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Accounting Certifications Debate: Which Ones Matter?

Accounting Certifications

I'm in my mid twenties and considering the various accounting certifications available:

CMA - Certified Management Accountant

CFM - Certified Financial Manager

CPA - Certified Public Accountant

CFE - Certified Fraud Examiner

CFP - Certified Financial Planner

CIA - Certified Internal Auditor

I currently work in the accounting department of a mid sized auto parts company. I haven't settled on career apsirations, but am considering my options.


Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

CPA holds the most value to many companies. I presented your question to a recruiter four years ago, she told me to be marketable to nearly all companies, the CPA was the best route to go. Search your area for companies looking to hire CMAs, etc., you will find most company, if not all, want a CPA and do not consider the others in their search criteria. Look up any post by Cindy Kraft and Samuel Dergel. Their posts will give you expert advice from these two, plus many others. However, there will always be someone telling you the others are just as good.

My opinion from what I have researched, 98% of companies that are hiring don't consider other designations, and perhaps 75% of the same companies have never heard of the other designations.

From a personal note, I work in construction. The construction industry has what it calls a CCIFP (Certified Construction Industry Financial Professional) designation for it finance professionals. Still many sureties and folks in construction want to have someone with a CPA, a CCIFP would only add to a person's value. Most of the time a CPA will be hired over a CCIFP. Guess which one I am working towards? The CPA. Once I obtain it, then I will review getting the CCIFP.

That's my opinion, for what little it may be worth.

Do you have the 150 semester hours needed to apply for the CPA exam?

Chris Shumate

(Manager) |

Hi Chris,

Great advice... thanks! I'm about 2/3rds of the way to the hours.

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

CMA - Certified Management Accountant
Granted by the IMA, a private membership organization. Before you settle on a CMA you need to review the reach and depth of this certification. It is certainly popular among professionals in industry and in manufacturing settings. When the AICPA partnered with CIMA in the UK to offer CPAs the additional designation of CGMA, the CMA crowd went wild with criticism and angry response believing the AICPA was trying to create a competitor to the CMA. All untrue. The CMA is granted by the IMA and has no connection to the AICPA. Since all the hubbub the IMA has partner with the European ACCA. The CGMA does not compete or replace the CMA designation. There is a marketing aspect to these organizations so you want to be affiliated with the ones that are most respected in the field of practice you choose.

CFM - Certified Financial Manager
I have never met or worked with anyone with this designation. Its another IMA designation like the CMA. What you will find is that membership organizations make money from creating a variety of certification programs, then they market them to the business world as a value add. You need to really vet any program for its value.

CPA - Certified Public Accountant
CPA is granted by State Government Agencies - State Boards of Accountancy.

The other designations here are all granted by membership organizations that create marketing around their own certification training programs for profit. CPA is the historical and premier designation in the US, as it is government issued, is a mark of high ethics and its purpose is to protect the public.

CFE - Certified Fraud Examiner
This can be used stand alone without CPA, many in law enforcement and investigations achieve this designation in addition to their professional criminal investigation training. This can be valuable if you decide to move into forensic accounting. Some internal auditors in large corporations find this valuable in their work in addition to their CIA. The CFE program teaches how to conduct criminal investigative interviews, which are beyond the scope of the CIA. The CFE teaches you about the rules of evidence and how to build a case file in addition to its other areas of training.

CFP - Certified Financial Planner
This can be used stand alone without CPA, If you decide to sell financial products and help people plan their financial futures or work for a broker who does this may be helpful to you.

CIA - Certified Internal Auditor
After the CPA, the CIA designation is probably one of the most widely recogized and offered by the IIA, another private membership organization with a training and certification program.

CPA can span all the others. The private membership organizations such as the IMA and IIA provide an indication of your specialty area within the CPA umbrella or stand alone.

Business school graduates that decide to work in industry as accountants, without becoming CPAs find these other designations helpful to their careers.

There are two levels of CPA

1. Licensed to practice public accounting, passed the exam and has practiced public accounting.

2. Certificate holder, means they passed the CPA exam. The continuing education requirements are much lower. Many people are certificate holders but do not have licenses to practice.

The responsibilities under the law for #1 and #2 are the same, however the experience and decision making levels are strikingly different. #2 will have an employee mindset whereas #1 has been trained to take an ownership approach to all things.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Thanks for the mention, Chris!

Much like a brand, it isn't what YOU believe is most valuable that matters. It is what a COMPANY deems the most valuable. And right now, today, public companies still see that as a CPA.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

For where you are in your career, for Accounting, the CPA is the best option -

1) Companies always would rather hire a CPA. It is an extra degree that says something about the individual's knowledge base. You are truly an expert in a field.
2) I look at all the other newer designations as a CPA subset. A CPA could transition easily to obtain a CIA; but a CIA may have more difficulty transitioning to a CPA. You will have more versatility with a CPA.

But if you are considering Finance, the CFA will set you apart.


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