The Sky Is The Limit---Accounting Certifications
by Leisa Marshall, DBA, CPA, CMA
You have visions of owning and operating your own company someday. You
dream of being your own boss and generating enough income to buy the biggest
house and the nicest car. You want the flexibility and freedom to set
your own work schedule so that you can take a vacation on the ski slopes
of Colorado, a cruise liner in the Caribbean, or a safari in Africa. Maybe
you want to vacation in Paris, London, Switzerland or Australia. Maybe
you want to reach the top of a Fortune 500 company or take over a local
company in your area. Maybe you plan to take over a family business and
expand its geographical markets or product lines. You may prefer to involve
yourself with movie stars, professional athletes, or musicians; or become
involved in the agricultural, banking, computer, fashion design, greeting
card, insurance, or petroleum industry; or you might have an interest
in the medical profession, the banking industry, or in government. All
of these dreams and plans can become a reality with an accounting career.
Accounting positions and activities span a broad spectrum beyond what
you learned in your high school accounting class. Many accountants have
moved beyond sitting behind a desk and keeping track of "the books"
to holding prestigious employment positions, titles, and certifications.
The possibilities and specialties available to accountants are limitless
and are expanding.
Special designations or certifications that exist for accountants provide
additional evidence of knowledge and competence beyond that provided by
the college degree. These certifications allow accountants to project
to future employers the depth of their knowledge in a specialized field
within accounting. This article describes the various certifications available
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
As a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), you can take your career in many
different directions. CPAs typically specialize in various areas of accounting,
auditing, taxation, and consulting services. CPAs work for public accounting
firms and in industry. Susan Swader, CPA, of Henderson, Godbee and Nichols,
PC, started her career in public accounting and became a partner in her
accounting firm by the age of 32. After several years in public accounting,
Nathan A. Chapman, Jr., CPA, started the first black-owned brokerage and
investment banking firm in Maryland. CPA Donna Zarcone also began her
career in public accounting and moved into industry. Ms. Zarcone's interest
in motorcycles, creativity and ability to help companies grow eventually
landed her the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) position at Eaglemark Financial
Services, the financial services division of Harley-Davidson Inc.
The requirements to obtain CPA status vary from state to state. However,
candidates typically face an educational requirement and an experience
requirement, in addition to successful completion of the Uniform Certified
Public Accountant Exam. In many states the educational requirement has
been extended beyond the bachelor's degree, to include 150 semester hours
of college credit. The CPA exam is prepared by the American Institute
of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), an organization of over 330,000
CPA members, and is administered locally throughout the United States.
Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)
The AICPA established a certification for CPAs that specialize in personal
financial planning. The personal financial specialist (PFS) certification
provides evidence of expertise in the area. An example of a CPA/PFS is
Ronald Giles, partner in Alday, Tillman, Wright and Giles, PC, of Valdosta,
Georgia. As a CPA/PFS, Mr. Giles helps clients determine their financial
goals and constraints, advises them on personal income tax planning strategies,
assists them in determining their insurance coverage needs (health care,
professional liability, etc.), assesses uses of insurance (e.g., funding
for children's education), and advises clients on estate planning and
An individual interested in obtaining the PFS designation must: (1) be
an AICPA member in good standing, (2) hold a CPA certificate, (3) have
at least 250 hours of experience in personal financial planning for each
of three years prior to applying for PFS status, and (4) pass the PFS
Examination. After passing the examination and providing references letters,
PFS status is awarded.
Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
The College for Financial Planning and the Certified Financial Planner
Board of Standards, Inc. grants the Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
designation. CFPs carry the skills and knowledge necessary to advise clients
on investments, estate planning, individual income taxes, retirement planning,
risk management, insurance and finance. Requirements for this designation
include: (1) completing an educational program registered with the CFP
Board of Standards, (2) passing a certification examination given by the
CFP Board, (3) a bachelor's degree, (4) a minimum of three years of experience
in the financial services field, and (5) signing an ethics statement form
provided by the CFP Board.
Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
The Association for Investment Management and Research (AIMR), in existence
since 1963, awards the chartered financial analyst (CFA) designation.
The organization has a membership of 24,000 investment professionals with
job titles that include accountants, auditors, business appraisers, corporate
chief financial officers, and financial planners. The CFA designation
is earned by an individual that: (1) has three years of professional experience
in investment decision-making process, (2) has applied for membership
in AIMR and in a local Financial Analyst Federation (FAF) society, (3)
holds a bachelor's degree or equivalent education or work experience,
(4) signs a statement agreeing to comply with AIMR and ICFA rules and
regulations, and (5) acknowledges the authority of AIMR's Professional
Conduct Program to enforce the Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional
Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) administers and implements
both the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and Certified in Financial
Management (CFM) programs. The IMA has approximately 80,000 members who
hold titles such as chief financial officer, chief executive officer,
controller, and accountant. The CMA designation dates back to 1972 and
is currently endorsed by more than 200 corporate and academic organizations.
As a CMA member, former president of the IMA and retired from a career
in financial executive positions, Louis Vlasho, was extended the opportunity
to take his experience and knowledge to Macedonia (a country north of
Greece). It was in this country that he assisted a small manufacturer
of electric motors and household appliances implement a world-class cost
Certification requires: (1) membership in the IMA, (2) a bachelorĘ¬s
degree or a CPA license to practice, (3) successful completion of the
CMA examination, (4) an experience requirement, and (5) complying with
the Standards of Ethical Conduct.
Certified in Financial Management (CFM)
The Certified in Financial Management (CFM) program has the same requirements
as the CMA and is also sponsored by the IMA. The CFM is a more recent
development that provides evidence of an individual's expertise and skills
in financial management. A CMA holder need not take the entire examination
for CFM status, but must pass an additional part of the examination which
covers corporate financial management.
Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE) specialize in the detection, investigation,
and deterrence of fraud and white-collar crime. This certification was
created in 1988 by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, an organization
with 20,000 members and a mission to fight fraud and white-collar crime
As a CFE, you might be involved with breaking up the crime rings of the
Italian Mafia, Asian triads, Japanese Yakuza, Spanish Cartels, or the
Russian Mafia. Charles J. Bock Jr., CFE, reports that these crime rings
have developed partnerships that infiltrate financial institutions around
the world. CFEs are extremely important at a time when information thefts
average $800,000 with only two percent of the perpetrators caught.
An individual seeking CFE status must: (1) have a bachelorĘ¬s degree
from a recognized institution of higher learning, (2) have two or more
years of professional experience in a field related to fraud examination,
(3) successfully complete the Uniform CFE Examination, (4) abide by a
Code of Professional Ethics, and (5) have the highest moral and professional
Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
Certified Internal Auditors (CIA), experts in internal auditing, are recognized
worldwide. The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) awards the CIA designation
and has a membership of 25,000. Requirements of certification as an internal
auditor include: (1) a bachelor's degree or equivalent from an accredited
college-level institution, (2) character reference, (3) work experience,
and (4) successful completion of an examination.
Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
Accountants interested in both computers and internal auditing might consider
joining The Information Systems Audit and Control Association, (ISACAF),
Inc., and becoming a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). The
ISACAF, an organization with more than 17,000 information systems professionals,
publishes the IS Audit & Control Journal. Requirements of the CISA
designation include: (1) the completion of an examination, (2) experience
in information systems auditing, control or security experience, and (3)
abiding by its code of professional ethics.
Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM)
The Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) of the Association of
Government Accountants (AGA) provides an opportunity for accountants interested
in government to exhibit their knowledge and competence in governmental
financial management. The CGFM provides evidence of the knowledge and
skills needed in the governmental environment: governmental accounting,
financial reporting, and budgeting; and governmental financial management
and control. More than 13,000 individuals currently hold the CGFM designation
and work at every level of government---federal, state, and local. Requirements
for the CGFM include: (1) an earned bachelor's degree with college hours
in accounting, auditing, or other business disciplines, (2) professional
experience, (3) an agreement to abide by the AGA's code of ethics, and
(4) successful completion of an examination.
