The Information Age has featured an explosion in the variety, accessibility, and uses of data. This revolution in people’s daily affairs has helped the financial services industry. In the twenty-first century, money moves about the world faster than ever before. In something as short as a single hour, millions of financial transactions will occur worldwide.
Given the complexity and interconnectedness of the global economy, the volume and types of financial criminal activity have changed. Skilled professionals are needed to combat criminal activity. One such professional is a certified fraud examiner.
A certified fraud examiner (CFE) is a trained professional who investigates financial records to find fraudulent activities or other financial crimes. Job duties typical of a CFE include analyzing financial documents for signs of fraud, assisting in civil and criminal investigations, providing expert testimony in legal proceedings, generating reports, and conducting forensic audits. The term “forensic” describes something related to the investigation of crime and courts of law where legal proceedings that use the results of such investigations are conducted.
CFEs may find various opportunities in both the public and private sectors. In the public sector, they may work in federal, state, and local government agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE). In the private sector, a CFE may work in large or small banking institutions, firms offering specialized auditing and investigative services, and corporate environments. A CFE may also choose to become self-employed.
Read on to learn about the career outlook for CFEs, the salary such professionals can expect to earn, the steps to become a CFE, and professional organizations involved in the training, certification, and work lives of those working within this profession.
As is true of most professions, the salary a CFE can expect to earn is contingent on many factors, including educational attainment, depth of work experience, the tasks of a position, and demonstrated commitment to continued learning.
According to Salary.com, the median salary for a fraud examiner operating in the United States in June 2023 was $64,290. The distribution curve of reported CFE salaries noted on the Salary.com site includes the following data:
According to ZipRecruiter (2023), of the ten cities with the highest average compensation for certified fraud examiners, seven of them are in high-cost-of-living states:
A high level of compensation does not necessarily suggest a person can expect a very comfortable standard of living. There is often a positive correlation between the salary offered for a position and the cost of living in the region where the position is located. As noted previously, factors influencing salary size include educational attainment, experience, specialized expertise, and whether one works in the public or private sector. In reviewing open positions, applicants should consider the local cost of living as one factor that ultimately influences what positions they decide to apply to.
Individuals seeking to become certified fraud examiners must complete formal education, training and other requirements. To become a CFE, applicants must complete the following steps:
Step 1. Earn a bachelor’s degree (four years). Those wishing to become a CFE must have, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. While completing coursework in subjects such as accounting, business, finance, economics, criminal justice and/or computer science can be interpreted as a demonstration of commitment to becoming a CFE as well as making the necessary training easier to complete, coursework in these disciplines is not necessary. Individuals must complete a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.
Step 2. Become an associate member of ACFE (timeline varies). CFE candidates must become associate members of the ACFE as part of the process to become eligible to take the exam. ACFE offers a variety of membership options, including associate, educator, student, and CFE. Once candidates successfully pass the exam and meet all related requirements, they are granted a CFE membership.
ACFE membership offers a variety of benefits depending on membership type. Associate members may access several benefits, including professional networking resources, a career center and job board, the ACFE mentoring program, continuing education coursework, and a variety of information resources such as reports, newsletters, podcasts and white papers that enable new financial sector professionals to make a successful start within the industry.
Step 3. Complete fraud-related work experience (at least two years). A CFE must also hold sufficient experience to become certified. Individuals typically fulfill this requirement in one of two ways. They can accrue two years of work experience in a field relevant to fraud investigation. Such fields include accounting, finance, banking, law enforcement, and computer forensics.
A second option is to complete a master’s program in a field related to fraud investigation. Fields of study that can fulfill this alternate means of gaining experience include forensic accounting, fraud investigation, financial crime management, and digital forensics.
Step 4. Prepare for the CFE exam (timeline varies). Candidates may prepare for the exam in several ways. Individuals can complete the CFE exam prep course or a four-day, classroom-based CFE exam review course offered by the ACFE. In addition, candidates may also review the 2,000-page Fraud Examiners Manual as a means of exam preparation.
