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Sherlock Holmes of the finance world

You may not be able to identify them in the street, says Peter Morris, forensics division director at KPMG, but these people are senior detectives: they put villains away.

Forensic accountants sniff out fraud, corporate misfeasance, embezzlement, misappropriation, money laundering and plain theft by following paper trails and electronic footprints through financial records.

And they are hot. Demand is “extremely high”, says Andrew Ross, practice head of the Sydney forensics group at insolvency specialist Ferrier Hodgson. “We have to recruit globally: there are just not enough forensic accountants here.”

Countries following English common law are apparently the preferred sources of employees. But Ross says companies will also take candidates from elsewhere and train them.

What makes a financial detective? Generally you’ll need excellent mathematics, auditing or accounting/finance qualifications and several years’ experience for a forensics job – although the dearth of talent means this is changing.

KPMG already hires some graduates for forensics, with a view to creating a pipeline for the future. Demand is so great that universities, notably Wollongong, are establishing postgraduate degrees in forensic accountancy, says Alex Andoni, senior consultant at recruiter Hays.

In the meantime, she says, the short supply is fattening up forensics’ salaries. A forensic supervisor earns about AU$80k to AU$100k and a manager AU$110k to AU$130k. “We have to pay premium rates to get people with experience, probably a 20% to 25% premium on their peers’ salaries,” Ross says.

Nevertheless, it’s nothing like the pay investment bankers get, so what’s the appeal?

“It is unpredictable, various, fascinating and satisfying,” says Morris. “Intellectual, engaging and exciting,” says Ross.

Above all, Morris says, “It’s great for someone with a suspicious mind.”

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