Forensic accounting v. General accounting: demystifying the difference

While most people to some degree know what a general accountant does, and will most likely have had direct or even indirect contact with one, it would appear that forensic accounting remains somewhat of a puzzle to many people. This particular article attempts to understand and explore the distinction.

Whilst the majority of us know at least something of what accountants do or have experienced some degree of exposure to one either directly or perhaps indirectly, generally people know relatively less about forensic accounting. This article highlights several of the key differences between them.

The nature of general and forensic accounting work

Perhaps the most significant and most noticeable distinction is in the overall nature of the work involved in the two kinds of role. General accounting is composed of a numerous roles: work can range from maintaining the books of accounts of a business as a way to making certain companies are complying with laws and financial regulations required of them, to publishing a company’s fiscal data and yearly or quarterly reports. General accountants may also make use of existing statistics from a corporation to make forecasts of how it might perform in the foreseeable future in order for instance to secure a loan or perhaps to entice investment.

Forensic accounting is a specific and specialised branch of accounting. Forensic accountants perform work which covers a range of diverse areas and is of a rather different nature to general accounting. Possibly the role men and women are most conscious of that they perform is to investigate when a corporation or an individual has committed a crime like fraud. Forensic accountants may be tasked by the police or the Crown Prosecution Service to investigate alleged wrongdoing by means of tracing bills, statements and other financial activity of companies, their directors, or everyday individuals. In performing this function forensic accountants see their work take them outside of the office environment in as much as they sometimes are asked to act as expert witnesses in court in criminal cases, something a conventional accountant would unlikely see in his line of work. In this role therefore forensic accountants are helping discipline wrongdoing rather than a general accountant who helps people avoid wrongdoing.

Whilst helping with criminal investigations and dealing with fraud may be the most commonly known part of the work of a forensic accountant they also work in areas like divorce; whether it’s valuing assets or tracing one partner’s fiscal interests in order that they get what is found ‘added to the pot’ which is to be distributed in the settlement. Additionally, they play a role in commercial disputes, and even personal injury claims. With regards to the former it might be helping in lawsuits in demonstrating the other side’s wrongdoing, and in the case of the latter it may well involve helping to determine how much financial loss has and will be experienced. After a little investigation, therefore, it seems that not only is forensic accounting different from general accounting, but it’s broader in scope than initially one might envision.

When is Forensic accounting used?

As can be noticed from the segment above explaining the nature of a general accountants work, they could be working with a corporation daily. For giant businesses especially general accountants will be put to use every day in order to keep on top of all of the companies’ fiscal queries along with to help them conform with legal requirements. It might be the case, therefore, that some companies even have ‘in house’ accountants who will be on call 24/7.
In contrast to general accounting forensic accountants are mainly called on and used in response to the occurring of a specific event or series of events, as opposed to for a business or an individuals’ daily needs and enquires. As a result it is less likely that corporations will have an ‘in house’ forensic accountant, and will most likely make use of the service of an independent accountancy firm.

Skills necessary for a forensic accountant

Whilst both general accounting and forensic accounting involve a good knowledge and comprehension of the fundamental principles of accountancy, a supplementary skill set is expected of the forensic accountant, namely investigation. Whist a general accountant starts working with pre-existing figures and endeavors to make sense of them to a variety of different ends, forensic accountants typically search for the financial information that isn’t right in front of them in order to meet their clients objectives. This will likely involve following paper trails, interviewing individuals and perhaps obtaining court orders to uncover information.


As the services of forensic accountants are not used or needed within the everyday living of an individual it is far from unusual fairly little is known about the occupation. Upon investigation forensic accounting is in fact broad in scope and covers many different roles. What is interesting to note is that in spite of the difference between general accounting and forensic accounting, the services related to each are often available from exactly the same company. In other words it will often be the case a chartered accountant can cater for not only your general accounting needs but also your forensic accounting requirements, in the event you so need them.

For both general accountancy as well as forensic accounting solutions look for the chartered accountancy firm Price Bailey, who the writer works closely with occasionally.

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