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The term "financial forensics" refers to an area of accounting practice mainly focused on detecting financial crimes. Professionals who specialize in forensic accounting often hold a credential known as CFF certification.
To become certified in financial forensics, a candidate must pass a challenging exam issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Though technically optional, CFF certification is a functional requirement for financial forensics professionals. Their work often precedes litigation or prosecution, and the credential endorses their standing as legally recognized experts.
The CFF exam tests candidates' skills in focused accounting areas, including:
- Fraud detection and prevention
- Financial misrepresentation
- Insolvency and bankruptcy
- Financial valuations
- Calculating the economic damages of unlawful or unethical activity
According to the AICPA, the CFF credential represents one of the fastest-growing specializations in professional accounting. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes forensic accountants in its general "accountants and auditors" category. The BLS projects this labor market segment to grow at a healthy 7% rate during the 2020-2030 period.
Why Get CFF Certification?
- An Authoritative Professional Profile
- The AICPA notes that CFF accounting professionals attract higher levels of confidence from their clients and employers. The credential represents authoritative levels of specialized expertise. This can prove vital when litigating civil cases or prosecuting individuals or organizations accused of financial crimes.
- More Opportunity
- Certified financial forensics professionals are more likely to earn referrals from clients, attorneys, and other accountants.CFF accountants also enjoy exclusive access to the AICPA’s Forensic and Valuation Services (FVS) membership section. FVS members have enhanced access to relevant job postings.
- Increased Earning Potential
- According to the AICPA, forensic accounting regularly ranks among the accounting profession’s top five fastest-growing service areas. Accounting firms who employ CFFs can boost their overall revenues. Individual professionals may also leverage their expertise to source more lucrative employment opportunities.
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How Do You Get Certified in Financial Forensics?
The AICPA is the sole organization authorized to issue CFF certification. To earn the designation, candidates must meet three eligibility requirements:
- CPA Licensure or Certification: You must have a valid, unencumbered CPA license or hold CPA certification. This certification is available to accountants who have passed the CPA exam but not yet obtained a license.
- Earn a Passing Grade on the CFF Exam: The AICPA's CFF Exam Content Specification Outline explains in detail the knowledge needed to pass the certification test.
- Complete the CFF Credential Application: This formality includes an attestation that you meet the AICPA's professional experience and educational requirements.
CFF candidates require a valid CPA license or certificate. To obtain these, you need at least a bachelor's degree with credits in accounting, auditing, business, and taxation. Accounting students meet these prerequisites. Those in other majors can qualify, provided they complete coursework in the aforementioned areas.
The AICPA adds one other stipulation: CFF test-takers need at least 75 hours of forensic accounting professional development training. Candidates should have completed this training less than five years prior to taking the CFF exam.
- Read about bachelor's degree programs in accounting
- Read about master's degree programs in accounting
- Read about master's degree programs in forensic accounting
In addition to meeting educational requirements, CFF candidates require at least 1,000 hours of relevant professional experience. This experience needs to be accrued within the five-year period immediately preceding the CFF exam date.
The AICPA details eligible professional experience in its CFF Application Kit. It also specifies that the following types of experience qualify:
- Performing forensic accounting services for a financial institution or consulting firm
- Performing forensic accounting services in the context of arbitration or litigation
What Does the CFF Exam Cover?
The CFF certification exam tests knowledge across three areas: professional responsibility, core forensic accounting knowledge, and specialized forensic accounting knowledge. According to AICPA guidelines, the proportions of each break down as follows:
- Professional responsibilities and practice management: 5%-10%
- Core forensic accounting knowledge: 30%-50%
- Specialized forensic accounting knowledge: 40%-50%
Each of the three areas challenge test-takers in multiple specific subjects. The professional responsibility section covers:
- AICPA standards
- CPA responsibilities with regard to civil litigation and criminal prosecution
Core forensic accounting knowledge encompasses the following:
- Planning and preparing for financial forensics engagements
- Techniques for gathering, preserving, and analyzing financial information
- Collecting expert opinions and witness testimony
- Legal and dispute resolution systems
Questions covering specialized forensic accounting knowledge challenge test-takers on topics including:
- Bankruptcy, insolvency, and financial restructuring
- Best practices for calculating financial damages
- Financial valuations as they function in civil litigation
- Preventing, identifying, and responding to financial fraud
- Recognizing misrepresentations of financial data
The CFF exam includes two parts, and test-takers have two hours to complete each part.
Candidates can take the computer-based examination in person or online, with online exams subjected to remote proctoring. The format consists of 175 multiple-choice questions distributed evenly across the two exam sections.
Other than these details, the AICPA publishes little official information about the exam. It stresses that the test is nondisclosed. This means the AICPA does not release questions or answers. It also does not permit the circulation of exam materials beyond official testing sites.
Scoring the Exam
The CFF exam uses a pass/fail system. It does not involve numerical scoring or grading. Instead, AICPA-affiliated psychometric analysts review answers to see if they display adequate levels of capability.
Test-takers who meet or exceed the AICPA's minimum test material comprehension standards receive a "pass." Those who do not receive a "fail."
You must earn passing grades on both parts of the examination to get the CFF credential. If you pass one section but fail the other, you can retake the failed section. Candidates have 12 months from the date of successfully completing one section to pass both exam parts.