Government Valuation Analyst (GVA)
A certification available to government employees, the government valuation
analyst (GVA), provides evidence of the certificate holderĘ¬s experience
as a government employed business valuator and successful completion of
the GVA examination. Requirements of the GVA certification include: (1)
a four-year college degree, (2) experience in business valuation, (3)
a minimum governmental job-level rating, (4) current employment with a
federal or state government agency, (5) complete program of study prescribed
the National Association of Certified Valuation Analysts (NACVA), and
(6) passing a comprehensive examination.
Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA)
An accountant interested in the healthcare or medical profession might
consider the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) designation.
The HFMA is the nation's leading for more than 35,000 financial management
professionals employed by hospitals, integrated healthcare delivery systems,
long-term and ambulatory care facilities, managed care organizations,
medical group practices, public accounting and consulting firms, insurance
companies, government agencies, and other healthcare organizations. This
organization serves the United States and Puerto Rico. Member positions
include chief executive officers, chief financial officers, controllers,
accountants, and other professionals who seek excellence in the financial
management of integrated health systems and other healthcare organizations.
The requirements of the HFMA certification include: (1) membership in
the HFMA, (2) successful completion of an examination, (3) references,
(4) earning FounderĘ¬s Award points as defined by the HFMA, and
(5) work experience.
Certified Bank Auditor (CBA)
The Bank Administration Institute (BAI) organization has a membership
of 5,000 Certified Bank Auditors (CBA) across the United States and abroad.
Member organizations include Barnett Banks, Citicorp/Citibank, and NationsBank.
Publications of the BAI include Bank Fraud Newsletter, published for members
only. The requirements of a CBA include: (1) a bachelorĘ¬s degree,
(2) successful completion of an examination, (3) work experience, and
(4) abiding by a code of ethics. The CBA projects to future employers
a high level of skill and knowledge relating to accounting; auditing principles
and bank regulations; auditing practices; and general business.
Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV)
The AICPA offered the first Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV) examination
in November of 1997. Five-hundred and twenty CPAs earned the designation
CPA/ABV specialist. CPA/ABVs provide clients valuation services for use
in selling a business, obtaining loans from a bank, divorce settlements,
filing insurance claims, and mergers and acquisitions. Designation as
a CPA/ABV requires the individual to: (1) be an AICPA member in good standing,
(2) hold a CPA certificate, (3) have experience, and (4) pass a written
Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA)
More than 2,500 individuals have their Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA)
designation. This designation was instituted in the early 1990s and is
recognized throughout the United States and other parts of the world.
Qualification for the CVA certification include: (1) membership in the
AICPA in good standing, (2) current CPA certificate, (3) member in good
standing in the National Association of Certified Valuation Analysts (NACVA),
(4) completion of a training program prescribed by the NACVA, and (5)
completion of an examination.
Be all that you can be with an accounting career--and more--with specialized
accounting certifications. An accounting career yields relatively higher
salaries and provides individuals with the skills necessary to own their
own businesses. Accounting certifications add credibility and provide
evidence of a high level of skills, knowledge and competence in a specialized
area within the accounting field. These designations also project an image
of professionalism to future employers and others. Many employers only
hire individuals with specialized certifications and, although employers
may hire employees without certification, many employers expect their
employees to obtain certifications once employed.
A career in accounting allows you to pursue any field that interests you.
Any type of business activity, whether it relates to athletics, musicians,
agriculture, fashion designers, or a chemical plant, requires the services
that accountants offer. Prepare yourself for a career in accounting and
involve yourself with any activity that suits you. Furthermore, add the
initials of a professional certification behind your name.
This article provides a basic overview of different certifications available
to accounting graduates. Most of the certifications require at least a
bachelor's degree, work experience, successful completion of an examination,
and compliance with a code of ethics.
For additional information on the certifications and organizations which
grant the certifications, visit the websites at:
Leisa Marshall is an associate professor at Valdosta State University.