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DCE Magazine

Winning a Numbers Game

Spring 2021

Among many career options for those with Accounting backgrounds, a career as a forensic accountant can be a stimulating option, especially for those interested in the legal field.

Ken Rugeti

“From bookkeeping and tax preparation to data analysis, the Applied Accounting certificate program is an excellent opportunity for professionals who work with financial data to improve their understanding of accounting.” Ken Rugeti, Advisory Committee Member

When Ken Rugeti began working in his chosen field, he resisted using the term “forensic accounting” to describe what he did for a living. Although it’s perfectly accurate, he felt that people would be confused, associating the word forensic with crime-scene investigations – dusting for fingerprints, running DNA tests and the like.

But he’s feeling much better about using the title now. To be clear, it’s a specialty that uses accounting expertise to present expert opinions in a wide range of legal matters, from intellectual property infringement to fraud investigation.

“I’ve grown more comfortable referring to myself as a forensic accountant as it is the term my clients, who are often attorneys and judges, use to describe what I do,” said Rugeti, Advisory Committee member for the DCE Applied Accounting certificate program. “A forensic accountant is essentially an expert in accounting. While forensic accountants can and do work on criminal issues, the field involves so much more than that.”

Rugeti consults his Merriam-Webster for the final verdict: “Forensics means ‘belonging to, used in, or suitable to courts. This really captures the essence of forensic accounting.”

CPA certification is a must for this career. Certification requires passing the CPA and ethics exams, along with demonstrating the completion of required education and work experience. The educational requirements are most often satisfied with an undergraduate or graduate degree in accounting, or with degrees in a related field, coupled with completion of additional approved coursework outside of a formal degree program. Rugeti went with the latter option.

“For those like me who had an undergraduate degree in finance, an accounting certificate is a great option short of graduate school to obtain educational credits needed to sit for the exam,” he said. “I had nearly all the credits I needed from USC, so I filled in the gaps by taking some courses at UCI.”

Contrary to a common perception of accounting as a stiff, stationary career, a forensic specialty demonstrates the variety of interesting possibilities for those who have an aptitude for working with numbers. It’s not all about sitting at a desk for long hours balancing books.

While it doesn’t involve “CSI” sleuthing, it can offer a bit of courtroom drama. Rugeti’s work with FTI, a global consulting firm, involves intellectual property infringement, misappropriation of trade secrets, false advertising, fraud investigation – the list goes on and on. Lawsuits and business survival often hang in the balance.

“A traditional accountant may help a business prepare audited financial statements or tax returns, but the forensic accountant may take that information and help a court understand how it all presents evidence that is meaningful to the outcome of a lawsuit.”

Adding it all up

An accounting certificate is an excellent alternative to grad school for those seeking CPA certification, but it can also open doors in a number of other fields that don’t require the designation.

“Absolutely,” Rugeti said. “From bookkeeping and tax preparation to data analysis, the Applied Accounting certificate program is an excellent opportunity for professionals who work with financial data to improve their understanding of accounting. Those who already have degrees can develop knowledge and complete coursework with more flexibility than some full- or part-time degree programs offer.”

A DCE Applied Accounting certificate can help launch a career as an internal auditor, budget and financial analyst, or any position that benefits from a background in accounting. And for those with an undergraduate degree with the relevant business unit requirements, it will provide the necessary accounting units to sit for the CPA exam.

The DCE offers a companion CPA Review program that’s administered by Becker Professional Education, a leader in test prep for the past 60 years. Led by industry experts, it starts with an in-depth pre-assessment that helps guide a personalized learning path focused on areas where a student needs the most help.

Lectures, real-life simulations, mock exams, and live webinars are all part of the CPA Review. And DCE Applied Accounting students get a $500 discount on the intensive program.

“It’s important to note that requirements to become a CPA in California evolve from time to time,” Rugeti said. “Maintaining CPA certification requires career-long continuing education. Traditional and forensic accountants never stop learning and it’s critical to staying current in our ever-changing financial world.”

Once an accountant has completed the required education and certification, work experience and continuing education can lead to additional professional certifications in subspecialties like financial forensics (another term for forensic accounting), and business valuation.

“For example, in addition to being a CPA, I am Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV) and Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF),” Rugeti said.

More than balancing books

An accounting certificate from a major university can help open a number of doors, and demand is consistently strong for well-qualified candidates, especially those who establish specialties in the field. For forensic accountants, the career outlook is quite bright, despite the impact of COVID-19.

“The career outlook continues to look very good,” Rugeti said. “For forensic accountants, there are two main ways to specialize. One is expertise in a technical area or accounting concept. Think business valuation, commercial damages analysis or fraud investigation. The second would be industry specialization, including areas like healthcare and financial services, among others.”

A background in data analytics and information systems is becoming increasingly important for accountants, as global commerce becomes virtually paperless, interconnected financially and in so many other ways, he added.

Now getting back to that courtroom drama, forensic accounting can be quite an interesting and even exciting career option that goes way beyond simple bookkeeping. Just ask Ken Rugeti.

“I’ve worked on somewhere between 600 and 1,000 cases over my career and have so many stories I can share, from having U.S. Marshals enter a court proceeding I testified in due to the criminal allegations against one of the parties, to having an appellate court affirm a trial court’s adoption of my findings in a heavily contested case. I love my work and the satisfaction of helping the legal world correctly assess financial issues.”

Learn more about the Applied Accounting Certificate Program.