The word forensic conjures up images from television shows where detectives use forensic evidence to arrest and convict criminals. The examiners dress in white coats, wear gloves, and appear to be omniscient about all aspects of forensic. In reality, however, forensics is far more diverse. Highly specialised and detail-oriented, forensic expertise comprises but is not limited to accountants, digital specialists, and process specialists.
For the purpose of this article, we will limit our discussion to forensic careers in private organisations, focussing on white-collar crime, regulatory non-compliance investigations, litigation support and digital crime investigations.
The need for forensics
In the late 1920s, a dreaded gangster was arrested for tax evasion. His arrest was made possible through a scrutiny of his financials, thereby creating a space for forensic accounting and accountants. Driving this demand is the increase in forensic audit necessities across spheres, including insolvency matters and financial misreporting.
In recent times, increasing regulations, marketplace pressures, cross-border businesses, rising cybercrime and changing business dynamics have created a demand for trained and skilled forensic professionals. Universities have responded to this demand by offering forensic courses, as has the Indian government, which is now seeking to establish a National Forensic Science University. Consulting companies are also expanding their in-house forensic teams, and more recently, have started enhancing their in-house forensic and investigation capabilities. From a stage where primary users of in-house capabilities were financial institutions to now, there has been an upsurge in forensic talent recruitment by new businesses such as e-marketplaces, payment gateway companies, and pharmaceutical companies.
Forensics is an exciting field due to a few reasons. Firstly, it is never standalone and always has a context. Second, despite all the technical elements, there is significant need to understand human behaviour. The questions—who, why, where, when, and how—become part of the regular thought process in this field. Third, forensics as a field pushes you to gain an understanding of how business operations, controls and regulations work. You are continuously challenged to upgrade your knowledge and awareness, whether you focus on a single industry or your skills cut across various sectors.
Skills in demand
Industry experience in any sector is a huge benefit. This can be further accentuated with an in-depth understanding of business operations from a supply chain, procurement, market spending perspective and also a general competence of the broader market scenario. That said, experience in statutory and internal audit also helps with the technical know-how of business and accounting processes.
Forensic teams in most consulting firms include professionals from banking, insurance, fintech, ecommerce, automotive, pharmaceutical, asset management, credit rating agency and business management backgrounds. While niche areas such as dispute advisory and economics and regulatory advisory have drawn the attention of economists and lawyers, former law enforcement officers and army personnel have also found successful tenures in forensics.
Forensic data analytics capabilities is another area of focus for forensic teams. Considering that a key element of transactions forensics relies on data analytics capabilities for continuous monitoring, correlations, and identification of anomalies, trained data analysts have found interesting careers in forensics. Additionally, with financial services companies and in-house captives of global financial services companies expanding their analytics teams in India, financial crime analytics skills will be instrumental in their operations. Online businesses have also acquired the benefits of forensic data analytics or fraud analytics enhanced by Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities in preventing financial loss due to fraud.
Digital forensics is another area we foresee to have continued growth. The need for educated, trained, and skilled digital forensic examiners cuts across all types of businesses. This is due to the high pervasiveness of technology in all spheres, bolstered further due to increasing incidents of digital fraud and cyber crime. Complex applications, operations, cloud adoption, and more recently, remote working are creating a demand for creative, yet compliant options for digital forensics. The use of electronic discovery is also increasing across fraud investigations, regulatory data requests, or even government-agency-led investigations.
Forensics can offer an exciting career to bright, young professionals with the ability to find structure in unstructured scenarios. However, it is a tough vocation that includes long hours, great attention to detail and persistence. Even so, there exists a proverbial “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow, only if you can use your forensic skills to identify where the rainbow ends.
The writer is Partner – Forensic, Financial Advisory at Deloitte India
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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