Step 5. Apply to take the CFE exam (timeline varies). A successful application to take the CFE exam requires the fulfillment of several requirements:
Step 6. Pass the CFE exam (timeline varies). CFE applicants must complete the online, eight-hour exam within a period of thirty days. After completing the exam, candidates submit their exam with an affidavit attesting that they completed the exam without outside assistance. Candidates must receive a 75 percent or higher score in all four exam sections to receive a passing score and be granted certification. The four sections within which the exam tests knowledge and proficiency are fraud prevention and deterrence, financial transactions and fraud schemes, investigation methods, and civil and criminal law.
Within three weeks of passing the exam, the complete CFE exam application is reviewed by the ACFE Certification Committee. If more information is necessary, candidates are notified by email. Candidates who are awarded the credential are also notified by email. CFE certificates are generally mailed out within six to eight weeks.
Step 7. Adhere to appropriate standards and requirements (timeline varies). Upon receipt of the certification, a CFE is expected to adhere to conduct standards articulated within both the ACFE Code of Professional Ethics and the CFE Code of Professional Standards. Links to these two codes can be found on the ACFE website. CFEs are also expected to complete continuing education to maintain their active certification.
Within a 12-month calendar period, a CFE must complete at least 20 hours of continuing professional education and pay their annual ACFE membership dues.
The skills a CFE routinely utilizes will depend on many factors, including their level of experience and the priority needs of their employer. Tasks and responsibilities common to this profession include:
Fraud examiners may work for various employers in both the public and private sectors. Career paths include compliance officer, forensic accountant, internal/external auditor, and private investigator. Given the knowledge of law they must obtain as part of their training, some CFEs may choose to pursue legal careers. CFEs accomplish several objectives in their roles, such as the reduction of loss, identity theft and fraud risk, the provision of security services, and the protection of intellectual property. CFEs can rise to top-level executive careers by taking roles such as chief compliance officer and chief risk officer.
Given the various forms of financial fraud and the complexity of the methodologies and technologies used in attempting to perpetrate such fraud, fraud investigation professionals can select from an extensive menu of training and other opportunities to maintain and enhance their skills as well as specialize in particular forms of fraud identification and investigation.
Several professional organizations exist to provide certification, training, and promotion of the fraud examination and deterrence profession. A selection of such organizations is noted below.
Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) – The ACFE is the world’s largest professional organization responsible for the training, education, and certification of fraud examiners.
ACFE offers four types of membership: associate, certified fraud examiner, educator, and student. To become a CFE, individuals must obtain an associate membership from ACFE. Those holding an associate membership may secure a CFE membership upon successfully passing the certification examination.
International Association of Special Investigation Units (IASIU) – IASIU offers three different certification programs for individuals interested in investigating various forms of fraudulent activity. These are Certified Insurance Fraud Investigator (CIFI), Certified Insurance Fraud Analyst (CIFA), and Certified Insurance Fraud Representative (CIFR).
National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS) – NICCS offers two certifications in fraud and financial crime investigations, namely the Certified eCommerce Fraud Investigator (CEFI) and the Certified Organized Retail Crime Investigator (CORCI).
National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association (NHCAA) – NHCAA offers an accredited health care fraud investigator (AHFI) certification. Those holding this certification have significant professional experience, NHCAA membership, and training and have demonstrated competence in the detection, investigation and/or prosecution of healthcare fraud.
Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) – ACAMS offers three certifications. These are the certified anti-money laundering specialist (CAMS) certification, the advanced AML audit certification (CAMS Audit), and the advanced financial crimes investigations certification (CAMS FCI).
Bernd Geels is a Berlin, Germany-based freelance writer and artist. He holds an undergraduate degree in atmospheric science and two graduate degrees. He completed his most recent graduate degree in international environmental studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in 2011. He is interested in healthcare, climate change, marine conservation, indigenous science, and refugee issues. You can reach him directly at [email protected].