It is a well-known fact that CPAs are highly sought-after by all types of organizations. The CPA designation definitely gives them an opportunity to work in a wide range of sectors. For instance, when CPAs are not establishing or evaluating an organization’s control processes, they are auditing them. When they are not involved in defining the organization’s operational and financial strategy, they are instead participating in its restructuring. When they are not helping to estimate the value of its assets and determine the tax implications of related transactions, they can help investigate fraud or calculate financial damage.
Forensic CPAs: A profile in demand
Depending on your organization’s needs, you may require a CPA with a very specific profile, such as a forensic accountant. A broad range of letters may come before or after the accounting designation of these CPAs: CISA, CA•IFA, DIFA, MFAcc, CIA, CFE, CFF, CBV, CAMS, etc. All of them refer to training or certifications that complement the CPA designation. These credentials not only signify that the professionals are entitled to use them, but also that they have received specific training in certain sub-fields related to forensic accounting. This specific training enables them to better serve their clients and adapt to market changes and economic and financial issues in this area.
What do forensic accountants do?
According to the ACFE (Association of Certified Fraud Examiners), forensic accounting combines the professional use of accounting, audit and investigation skills to analyze information that may be used before a tribunal, a court or for mediation purposes. The CPAs who work in this field are called forensic accountants.
CPAs with the aforementioned credentials all have one thing in common: they help their clients by carrying out forensic accounting engagements with the goal of thwarting financial crimes (prevention and detection) and calculating financial losses. To this end, they work with lawyers, law enforcement agencies and international institutions to establish the facts required to resolve conflicts before a court or tribunal or in mediation.
Forensic accountants analyze financial data, ensure evidence integrity, draft reports, collect information, testify as independent experts, calculate losses, interrogate individuals on the criminal allegations against them, and follow the trails of illicit funds and hidden assets.
In Canada, forensic accountants are required to comply with CPA Canada’s Standard Practices for Investigative and Forensic Accounting Engagements, which are designed to protect the public. However, these standards govern only the ways in which forensic accountants exercise their professional judgment in their engagements and not the conditions for admission to the profession.
Why work with a CPA forensic accountant?
Although forensic accounting groups often include individuals with a police background, computer experts with advanced knowledge of electronic information management, commercial law or litigation lawyers, mathematicians and statisticians, many CPAs work in the sector and play a decisive role in these engagements.
Thanks to their university education, which covers all aspects of the business world, and their experience working as financial auditors, internal auditors or controllers in firms and industry, CPAs are more likely to have the accounting and investigation expertise required in this field.
Complementary training in forensic accounting
Even though CPAs are already well equipped to recognize manipulative accounting practices and understand the financial concepts involved in investigative and forensic accounting engagements, they can still take recognized training programs or acquire complementary professional credentials to sharpen their knowledge in specific areas of forensic accounting. These programs include:
- MFAcc: Master of Forensic Accounting (new part-time online program offered by the University of Toronto to replace the DIFA1, in English only);
- Graduate diploma in financial crime prevention (offered by Université de Sherbrooke, in French only);
- Short graduate program in accounting fraud prevention and detection (offered by Université du Québec à Montréal, in French only);
- Undergraduate certificate in investigation and information (offered by Université de Montréal, in French only);
- CFE: Certified Fraud Examiner designation (offered by the ACFE, in English only);
- CFF: Certified in Financial Forensics credential (offered by the AICPA2, in English only);
- CAMS: Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist credential (offered by the ACAMS3, in French and English);
- CBV: Certified Business Valuator designation (offered by the CICBV4, in French and English).
Which qualities should you look for when hiring a CPA forensic accountant?
In addition to their complementary training, skills and experience, CPAs must be able to tackle the challenges that come with forensic accounting. Indeed, crime never sleeps and criminals never stop coming up with new and innovative schemes. For these reasons, CPAs need to be adept at managing change and willing to leave their comfort zones, occasionally work overtime when completing an investigation is a race against the clock, enjoy learning new things, and be able to adapt to the market.
In other words, forensic accountants need more than just solid accounting expertise and legal knowledge. They need to be extremely curious, detail oriented, persistent, creative thinkers and good communicators (verbally and in writing), and have analytical and research skills.
In conclusion, forensic accounting is a highly specialized accounting niche where CPAs are in extremely high demand. That is why an innovative recruitment strategy is important if you want to find the right accounting professional for your organization’s specific needs in this area.
Vistel Blardone Ganongo Bongo, CFE, CAMS, CPA, CGA
Manager, Investigative and Forensics Service Group, MNP
1. Diploma in Investigative & Forensic Accounting
2. American Institute of Certified Public Accountants
3. Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists
4. Canadian Institute of Chartered Business Valuators
About the author
Vistel Blardone Ganongo Bongo is primarily involved in fraud, money laundering and corruption investigations at MNP, and provides litigation support. Before going into forensic accounting, Vistel acquired over three years of audit experience in Africa, Canada and Europe. Vistel is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CGA), a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS), and a graduate of Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. He also studied in the Diploma in Investigation and Forensic Accounting (DIFA) program at the University of Toronto.