Obtaining relevant certifications for your chosen career path can help you increase your employability and prove your knowledge. There are many key certifications available for finance professionals that help prove an individual's experience and expertise. These professional finance certifications focus on niche areas of the industry, allowing you to build your knowledge and skills in areas that matter the most. In this article, we explore some of the top finance certifications that you may choose to pursue.
What are finance certifications?
Certifications for finance professionals are designations that demonstrate proven expertise in a specific area. Taking the appropriate certification courses in finance will refine and assess your skills in a specific area of finance and make you more desirable to potential employers and clients.
Top finance certifications
Review the following list of financial certifications to find the most well-known financial certification programs available.
1. CPA-Certified Financial Planner
The CFP certification is for professional financial planners. It demonstrates an individual's competence, integrity, honesty and diligence. To earn this certification, you must have 6,000 hours of professional experience or 4,000 hours of apprenticeship experience. You must also complete the required coursework at the university level, have a bachelor's degree or higher, pass a background check and pass the CFP exam.
The exam is proctored by the CFP Board and consists of 170 multiple-choice questions that cover topics like:
- General finance principles
- Professional conduct
- Risk management
- Investment planning
- Tax planning
To maintain your CFP, you must pay an annual recertification fee and complete 30 hours of approved continuing education (CE) every two years.
Read more: Learn About Being a Financial Planner
2. CMA-Certified Management Accountant
Professionals with a CMA work in corporate rather than private accounting. CMA certification is awarded to those who have demonstrated expertise in critical accounting and financial management. To qualify for this credential, you must have a bachelor's degree or professional accounting certification, two years of work experience and membership with the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). You must also pass both parts of the CMA certification within three years of one another.
The two-part test covers 12 competencies. The most heavily weighted of these are:
- Decision analysis
- Performance management
- Corporate finance
- Financial statement analysis and planning
- Budgeting and forecasting.
To maintain your CMA, you must have 30 hours of CE credits including two hours of ethics each year as well as an active membership with the IMA.
Read more: Learn About Being an Accountant
3. CIMA-Certified Investment Management Analyst
The CIMA certification is for financial analysts, investment consultants, wealth management professionals and financial planners. Professionals with at least three years of experience and a CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting or other relevant qualifications may pursue the CIMA certification. To earn this certification you must pass a five-hour, computer-based exam that covers:
- Finance fundamentals
- Portfolio theory
- Behavioral finance
- Risk and returns
- Financial consulting
- Portfolio construction
Once you have completed your exam, you must pay your certification fee, pass a background check and sign an agreement indicating that you will adhere to the Code of Professional Responsibility set forth by the Investments & Wealth Institute.
To maintain your credentials, you must complete at least 40 hours of CE credits including two hours on ethics. You must also complete the compliance requirement annually, which involves disclosing any state or federal complaints or actions and indicating that you will continue to adhere to the Code of Professional Responsibility and Rules and Guidelines for Use of the Marks.
4. CPA-Certified Public Accountant
Tax accountants, tax preparers and financial analysts can benefit from the CPA designation. The prerequisites for a CPA vary by state and include 150 semester hours with a varying number of accounting hours, determined by the state where you want to practice. Many states require a bachelor's degree.
The CPA examination has four four-hour sections which include:
- Financial accounting and reporting
- Auditing and attestation
- Regulation and business environment and concepts
You must complete all four components within an 18-month period. Most states require continuing education to maintain your CPA. The number of hours varies.
5. ChFC-Chartered Financial Consultant
The ChFC demonstrates your knowledge in all areas of financial planning including investment, estate, tax and insurance planning as well as more niche subjects like small business planning or divorce. This designation is ideal for financial consultants of all kinds.
To obtain this certification, you must have at least three years of professional experience in the finance industry within the last five years and complete seven core courses and two electives along with their closed-book, proctored exams. These courses and exams cover:
- Financial planning
- State planning
- Retirement planning
- Income taxation
- Insurance planning
Upon completion of the exams, you must agree to comply with The American College Code of Ethics and Procedures.
To maintain your certification, you must pay an annual fee, reconfirm your client-facing status, update your contact information and recommit to the standard of ethics each year. Every two years, you must complete 30 hours of CE credits.
