A certification in a field beyond accounting can improve your job prospects, increase your earnings, and help employers decide between you and other candidates, in addition to expanding your knowledge.
Earning a specialized credential differentiates individuals and speaks to their initiative and ambition. Degrees in accounting provide access to a wide range of careers. Job seekers can specialize in public, governmental and corporate accounting, and concentrate further in banking, financial services, fraud and risk management, information technology, tax or payroll accounting.
One outcome of earning certification is a demonstration of commitment to the profession and external validation of expertise. When considering whether to earn a certificate, candidates should think about their short-term and long-term career plans. A credential may help candidates tilt their career in a different direction. A CPA moving to industry might consider earning a Certified Management Accountant credential or a CMA working in a multinational organization might consider a Chartered Global Management Accountant certificate. A certified internal auditor with information system skills might consider becoming a certified information systems auditor or a certified data analyst. In these cases, the individual is moving toward a more specialized area in their field.
Operational accountants managing accounts payable, accounts receivable and payroll have several accreditation options (not all are listed below). Earning this credential will validate their skills and help the individual advance in their field. Earning these credentials can also be supported by employers.
Earning certification in a field may not pay off immediately, but may assist in successfully landing the next job. This might be critical to those unfortunate accountants in the entertainment, tourism and food service industries forced to seek new employment as a result of the pandemic. The process should begin with joining the associated accrediting organization and actively participating, staying current and continuing professional education.
Which to choose?
There are a surprising number of certifications available in all content areas. Below we’ll summarize some of the different specialties and outline the education and experience requirements, along with the required exam costs and other fees. Readers are encouraged to visit the accreditation websites for more information on training materials, exam content and other details.
Exam eligibility is typically determined by both education and experience. Fees can vary based on membership in the accrediting organization. Membership in the professional organization can include many benefits, including additional training through conferences, webinars and networking opportunities. The accrediting body is listed after the certificate title.
The following tables summarize education, experience and exam requirements. Costs exclude exam preparation fees and membership fees. Fees differ frequently, based on member versus non-member, professional versus student, and U.S.-based verus international candidates. All links were retrieved on April 15, 2022. Experience requirements vary with the education level achieved.
Certificates in data analytics arise from a variety of sources, including several universities (e.g., Harvard, Cornell and Wharton), online resources (Coursera) and the American Institute of CPAs. The goal in data analytics is to be able to draw valuable insights from complex data sources, but it may take several steps to acquire that ability. This AICPA series encompasses those skills and is available as a bundle at reduced prices. Note that certifications are also available in business analytics that may be appropriate for someone in financial services.
AICPA Data Analytics Certificates. Note: These certificates are available as five sequential certificate programs.
- Part 1, Data Analytics Core Concepts including basic analytics concepts. Fee: $395.
- Part 2, Application of Data Analysis Essentials including fundamental statistical analysis techniques. Fee: $999.
- Part 3, Data Analytics Modeling including working with structured and unstructured data and transform data. Fee: $879.
- Part 4, Forecasting and Predictive Analytics including fundamental data modeling techniques. Fee: $900.
- Part 5 Data Visualization Certificate including how to translate data into meaningful information. Fee: $900.
Public accounting and tax
These certifications center on those who provide external financial services. Examination content typically centers on financial reporting, auditing, and taxation.
ABA – Accredited Business Accountant. Education: designed for those without a bachelor’s degree but with accounting experience. Education: two years; relevant experience one to three years. Exam fee: $400.
CPA – Certified Public Accountant. Education: 150 college credit hours (and particular courses), one to two years relevant experience. Fee $1,100.
CPB – Certified Public Bookkeeping. Education — courses, BA or AS. Exam fee: $500-$750.
EA – Enrolled Agent (Internal Revenue Service). No educational requirements but five years of relevant work experience required. Exam fee: $555.
A broad group of certifications is available in corporate accounting that vary from QuickBooks expertise to proficiency in business strategy and treasury management. Management and corporate accountants also benefit from earning the CPA certificate.
CB – Certified Bookkeeper (American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers). Education: courses or BS or AA; one year experience. Exam fee: $400-$600.
CMA – Certified Management Accountant (Institute of Management Accountants). Education: BS; two years’ experience or other certification. Exam fee $1,471-$2,155.
