while sipping coffee (with free refills) in my pajamas! It was a great experience and the most rewarding experience of my life. I learned how to be more self-motivated and determined to get things done. Online programs are great because you get the degree with flexibility at the same time; however, you still have to make sacrifices in your life to achieve the goal you're aiming to reach.
My absolute favorite class was Accounting Fraud Examination Concepts. In part because our professor was (and still is) head of the economic crime unit for the Broward Sheriff's Office in Florida; we had the opportunity to try and solve real cases that occurred throughout his career in our weekly discussions. At the end of the week, he'd tell us who was the actual fraud perpetrator and how the fraud occurred. For part of our final, my group and I had to hypothetically "commit" a fraud... and another group had to try and solve our case. Not your typical text book online course!
Forensic Accounting: A Wide Open Career Path!
My career path has not changed since graduating from FAU. I am still working at a law firm. The awesome thing about forensic accounting is that the possibilities are endless! It's actually the fastest growing area in accounting today. There are a ton of different directions you could take with this degree. You could work for:
- Government agencies--the FBI, CIA, or local agencies
- Both small and large Accounting Firms
- Insurance Companies
- Police Force
- Law Firms
I know that once I'm ready to take that next step, my masters in forensic accounting will be a tremendous asset for employers.
A Day in the Life of a Forensic Accountant
A day in the life of a forensic accountant certainly varies, but always involves taking the necessary measures to detect and prevent fraud. Divorce cases are involving forensic accountants more and more these days, where one party may be trying to hide assets from the other. We would try to find possible financial discrepancies and hidden assets to assist in the legal proceedings. Some day I would like to get into occupational fraud investigations. I find it fascinating to investigate one's perceived pressures in life, the opportunities they stumble upon, and the rationalization in the perpetrator's mind for committing the crime they committed. Pressure, opportunity, and rationalization make up what they call the fraud triangle, and they all have to be present in each and every fraudulent act.
I would have to say the difficult part of being a forensic accountant is seeing the damage it causes. Most people think it only effects the corporation or the individual, but it also effects the society as a whole.
What I Got Out of My Forensic Accounting Master Degree Program
In my forensic accounting program, I became more curious and persistent. Forensic accountants need these qualities, as well as organization, discretion and the ability to provide an unbiased, professional opinion. I have been able to apply the communication skills I learned throughout the program to my everyday life. We had to become certified in both verbal and written communication in order to graduate. Proper and professional communication skills are extremely valuable no matter what industry you're in.
The Effect of the Recession on Forensic Accounting
Individuals and corporations may feel more pressure to commit fraud because of the financial struggles caused by the recession; however, as far as job opportunities go, government agencies, corporations, and the society as a whole need forensic accountants more than ever. I think I'm in one of the select few industries that isn't too worried about finding a job in a recession. It's definitely one of the safest career paths.
Advice for Potential Forensic Accountants
My advice to anyone who is considering entering the world of forensic accounting would be to reflect upon the set of skills you possess to see if they meet the necessary set of skills for being a forensic accountant. Are you detail-oriented? Creative? Curious? Organized? Confident? I would also highly recommend prior accounting and/or auditing experience. I would have to say I wasn't as confident as most because I didn't have prior experience so I had to work a little harder, or maybe a little longer. Some accounting concepts just didn't come to me as easy as they did to most of the other students.
All that being said, forensic accounting is in high demand and it could possibly be one of the safest careers to be in. Plus, there are so many different directions forensic accounting can take you. You wouldn't be confined to a cubical, I can tell you that!