A Closer Look at Accounting Certifications to Advance Your Career


With a dizzying array of accounting certifications to choose from, how does a savvy financial professional decide which ones to pursue? The CPA remains the gold standard credential for accounting and finance roles in the United States, while Chartered Accountant (CA) is its equivalent in Canada and other English-speaking countries.

But there are a number of other valuable certifications that may help advance your professional accounting career. Here's a look at several options:

1. For corporate accounting

Certified Management Accountant (CMA) — Issued by the Institute of Management Accountants, this certification demonstrates mastery of critical accounting and financial management skills from a generalized, managerial and internal perspective. Requirements include two continuous years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management, completion of the self-paced CMA program and a passing score on the two-part CMA exam.

Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) — This certification is available from both the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). It’s an achievement that demonstrates your competency in management accounting skills and your expertise in developing strategy that connects all aspects of business. Both organizations expect you to pass an exam to earn the certification. The AICPA requires that you hold a CPA and the CIMA asks that you have a CIMA Professional qualification.

2. For audit, fraud and risk management

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) — Offered by the Institute of Internal Auditors, it is the only certification for internal auditors accepted worldwide. This credential shows that you are proficient working with internal staff and external clients and knowledgeable of best practices in the industry. You can qualify to take the exam with a four-year undergrad degree and at least 24 months of internal auditing experience or its equivalent. If you have a master's degree, you need only two months of experience. Alternately, if you don't have a bachelor's degree from an accredited university, you may be eligible with either two years of post-secondary education and five years of internal audit experience, or seven years of internal audit experience.
Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) — Available to members of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, this credential is beneficial for finance professionals focused on anti-fraud endeavors across private and public agencies. Passing the CFE exam demonstrates your expertise in the four main areas of fraud examination: Financial Transactions and Fraud Schemes, Law, Investigation, and Fraud Prevention and Deterrence. To apply to take the CFE exam, you need to submit documentation of your education and work experience, along with three professional recommendations.

Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP) — The Institute of Internal Auditors offers this certification for audit practitioners in the public sector. It demonstrates your skill in the unique requirements of government auditing. To qualify for the exam, you must have two years of government auditing experience.

3. In information technology

Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) — This certification from ISACA signifies proficiency in information systems auditing, control and security. Certification requires passing the exam and having a minimum of five years of professional information systems auditing, control or security work experience.
Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) — Offered by the AICPA, it is a specialty credential for CPAs who want to demonstrate technology skills that can help a company span the gap between business concerns and technical consideration. You must have your CPA and first pass the CITP exam. Additional requirements include having a minimum of 1,000 hours of business experience and 75 hours of continuing education in information management and technology assurance within the five years preceding your application for the CITP.

4. In banking and financial services

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) — Issued by the CFA Institute, this certification is commonly required in the financial services field. It demonstrates fundamental knowledge of investment principles in the fields of portfolio management and investment analysis. Completion of the CFA course of study and three six-hour exams are required.

Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA) — The Institute of Internal Auditors' CFSA is a specialty certification for audit professionals who have a minimum of two years of experience in financial services organizations, such as banks, holding and investment companies, insurance companies, credit agencies, or security and commodity services.

When considering what certifications to pursue, carefully study how each might help advance your career. Survey colleagues for recommendations. Before you decide, ask your supervisor or professional mentor for advice. Your choice may be swayed by whether you work in public or private accounting public or private accounting. The niche that is your company’s focus might also dictate your direction as well as your own career aspirations.
Did we miss any important certifications? Let us know in the comments.

Related resources

• Want More Bang for Your Buck? 5 Finance Certifications to Consider

Accounting and Financial Certifications Employers Want to See

Learn more

What are other ways to advance your accounting career? Check out Robert Half’s E-Learning page.