CTP – Certified Treasury Professional (Association for Financial Professionals). Education: Advanced business degree from a graduate program; one to two years’ experience. Exam fee $975-$1,370.
CGMA – Chartered Global Management Accountant (AICPA and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants). CPA or CIMA member and two to three years’ experience (four years teaching). Exam fee: $235.
CPP – Certified Payroll Professional (American Payroll Association). 18 months–three years’ experience. Fee: $380-$595.
These certifications address governmental accounting skills covering a very broad range of areas including financial reporting, compensation and benefits, debt and derivatives, budgeting, treasury and investment management, capital asset reporting, procurement, risk management and legal obligations. Some certifications are specialized (defense and audit) and some broad (government finance officers). They reflect the increasing complexity of governmental operations and the increasing need for specialized expertise.
CDFM – Certified Defense Financial Manager (American Society of Military Controllers). Education: High school and two to four years’ experience. Exam fee: $340.
CGAP – Certified Government Auditing Professional (Institute of Internal Auditors). One to seven years’ experience. Exam fee: $495-$795.
CGFM – Certified Government Financial Manager (Association of Government Accountants). BS and three years’ experience. Exam fee: $400-$475.
CPFO – Certified Public Finance Officer (Government Finance Officers Association). Education: BS and three years’ experience. Exam fee: $295.
Financial planning focuses on personal and financial planning and analysis. All credentials require experience and requirements vary by level of education.
CFA – Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA Institute). Education: BS and four years of relevant experience. Exam fee: $700-$1,450.
CFPA – Certified Corporate FP&A Professional (Association for Financial Planning). Education: BS and two to three years’ experience. Exam fee: $1,125-$1,320.
AFE – Accredited Financial Examiner (Society of Financial Examiners). Education: BS/MS or CPA and two years’ experience. Exam fee $200-$275.
PFS – Personal Financial Specialist (AICPA). Education: 150 credit hours and 75 hours CPE or 3,000 hours professional experience. Exam fee: $300-$500.
Auditing, fraud, risk management
Auditing certifications range from internal auditing to fraud auditing to quality audits. The demand for certification of results is increasing. Environmental audits are also increasing in importance now.
CIA – Certified Internal Auditor (Institute of Internal Auditors). AS/BS, or MS with one to five years’ experience. Exam fee $655-$855,
CFE – Certified Fraud Examiner (Association of Certified Fraud Examiners). Education: BS and 24 months’ experience. CFE exam prep fee: $400.
CFA – Certified Forensic Accountant (AICPA). Education: AS/BS or MS or CPA licensure, 24 months’ experience. Exam fee: $140-$355.
CFF – Certified Financial Forensics (AICPA): Education: CPA or 75 hours of CPE, 1,000 hours experience within five years. Exam fee: $528-$825.
CRMA – Certified in Risk Management Assurance (Institute of Internal Auditors): Education: None or AS or BS or MS and one to seven years’ experience. Exam fee: $495-$725.
CQA – Certified Quality Auditor (American Society for Quality). Education: trade school/AS/BS/MS and three to eight years’ experience. Exam fee: $398-$498.
There are many certifications for information systems, but these are most closely related to accounting expertise.
CISA – Certified Information Systems Auditor (ISACA). Education can be substituted with experience; five years’ experience. Exam fee: $625-$810.
CITP – Certified Information Technology Professional (AICPA). Education: CPA and 75 hours of CPE, 1,000 hours in IT. Exam fee: $300-$500.
CCSA – Certification in Control Self-Assessment (Institute of Internal Auditors). Education: AS/BS or MS and one to five years’ experience. Exam fee: $115-230 and $380-$495.
Valuation certifications all require significant experience. Valuation has increased in importance with increased business combinations.
CVA – Certified Valuation Analyst (National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts): Education: CPA or BS and substantial experience. Case study or FMV valuation report. NACVA membership. Exam fee: $535.
ABV – Accredited in Business Valuation (AICPA). Education: CPA or BS and 75 hours of CPE, 1,500 hours of valuation. Exam fee: $176-$275.
CEIV – Certified in Entity and Intangible Valuation (AICPA). Education: BS/ASA, CEIV or specific coursework, 3,000 hours within 10 years of experience. Exam fee: $299.