You can obtain your results at the test site, or by following prompts issued by remote proctors. Results become available immediately upon completion of the examination.
How Do You Register for the CFF Exam?
The CFF certification exam became available year-round on February 1, 2018. Members and non-members of the AICPA can register for and take the test. AICPA members qualify for reduced exam fees.
The AICPA's registration and scheduling terms and conditions do not include proof of citizenship or legal residency requirements. Registrants also do not need a CPA certificate or license to complete their exam booking. However, test-takers must acquire CPA certification or licensure prior to the exam date.
After registering, you will receive a Notification to Schedule (NTS) email within two weeks. The NTS communication includes instructions for completing your booking and setting a test date.
The NTS message will also contain a voucher code that remains valid for 12 months. You need this code to verify your identity in the registration system. The AICPA advises candidates to book their test as early as possible after receiving the NTS email. However, you can complete your registration any time within the 12-month period.
Candidates who fail one or both sections of the exam can retake the test at any time for a reduced fee.
Paying for the Exam
As of November 2021, CFF exam costs for first-time registrants break down as follows:
- $275 for AICPA non-members
- $220 for AICPA members
- $175 for AICPA FVS Section members
Those registering for a retake pay $60. The AICPA also offers volume pricing to companies seeking to certify multiple CFF accounting professionals. Companies who register two or more test-takers for the same examination window receive a discount of $60 per exam.
How Can You Prepare for the CFF Exam?
The AICPA offers CFF certification exam review courses in a self-guided format. It also provides certificate programs covering both the core and specialized financial forensics skills tested by the exam.
Candidates who get an early start on their exam prep tend to achieve better results. To that end, you can also draw on these performance-boosting tips:
- Take practice exams
- Practice exams help applicants understand the types of questions they can expect on the test while highlighting which areas they need to work on before sitting for the exam.
- Complete review courses
- Applicants benefit from taking review courses through the AICPA to brush up on the exam’s material and increase their chances of passing.
- Do not rely solely on review
- While candidates should use reviews in their studies, the AICPA does not recommend relying on these courses alone. Applicants should take advantage of other resources, such as books, practice exams, and self-study.
- Join study groups
- Studying with fellow candidates offers networking and advanced learning opportunities. The AICPA offers online and in-person study groups for CFF candidates.
- Rest before the test
- The evening before the test, candidates should avoid the temptation to stay up late studying. Candidates should sleep so that their minds are fresh and clear for the exam.
Practice Exams and Study Resources
This document contains a detailed breakdown of the concepts you must master to obtain CFF certification. It lists specific texts and informational resources for candidates to review. The outline covers all three knowledge types that make up the CFF exam's two sections.
The AICPA endorses this comprehensive manual as a foundational study resource. It includes comprehensive coverage of the core and specialized forensic accounting subjects tested during the examination. AICPA members qualify for a discount on the textbook.
Core and Specialized Certification Programs
Candidates can also prepare by taking AICPA financial forensics certification modules. The organization offers two such programs: the Core Forensic Accounting Certificate and the Specialized Forensic Accounting Certificate. Both include structured courses and certification exams.
What Is Needed to Maintain Financial Forensics Certification?
Accountants certified in financial forensics must recertify annually. This process includes paying an annual fee and meeting the AICPA's recertification requirements.
Recertification standards include at least 20 hours of continued professional development coursework. This coursework must be undertaken during the 12-month period immediately preceding recertification.
Three other conditions apply:
- You must maintain AICPA membership in good standing
- You must hold a state-level CPA license, certification, or officially recognized equivalent
- You must provide a signed statement of intent acknowledging that you understand your recertification obligations
Should You Get Multiple Certifications?
Accountants certified in financial forensics sometimes choose to add further credentials to their profiles. This can broaden their professional horizons and further increase their earning potential.
Examples of other accounting credentials that can complement CFF certification include:
- Certified Internal Auditor (CIA): The Institute of Internal Auditors issues this specialized credential. CIA certification signals an elite to advise clients on governance, risk management, and compliance issues.
- Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE): CFEs specialize in detecting and preventing fraudulent crimes committed against their clients. The credential makes a strong supplement to CFF certification, creating a complete professional profile. It is issued by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
- Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA): This certification covers a scope similar to the standard CPA designation. However, it is globally recognized and thus opens international employment opportunities.
Frequently Asked Questions About CFF Accounting
How do I get into financial forensics?
You can pursue your interest in financial forensics by enrolling in an accounting program with a forensics concentration. Alternately, you can enroll in core and specialized learning modules with the AICPA.
Which is better, the CFE or CFF exam?
Neither exam is "better" than the other. These designations simply differ in their focus. CFEs have expertise in recognizing fraud committed against companies. CFFs investigate both individuals and companies suspected of committing financial crimes. Some accountants choose to pursue both certifications.
Where can I take the CFF exam?
You can take the CFF certification exam in-person at a Kryterion testing center. As an alternative, candidates can also schedule online exams via remote proctoring. For further information, contact the AICPA.
When is the CFF exam administered?
Candidates can take the CFF examination year-round. When you register, the AICPA will send you an email with a validation code. Entering this code into the AICPA's scheduling system will register you for the next available test date.
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