My Journey Becoming a Forensic Accountant with NO CA/CPA Degree (And How You Can Too!)

The Finance Story

  • How can you start a Forensic Accounting Career? Should you be a CA or a CPA to be a Forensic Accountant?
  • In fact: In today's article, we have Nirav Shah sharing with us how he exactly started his career as a Forensic Accountant WITHOUT a CA/ CPA degree.
  • Nirav did his B.Com and then pursued an MBA (from a not so great MBA school) but still succeeded in Forensic Accounting.
  • He started his career at Big 4 Accounting firms EY and KPMG as a Forensic Accountant.

Deciding to Pursue Commerce But not CA / CPA

After completing class 10, I got admission into one of the best colleges in Mumbai (India) - Jai Hind College. Out of 120 students in my class, almost 90 of them were pursuing some qualification or the other like CA or CS or LLB or even all three.

I decided not to pursue CA or any other professional qualification along with my graduation. Instead, I decided to work full time with my dad in his business while still in college and gain real-life business experience.

So my plan was simple - to only focus on completing my graduation and simultaneously manage my dad’s furniture hardware business so as to get hands-on experience.

Unfortunately, due to personal problems, there was a huge financial loss in our family business. Our business was on the verge of shut down. My dad with his years of experience managed to turnaround the business but I realized it was not a good idea for both us to be working in the same business.

We decided that my dad continue running the business and I would pursue an MBA and find a steady job with a good income.

At that point, pursuing an MBA and finding a job meant an additional source of income and security. So that’s how after my graduation I decided to pursue an MBA. 

In 2011, I started my MBA from UnitedWorld School of Business. This MBA college is not very well known since it started its Mumbai campus only in 2009.

EXTRA TIP: I would definitely recommend pursuing an MBA from a better school as it gives one a better advantage in terms of salary and scope of growth.

"How Did I Get into Forensic Accounting?"

When I was doing my MBA, Ernst & Young (EY) had come to our campus for placements. It was for EY, FIDS department, Mumbai (India). Back then in 2013, EY used to hire a lot of Chartered Accountants, Company Secretary or LLB professionals in their Forensic Team and this was one of the few times they were hiring just Finance MBA graduates.

They were aware that I would not have the knowledge in Accounting and Finance like a qualified CA so they decided to hire me on a contract basis for 6 months! Post 6 months, based on my performance, they would either renew my contract making me a permanent employee or discontinue my contract if my performance was poor!

I found this profile very niche and full of knowledge so I decided to take this opportunity with EY in their Forensic Accounting team and see where it could take me. Luckily it went all well and I continued working at EY in their Forensic Team for almost 2 years.

After EY, I moved to KMPG again in their Forensic Team and worked there for almost 3 years. Presently, I am working in a private bank as a Forensic Accountant.

So all I want to say is - You can still succeed in Forensic Accounting if you do not have a CA/ CPA qualification.

"Are Forensic Accountants in Demand?"

Well as you know Forensic Accounting is a very diversified field. It includes:

  • Anti Money Laundering (AML)
  • Cyber Security
  • Fraud Detection
  • Fraud Prevention Techniques
  • Fraud Risk Management (FRM
  • Asset Tracing, etc.

The demand for Forensic Accountants in India and around the world is increasing. Just look at the number of firms offering forensic services. Forensic Services is no longer restricted to only Big 4 Accounting firms, there are tons of firms who have started these services.

To give you an example, the Forensic Accounting strength in Big 4 Accounting firms has increased almost 4 times in the last decade. There is no sector where fraud cannot happen. It can be logistics or financial or any sector you name it there is scope for Fraud. Where there is scope fraud there is a need for a Forensic Accountant.

So the scope for Forensic Accounting in India and around the world is never-ending.

"Is it Necessary to be a CA/CPA to be a Forensic Accountant?"

Though this is soon changing, when I started my career in Forensic Accounting in 2011, most of my team members were Chartered Accountants.

If you are 'just an MBA graduate from a not so famous school or a semi-qualified professional' initially you will be given a lot of clerical work. But yes you can learn a lot from that work if you take it positively.

Every presentation given to you for formatting will teach you a lot. It will give you an idea of how the assignment can get done.

My first assignment an Insurance company that claimed for fire insurance. However, there was a whistleblower stating that this fire was deliberate and not accidental. We were hired to find out whether the whistleblower allegations were true or not. So we started with accounting, which includes looking at the stock. The company was using SAP software for accounting and I had NEVER used this system before. But, my teammates who were Chartered Accountants knew how to use this software as they worked on it during their articles. They were also very well aware of financial analysis, machinery analysis, production analysis, etc.

So during this assignment, I had a tough time but gradually with experience, I learned everything...and today I am almost at par with a CA knowledge-wise.

If you know how to read financial statements and understand systems such as SAP (commonly used accounting software) then it will be easier initially and rest will follow with experience.