6. PFS-Personal Financial Specialist
The PFS certification is a component of the CPA certification. If you have obtained your CPA and want to pursue a career focused on financial planning, this designation will demonstrate your expertise in insurance, tax, retirement, estate and investment planning. You can get your PFS by passing the relevant CPA exam requirements or by obtaining the CFP or ChFC certification, along with your CPA.
The PFS examination has 160 questions. About half are multiple-choice while half are case studies. The case studies typically have short scenarios with two to five multiple-choice questions. Two longer case studies are included with up to 18 multiple-choice questions.
To maintain your PFS, you must be an AICPA member in good standing, have a valid CPA, submit a signed statement that indicates you will comply with recertification requirements and complete 20 hours of approved continuing professional development (CPD).
7. CTP-Certified Treasury Professional
The CTP designation is beneficial for those who want to become Corporate Treasury Officials. This certification focuses on cash management. To qualify for the exam, you must have one of the following:
- Two years of relevant work experience
- One year of relevant work experience and a master's degree in business, finance or accounting
- One year of relevant work experience and two years of full-time college or university-level teaching experience on a finance-related topic
- A graduate or Master's Degree in Business, Finance or Accounting and two years of full-time college or university-level teaching experience on a finance-related topic
- Four years of full-time college- or university-level teaching experience on a finance-related topic
To earn your CTP, you must pass a 170-question multiple-choice exam based upon the information in the Essentials of Treasury Management, 5th Edition.
To maintain your certification, you need to pay a recertification fee and report 36 recertification credits every three years. If you have completed at least one CE credit within the three-year period, you may request an extension of up to six months for the remaining credits.
8. CGFM-Certified Government Financial Manager
If you're interested in a career as a federal, state or local financial analyst or manager, the CGFM will demonstrate your expertise in this area. This professional certification covers financial reporting, internal controls, auditing and accounting for government organizations. To earn this designation, you must hold a bachelor's degree, have at least two years of professional experience in government financial planning and pass three CGFM exams.
The CGFM exams cover:
- Governmental environment (GE)
- Governmental accounting
- Financial reporting and budgeting (GAFRB)
- Government financial management and control (GFMC)
Upon completion of the exams, you must also agree to abide by the AGA's Code of Ethics. To maintain your CGFM, you must pay an annual renewal fee, adhere to the AGA Code of Ethics and complete at least 80 hours of CPE every two years with a focus on government financial management or related technical subjects.
9. CHFP-Certified Healthcare Financial Professional
Financial professionals working in the healthcare industry demonstrate their knowledge of this area through the CHFP designation. To carry this certification, you must become a member of the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) and pass two educational modules, which include coursework and exams. The first module focuses on the business of healthcare, while the second focuses on operational excellence. To maintain your certification, you must remain an HFMA member in good standing and complete 60 hours of eligible education activities every three years.
10. CIIA-Certified International Investment Analyst
The CIIA designation demonstrates your knowledge of economics, corporate finance, portfolio management, equity valuation and analysis, fixed income valuation and analysis, derivative valuation and analysis and more. To earn this certification, you must have three years of professional experience in portfolio management, investment or financial analysis. You must also maintain membership in a participating national or regional society and pass all CIIA exams.
There are three foundation-level exams, which cover core topics including:
- Corporate finance
- Portfolio management
These exams feature multiple-choice, discursive, short essay and calculation questions. There are two final-level exams covering more advanced corporate finance and portfolio management. These exams include case study questions and an in-depth essay. Finally, the national or regional level exam covers legal and regulation topics unique to that locale. There is no recertification process.
11. CFA-Chartered Financial Analyst
CFAs typically work with investments rather than financial planning. This certification is appropriate for those who work in institutional money management and stock analysis. To obtain your CFA, you must have at least three years of professional experience and pass three qualifying exams. You will prepare for these exams through self-study, working with a course curriculum that covers
- Equity investments
- Corporate finance
- Financial reporting
- Quantitative methods
Fixed income types
Exam I: Includes 240 multiple choice questions split between two three-hour sessions
- Exam II: Includes 21 item set questions with 10 in the morning session and 11 in the afternoon
- Exam III: Includes 8 to 12 essay questions in the morning session and 11 set item questions in the afternoon
To obtain and maintain your charter, you must be a member of the CFA Institute.