Should Forensic Accounting Be Regulated?

forensic-accountingThe profession of “public accounting” has been regulated by states through the process of issuing CPA licenses. There is one CPA exam taken by candidates across the country, and then each state uses the pass/fail results in their process of certifying accountants. In addition to passing the exam, states generally have education, ethics, and training requirements.

The field of forensic accounting has developed rapidly over the last decade or so, with lots of new professionals practicing forensic accounting. A CPA license is generally not required when providing forensic accounting or fraud investigation services, although many professionals do maintain the CPA credential because it adds a level of credibility to their work.

A paper published by William Dennis Huber, a CPA, CFE, and faculty member at Capella University, Should the forensic accounting profession be regulated?, says that there are problems within the profession of forensic accounting and with forensic accounting certifications.

The abstract says:

The failure of forensic accounting corporations to disclose either their legal status or the qualifications of their officers and directors, their failure to publish financial statements, and their failure to adopt or enforce a Code of Ethics or Standards of Practice, were among the most significant problems uncovered. The failures of the corporations were exacerbated by forensic accountants’ failure to investigate diligently the corporations that issued their certifications prior to obtaining their certifications. This resulted in a significant number of forensic accountants holding certifications from corporations that were inconsistent with their beliefs that a forensic accounting corporation should be not-for-profit, and their officers and directors should be qualified.

The translation? There are a bunch of “professional organizations” out there that prey on forensic accountants. They offer “certifications” that are essentially meaningless.

What’s their purpose? To collect membership dollars and sell continuing education.

And forensic accountants themselves are not held blameless. Huber suggests that they’re not doing their homework on these organizations, and are just running around collecting meaningless certifications.

An article about the study said:

Huber argues that the forensic accounting certification industry “is characterized not just by strong, competitive forces but also by outright legal conflict between the corporations that issue forensic accounting certifications. The competition can easily be seen in the various self-promotional materials. The conflict, if not outright animosity, is manifested in the legal actions taken by one corporation against another which, while claiming it is to protect the corporation, does little to advance the forensic accounting profession.”

Huber offers three potential solutions:

  • Voluntary action by the organizations (i.e. policing themselves)
  • Establishing an independent agency for accrediting organizations and their certifications
  • Regulatory intervention

I have an easier solution. Forensic accountants should avoid all forensic accounting organizations and certifications but these:

  • Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) offered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)
  • Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE)
  • Certified Forensic Financial Analyst (CFFA) offered by the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NACVA)
All three of these credentials have substance behind them. They are offered by reputable organizations which have testing and other requirements before getting the certification.
And you don’t need all three. Any one of these will do for an experienced, competent forensic accountant.
Avoid all other organizations purporting to offer a forensic accounting credential. They are not widely recognized, and therefore add little value to your resume.

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Comments (2)

  • ConnieF

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    Tracy-thank you for clarifying this very confusing professional certification. As an MBA interested in forensic accounting, I’ve often been confused by the educational offerings and claims of various ‘certificate” providers. Your outline is extremely helpful.
    Connie F.
    PS Love your blog by the way, I read it almost every day.

    Reply

  • Tracy Coenen

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    Connie – Thanks for the kind words. I admit that there MAY be other valuable certifications out there. But they’re not as well-known and therefore not terribly beneficial. Generally, having one of the three mainstream (i.e. most widely recognized) credentials is enough.

    Reply

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