By DeVry University
If you’re interested in a career in accounting or finance, you may have wondered about accounting certifications. Are they helpful? How do they fit into your professional goals?
Although not required, certifications help demonstrate to employers that you have a certain level of competence or experience in your field. They may help prepare you to break into accounting, explore a new niche within the industry or pursue additional career goals.
Accounting is a broad field with many potential career paths. In addition to earning an accounting degree, like a Bachelor’s in Accounting, you can pursue a variety of industry-recognized certifications to further illustrate your knowledge and skills. Which to pursue depends on your immediate and long-term goals.
Let’s take a look at seven popular certifications, what it takes to qualify for each and how each can help shape your career.
1. Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
The CPA is probably the most recognizable of the accounting certifications out there. Certified public accountants help individuals and organizations plan and work toward financial goals. They can also act as advisors around financial concerns like accounting and taxes. This is a great path to consider if you’re interested in building your credibility as an accountant.
How Do I Certify as a CPA?
To get your CPA license, you must first become certified by passing the Uniform CPA exam. There are four parts to the exam, each focused on a unique subject and each taken separately. The tests equal 16 hours of exam time, and you must pass all four within an 18-month period to certify.
Some universities offer specific courses to help students get ready for the exam. For example, at DeVry, some of our accounting courses have Becker Professional Education’s CPA Exam prep built into the curriculum to help students prepare to take the exam upon graduation.
Along with certification, each state in the U.S. has different requirements for becoming licensed. You need to meet the criteria for education—usually a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance or business. You also need a minimum number of years of work experience.
CPA Career Paths
CPAs have a wide range of career paths to choose from. They work in various sectors and with experience may even hold executive-level positions. Some common areas of employment include but are not limited to:
- Public accounting
- Corporate accounting
- Tax preparation
- Forensic accounting
- Managerial accounting
- Information technology
2. Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
Unlike the CPA, this certification focuses on areas of management within accounting and covers the topic of finance as well. Offered through the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), a CMA concentrates on management skills, corporate finance and professional ethics.
As with the CPA certification, becoming a certified management accountant helps you demonstrate your knowledge and skills. But where a CPA practices public accounting, CMAs are primarily advisory professionals.
This is a good foundation for those interested in leadership or wanting to boost their skills in strategy and decision-making.
How Do I Certify as a CMA?
To become a certified management accountant, you must first get your bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, business or something related. The certification also requires that you pass a two-part test (a total of eight hours of exam time) as well as have a minimum of two continuous years of professional experience.
CMA Career Paths
CMA career opportunities lean more toward corporate management and the certification may prepare you to pursue a variety of roles. For example, some potential areas of employment may include:
- Leadership or executive roles
- Financial analysis and planning
- Cost accounting
- Financial risk
3. Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
This certification is for auditors and compliance officers. CMAs often work for large companies. They perform internal audits or assist independent auditors with relevant financial information.
This certification may be a good choice if you’re interested in becoming an internal auditor. It can also be helpful if you're interested in pursuing the role of manager or chief auditing officer within an organization.
How Do I Certify as a CIA?
A CIA requires a bachelor’s degree plus at least two years of professional experience (or one year of experience and a relevant master’s degree). Work experience must be related to internal auditing. That can include working in roles in compliance, internal control or quality assurance.
There is also a certification exam. It’s administered in three consecutive sections for a total of 6.5 hours of testing.
CIA Career Paths
A CIA certification is only relevant to internal company auditors. CIAs are usually employed by large organizations like corporations, government organizations or non-profits.
The areas a CIA might work in include:
- Various levels of internal auditing
- Leadership or executive Audit supervisor or manager
- Risk assessment
4. Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
Accountants with a CISA certification are qualified to monitor and protect an organization’s information technology and business systems. This accounting certification may be a good choice if you’re interested in IT and security.
How Do I Certify as a CISA?
A CISA certification generally requires at least five years of work experience in information systems auditing, security or control. Some education may be substituted for professional experience depending on the degree and the awarding institution.
There is also an exam requirement. The CISA exam is available to anyone interested and consists of a single, four-hour test.
CISA Career Paths
Certified information systems auditors plan and implement information system audits and risk management. They can hold a variety of positions in organizations in areas like:
- Information systems and information technology
- IT risk and assurance
- Public accounting auditing
- Cyber security
5. Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
A CFA certification is a finance-focused accreditation. It’s highly relevant if you’re considering a career in finance or financial planning. Responsibilities can include portfolio management, investment, economics and professional ethics.
How Do I Certify as a CFA?
A CFA certification requires a bachelor’s degree and four years of experience. The associated exam consists of three levels for a total of 18 hours of exam time. The exams can be completed in as little as 18 months but often take more than two years.
CFA Career Paths
Chartered financial analysts demonstrate knowledge of financial trends and markets. They tend to work in a variety of investment analysis roles. They’re employed by organizations like investment firms, banks, insurance companies and hedge fund investment funds.
Within those organizations, CFAs hold roles in areas like:
- Security analysis
- Asset management
- Equity analysis
- Hedge fund management
6. Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
A certified fraud examiner works to uncover and prevent fraud. They study their employers’ financial records looking for fraud and work with law enforcement to submit evidence and even testify in criminal trials.
How Do I Certify as a CFE?
Certification requires a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent amount of professional experience in a fraud-related field. It also requires at least two years of work experience to qualify. The test then consists of four parts, each covering a different area of financial fraud.
CFE Career Paths
A CFE may be employed in the fields of local, state and federal government. They can also work in the private sector in banking and finance, insurance, accounting or bookkeeping.
7. Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)
This competitor to the CMA Exam was created by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), the largest management accounting association in Europe. It is a less popular certification in the United States but may qualify you for careers similar to the CMA.
How Do I Certify as a CGMA?
The route to certification varies depending on your country of origin. To begin with, you must become a member of the AICPA or CIMA. You must also pass the CGMA exam. The AICPA then requires its members to get three years of relevant work experience following the exam.
CGMA Career Paths
As mentioned, this certification is a competitor to the CMA. As such, it can prepare you to pursue a career in similar fields—including various areas of financial analysis and planning, control and accounting.
Want to Get Started in Accounting and Finance?
If the broad world of accounting and finance interests you, consider getting started by advancing your education. At DeVry, we offer certificate, associate, bachelor’s and master’s programs to suit your skill level and goals. Classes for our accounting and finance programs start every 8 weeks.