Ron Durkin, Senior Managing Director
The difference between a forensic accountant (financial analyst) and an FBI agent is rather significant. FBI Agents need to go through the FBI Academy and become proficient in academics (classes such as law, procedure and statutes), physical conditioning and firearms training. Each agent candidate is evaluated on these three disciplines. Many FBI agent applicants are accountants, lawyers, school teachers, military personnel, police officers, linguists, computer technology experts and others from a variety of professions. Forensic accountants who are selected to become FBI employees are not required to carry guns or go through the rigorous training at the Academy. But, the forensic accountants are an essential part of the FBI mission. They are and will become the specialists FBI agents need to help them with the growing number of white collar criminal cases. Forensic accountants will be called upon to testify in court on the results of their (the FBI Agent’s) investigations.
1) To become a forensic accountant (with the FBI) or FBI agent, what classes should I take?
a. Accounting and auditing classes in sufficient number to allow you to take the CPA exam. Passing the exam is essential.
b. Computer classes dealing with analytical aspects- use of ACL, IDEA, Excel are great tools to use but knowing how to drill down into accounting details is essential. Finding fraud for example using these tools will be a big plus for accountants
c. Classes that help you make presentations and speak before large audiences is helpful. Forensic accountants and FBI agents need to have good presentation skills in order to convince juries and judges of the facts of their cases.
d. Writing courses, English courses- you need to be a good writer and fact gatherer to be a good agent and forensic accountant
2) What kind of career path is suggested?
a. Working for an accounting firm is important but not a deal breaker. Auditors make the best forensic accountants because they learn the audit process, various industries (financial services, health care, construction, retail, etc.), how to manage people, how to work in a team environment, how to look for fraud and how to use computers to assist the partner in finding fraud
b. Working in the computer forensic environment is also very helpful to a career in the FBI. Computers are the future of the profession (accounting) as well as the FBI.
c. Stay in good physical shape. Whatever job you have, please take time to stay in good condition. Upper body work (pull-ups), sit ups, and running are part of the pre-evaluation of agent candidates.
d. You must have three years of professional experience before you are considered for an agent position. Most agent applicants now are in their early 30’s so you have some time to get your professional experience on your resume.
e. Graduate degrees and specialized training are also helpful to build your resume for the FBI
Finally, I must say that the FBI is one of the best careers out there. I think being an FBI Agent is the best job in the world. But I also understand that forensic accountants feel the same way. I just finished making presentation to both the FBI Agent CPAs (about 350 of them) and FBI Analysts CPAs (about 100 of them) and both groups are very happy with the FBI and the work they are doing. The pay may be a little less than the outside world gets, but the thrill of the chase certainly makes up for the difference!