Science background professionals can also be part of this field but then they need to learn more things, however, they can start with sectors related to the science field e.g. healthcare, chemicals, etc. Software engineers are also preferred but they are generally a part cybersecurity team or forensic technology team.

To conclude, it is not mandatory to be a CA to start a career as a Forensic Accountant but yes in some cases having a CA/CPA qualification can be a great advantage. 

"Forensic Accounting Jobs in India?"

Forensic Accounting is a good career option as this is a very niche service line. When I joined EY the size of the forensic team grew almost 1.5 times in 2 years. Not only Big 4 firms, now there are multiple companies and firms who are into forensic audits and the growth is amazing in this service line as compared to others.

Forensic Accountants are fortunate to have a diverse range of entry-level options available to them. Unlike other career paths in the accounting world, forensic auditors tend to perform the same functions throughout their career and move up from analyst, to manager, to supervisor/senior consultant over the course of their employment. This does not mean their job is boring or routine, in fact, every assignment is a new challenge and a new experience.

Forensic nowadays play an extremely important role in all financial institutions.

Nowadays not only banks or consulting firm hires forensic auditors but insurance companies, asset management companies, investment firms, and even law firms hire forensic auditors.

Frauds have occurred in all departments of the bank, whether its HR, Sales, Customer contact point, logistics, transactions (Money Laundering), etc. Hence Banks nowadays has a separate forensic department.

There are also other departments in banks such as credit where loans are sanctioned and the forensic auditor does a negative screening of the customer which is of high risk to the bank there.

Now banks have started Asset Reconstruction Business, these departments also require a forensic auditor for asset tracing.

All I am trying to say is, where there is a scope for Fraud there is an opportunity for Forensic Accountants.

"How Much Do Forensic Accountants Earn?"

As mentioned earlier, I had done my MBA from a not so well known college.

I started my career at EY, India as an Assurance Associate (trainee level) and a CA starts as an Associate Consultant or consultant which is at least 2 to 3 years ahead of an Assurance Associate.

When I first started my career in 2011 my salary at EY was about INR 16,500 per month (almost $250) and a CA my age was already earning INR 50,000 per month (almost $1ooo).

The learning and exposure I have received at EY was priceless. So you could say though I started as a full-time employee at EY since I had no working experience this was more like a training phase for me.

As I grew in the company and did CFE certification this gap narrowed but yes there will always be some difference.

You can check out the salary details at PayScale.

"How To Start a Career in Forensic Accounting?"

Usually to start a career in Forensic Accounting, at the very least you will need a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or any other related fields. This is how I started my career:

  • I started my Forensic Accounting career after completing B.Com and MBA in Finance (from an okayish B School).
  • After almost 2 years of work experience as a Forensic Accountant at a Big 4 Accounting firm, I pursued a forensic certification - Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) from ACFE.

In countries like the US, South Africa, UK one can do their Bachelors Degree in Forensic Accounting itself. 

Many employers also expect their forensic accountants to hold certifications like a CPA (Certified Public Accountant), Chartered Accountant (CA), or Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE).

Many fraud examiner positions will require one of these credentials, and even if they do not, as per research certified forensic accountants earn on average 25% more than their uncertified colleagues.

Mostly in India, Chartered Accountants dominate the Forensic Accounting industry.

In the US, the two widely recognized Forensic Accounting certifications are:

When it comes to Forensic Accounting courses/certifications in India, I don't know if we have any specific courses as such but nowadays I have come across a University known as Gujarat Forensic Sciences University which offers various courses in Forensic Accounting. 

If you are in India and want to pursue a career in Forensic Accounting, you can opt for international courses. The two major certifications are Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS).

If you are a Chartered Accountant from ICAI you can also pursue a Certificate course on Forensic Accounting and Fraud Detection.

To Conclude...

Forensic Accounting is very vast. I started with a Big 4 Accounting firm as I wanted to eventually work at a Bank or so. Again this is a personal choice. So in the industry, 90% of forensic accounting professionals are employed by financial institutions.

First decide what in forensics you want to do, which sector you wish to work with. I started with the financial services sector which includes Bank, Insurance companies, Asset Management Companies, Fund House, NBFC's, etc.

If you want to join a bank as a Forensic Accountant one should have basic knowledge of fraud may it be banking frauds or any other.

You should study some laws such as the UK Bribery Act, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and Indian Law (Anti Bribery and Corruption). It is not necessary to remember sections but yes some basic knowledge is needed.

For example: Say you import one car from the USA and one from the UK.

USA govt. officials are taking time to complete the process so you give them some money to expedite the process and you do the same in UK and India. However, as per the UK and India, it is bribery and illegal however as per the USA law this called a facilitation payment and it is completely legal.

So this basic knowledge is extremely important.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are of the interviewee. Kindly do your research before deciding on a career of your choice. 

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