Career Development

8 Top Accounting Certifications to Enhance Your Career

July 2, 2021

If you are a financial professional, an accounting certification can increase your earning potential and qualify you for more positions. If you are considering obtaining certification, exploring some of the more popular ones can help you determine which is the best fit for you. In this article, we discuss eight top accounting certifications, how to obtain them and their benefits. Additional credentials are also listed.

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What are accounting certifications?

Accounting certifications are credentials that accounting professionals use to enhance their careers and grow their skill sets. Determining which one is right for you can vary according to your career path, specialization, eligibility and resources. Each credential has specific educational and experience requirements and focuses on specific skills to be attained. Here are eight of the most popular accounting certifications:

1. Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

A CPA is the most common certification in accounting and is required to hold many accounting positions. It verifies your abilities in forensic accounting, risk management, compliance, taxes and other skills required for top accounting roles. The credential is awarded by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

The CPA credential is widely recognized throughout the accounting industry and many companies require it for managerial positions. CPAs find work in public, management and governmental accounting, taxation, compliance and other roles.

There are four levels of testing that can be taken in any order. While the requirements can vary by state, most require that accountants have a year of experience before pursuing a CPA license. Aspiring CPAs are usually expected to have five years of higher education, which is approximately 150 hours of credits. Ongoing requirements for continuing professional education (CPE) credits vary by state.

Related: Chartered Accountant vs. Certified Public Accountant: What Is the Difference?

2. Certified Financial Analyst (CFA)

Having a CFA designation verifies a financial professional's knowledge and abilities regarding portfolio management, economics, professional and ethical standards and investment analysis. The certification is sponsored by the CFA Institute.

Many investment companies require this certification for security analysts and asset managers. It also may benefit those interested in jobs as equity analysts, fund or hedge fund managers, chief financial officers or senior finance managers.

This credential requires a bachelor's degree along with four years of experience in financial services. The exam has three sequential levels with a total time of 18 hours. Ongoing requirements include 20 hours of CPE credits.

Related: CFA Exam: How to Advance Your Financial Career

3. Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)

The CFE certification demonstrates expertise in four areas of fraud examination, including financial transactions and fraud schemes, law and fraud prevention and investigation. It is available to members of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE).

This credential is useful for finance professionals who intend to focus on anti-fraud jobs in endeavors across private and public companies.

Applicants must submit education and work experience documentation with three professional recommendations.

Related: How To Become a Forensic Accountant

4. Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

The CIA certification is the only internationally accepted distinction for those seeking an internal auditor career. It signifies competencies in risk and control as well as information technology. It also demonstrates proficiency working with internal staff and external clients. The CIA credential is helpful for internal auditors who want to become managers or chief audit officers.

Candidates must have a bachelor’s degree and two years of internal audit experience. A master’s degree can be substituted for one year of experience. The exam includes three levels for a total exam time of 6.5 hours. Ongoing requirements include CPE credits that vary by work status.

Related: Accounting vs. Auditing: What’s the Difference?

5. Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

The CMA certification verifies competency in cost management, decision analysis, forecasting and internal control auditing. It demonstrates a mastery of critical accounting and financial management skills from an internal, managerial or generalized perspective. The certification is sponsored by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).

Most accountants get both the CPA and CMA certifications, especially if they are pursuing careers in a large, multinational company. The CMA is described as a more practical application of theoretical concepts tested in the CPA exam.

Candidates must have a bachelor's degree and two consecutive years in management accounting or financial management. The exam has two levels for a total of eight hours. Ongoing requirements include 30 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) credits.

Related: How To Become a Certified Management Accountant

6. Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)

The CGMA is a global certification for CPAs who work in business and government. It verifies your management accounting skills and expertise in developing a strategy that connects all areas of business. This certification is offered by both the AICPA and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).

The credential benefits an accounting professional wanting to be connected to a global network. AICPA members are eligible with three years of relevant experience in accounting. CIMA members automatically qualify.

The exam is a computerized case study requiring written answers that show management accounting competencies. It is offered four times a year.

Related: Four Popular Accounting Certifications To Advance Your Career

7. Enrolled Agent (EA)

An EA credential recognizes professionals, including CPAs, licensed by the government to represent taxpayers. They advise clients, prepare personal and business taxes and deal with the Internal Revenue Service on matters related to business or personal tax audits. The certification is awarded by the IRS.

Candidates must pass a three-part comprehensive test covering individual and business tax returns. Experience as a former IRS employee may be considered. Ongoing requirements include 72 hours of continuing education courses every three years.

Related: How To Earn EA Certification in Seven Steps

8. Financial Services Audit Certificate (FSAC)

The FSAC is is a specialty certification offered by the Institute of Internal Auditors. It replaces the Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA) credential. It recognizes expertise in 11 areas, including cybersecurity risks, fraud risk assessment, financial services audit, liquidity risk management, internal auditing in financial and insurance services, auditing capital adequacy for banks and auditing for credit risk, market risk, model risk management and third-party risk.

The credential benefits those interested in audit, fraud and risk management careers.

Requirements include passing the assessment-based program with 11 subject areas.

Related: Auditing Skills: Definition and Examples

Benefits of accounting certifications

Earning an accounting certification offers these benefits:

  • Increased career opportunities: An accounting certification enhances your credibility with clients and can qualify you for more advanced opportunities.

  • Increased pay: Earning an accounting certification can substantially increase your earning potential.

  • Flexibility to switch careers: If you are changing careers, a certification can qualify you for positions even if you don't have the preferred degree.

Related: 16 Accounting Jobs That Pay Well

Other accounting certifications

There are many additional accounting certifications that recognize specific skills. Research the specific topic in the accounting industry for more information. Some of them include:

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