We’ve all heard the story—or seen the movie—about how forensic accountant Frank J. Wilson, recruited by the U.S. Treasury Department, helped bring notorious gangster Al Capone to justice on multiple counts of tax evasion. Or how, in the 1980s, it was forensic accounting that helped the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission make the case against Ivan Boesky and Company for insider trading. These cases are among the most famous but they are far from outliers. In late 2020, Reuters reported that financial fraud related to the coronavirus pandemic had caused U.S. losses to double—nearly $100 million—from the previous year.
Forensic accountants investigate financial crimes involving everything from corporate fraud and embezzlement to asset mismanagement and money laundering but they also help organizations and individuals make secure and legal decisions with their money. They provide evidence for criminal litigation as well as civil matters involving personal assets, including divorce, identity theft, the dissolution of partnerships and bankruptcy.
In the current era, when information is perhaps our most precious commodity and fraud of all kinds is on the rise, forensic accountants are a crucial, and highly sought after, resource.
“It’s accounting, but you have to think of it from the standpoint of an investigation. So, it’s an extension of what we teach in our auditing and information systems courses,” says Norwich’s online Master of Accounting Program Director, Dr. Byron Henry. “Forensic accountants are looking for fraud and trying to measure it in terms of financial impact, identify who may have perpetrated the fraud, and turn that information over to the appropriate legal entity who will actually prosecute.
“Accountants alert their clients or employer to the amount of fraud. ‘This is how we think it happened. And these are some possible remedies to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’”
Forensic accountants work across the spectrum of business, industry, government and law enforcement. And with demand rising ever higher each year, the Forensic Accounting concentration prepares students to take on a variety of roles. Depending on the context, these accounting professionals may be called upon to perform internal audits, ensure compliance with regulations, or conduct interviews—or any combination of these—as well as do good old-fashioned number crunching.
Dr. Henry notes that such preparation is central not only to the Forensic Accounting concentration but also to the Master of Accounting degree as a whole, which is driven by the changing needs and concerns of the profession. (Think about the ongoing emergence of cryptocurrency, for example, and the numerous challenges it presents to exchange markets and how companies conduct business.)
It’s why Norwich places a particular emphasis on student experience and why the student-faculty relationship is key.
“The program is designed to be student-centric,” he explains. “So, we have smaller class sizes that will never grow beyond 15 students. We also want to allow for much more interaction between and among students, as well as interaction between students and faculty members. Ideally, we would like to create a community within the program so that students can interact with other students, even if they don’t share the same cohort. Although it’s an online program, we want it to feel like an on-campus program.”