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Certifications for CFO/VP Finance Positions at Late Stage of Career?

I am a 51 year old VP of Finance in transition. Early in my career I did not go the Public Accounting route and therefore did not pursue a CPA certificate.  Now as I look at new opportunities most of them are insistent on having the CPA.  Do I go back and get the certificate, realizing that I will not go back and get the experience to get the license, or is it possible to get this level of a job without one?  Is another alternative getting the CMA?


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

Very timely question. Please look at an article in the Wall Street Journal (6/18/2013) - Boards Look for CFOs With General-Management Chops.

As stated in the article - "Being a certified public accountant hasn’t been as important this year as in the past. Just 18% of new CFOs named this year have a CPA as their only post-college degree or certification, roughly half the 34% in 2012 and well below the 29% in both 2010 and 2011, Korn/Ferry said."

The CPA certification is very important and says much about the candidate. But statistics show (above), that a lack of a CPA does not end your career.

But if you are set on going back, look at licensing in Massachustees. They allow an education in lieu for a Masters degrees, which will allow you to forgo the Experience requirement, with some restrictions.

Sarah Jackson
Title: Associate Editor
Company: Proformative
(Associate Editor, Proformative) |

You might be interested in this popular and free 34 page PDF titled

"The Value Of Certification:"

It covers this very topic.

Also, value to an employer and therefor value back to the employee often hinges on what the employee knows and can accomplish. That is why you might also want to take a look at...

"The Proformative Community Guide To ERP Selection & Implementation:"

Enjoy! Best... Sarah

Anthony Pascente
Title: CFO
Company: TWFG Financial Services
(CFO, TWFG Financial Services) |

I never worked in public accounting either, but was able to get my CPA certification in Virginia where they primarily looked at my experience. I agree with Regis that although the certificate would be nice to have it should not refrain you to find a good job, especially if you have a good background.

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

There are advantages to have a CPA in certain public markets if your goal is the CFO seat. If the ads you're seeing (I'm guessing job posting are where you are seeing that requirement), then basically you're looking in the wrong market.

As Regis said, there are plenty of great jobs that don't require a CPA and your best bet for securing one of them is to plant your flag and claim your space in THOSE markets, rather than trying to compete for a position that already puts you at a big disadvantage by virtue of not having one of the minimum requirements.

That doesn't mean you can't compete - I've had clients who have successfully competed and won those jobs - but it has to be with strong value positioning and an equally strong network. The job boards will just cause you frustration.

Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Pro Tech International
(Chief Financial Officer, Pro Tech International) |

I suggest that if you have the ability, time and inclination, obtain your CPA and/or CMA certification. I do not have a CPA and experienced considerable difficulty overcoming that "deficit" in my recent job hunt (2 years ago). Having said that, I eventually did land a job as a CFO through my networking efforts where people hired based on the quality of the conversations and my ability to sell myself prior to the piece of paper (resume) showing up on their desk. I was able to use the networking experience to deal with the CPA issue before the hiring manager was aware of the missing credential.

At the CFO (or VP Finance) level, one of the issues you will run into with smaller companies is that the hiring manager, (President, CEO or Owner), is unlikely to have an accounting or finance background and may be listening to his/her external CPA for advice. Since that adviser is a CPA, they will likely be biased toward hiring a CPA for the senior level position and the person doing the hiring will have the CPA designation as a "check the box" type of qualification.

On a final note, I have found that once in a position of responsibility, the lack of CPA designation has not been a hindrance in the performance of my duties. In many cases, I have found that it is imperative for me to check the work of external CPA's to ensure accuracy. For those non financial executives in this network, please take care when looking at potential candidates. There are so many other factors that are critical to success, including personality, general financial experience and industry experience.

David Tompos
Title: VP-Finance
Company: Fountain Industries, LLC
(VP-Finance, Fountain Industries, LLC) |

VP Finance- I think it depends what companies you are targeting also. If you are pursuing a position at a public company, a CPA tag can give you additional credibility. If you are looking at smaller public or private companies, the CMA is probably more pertinent.
In either case, the fact that you are willing to learn additional skills, and expand your knowledge-base is a good indicator to prospective employers. Any additional education you are pursuing should be mentioned in the interview process.
Good luck!

(EVP & CFO) |

While a lot of companies will have a minimum requirement of a CPA, do not let that deter you from trying. I have been CFO for 3 public companies and am now CFO for an private company that operates in all 50 states and 35 international companies without a CFO. The key as David mentioned is being able to sell yourself. Spend a lot of time on your resume, you have to make sure it sell your accomplishments and abilities. I have always tailored each resume to the specific job. This is much like when you are looking for your first job out of college, companies focus on your GPA, once you have experience that is what you have to sell. It is beneficial at times to work with an outside consultant to help review and design your resume. I generally approach this as I would a bank proposal, I have created a powerpoint presentation about myself. This allows me to eliminate timelines and sell my assets. I will have a page on bank financing, listing all the banks I have worked with. A page on industries, Space acquisition, Accounting firms and law firms I have worked with. Then put the resume at the end. Because it unusual this attracts attention. This allows you to take control of the sales process, people have told me this has helped them check off the items they are interested in . Most companies never realize I do not have a CPA. Then when I get in the interview I use the PowerPoint to continually bring the person back to my strengths.

(CFO) |

I will offer that unless there is as recent change in their requirements, the State of Maryland only requires passing the CPA exam as well as an Ethics exam to qualify for a license. No experience necessary. Also, the other credential that is recently being bandied about is the CGMA (Chartered Global Management Accountant). This can be obtained by possessing a CPA and becoming a member of the AICPA and paying the extra fee for this certification. The credential is issued jointly by CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) and the AICPA and appears to be along the same lines as a CMA. Since it is relatively new, there may be a question as to it's value.

Good luck.

(FP&A Manager) |

Look up HP's CFO - no CPA, w/ a Bachelor's Degree in Biology. Oh, wait a minute, maybe that's why HP is in trouble! LOL

Topic Expert
Joan Varrone
Title: CFO
Company: Cloud Cruiser
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, Cloud Cruiser) |

You do not need a CPA to move ahead in your career. As mentioned up top companies are looking for operational experience and having the CFO as a strategic partner. The pendulum swung to CPA requirements during SOX but now that this has blown over this is not as essential. In my CFO jobs accounting was a very small part of my duties and value add (5% or less). Many CEOs and HR folks don't really understand what a CFO does and will put that requirement in as they think it is needed.

You need to network and learn how to sell your skills which would be a more valuable use of your time.

(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis) |

You shouldn't need any kind of certification if you can prove the value of your experience, work ethic, etc. I have worked with a number of folks in VP level Finance roles that do not have them. I do feel an MBA helps open doors, but even that is not a deal breaker. Nobody is perfect (though some certainly think they are.) When interviewed tell the potential employer that you use your team to cover any gaps they way be concerned about either through the existing department or with new hires. A cliche as it is, it really is about finding the right fit.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

I agree, but it seems (and I'm sure Cindy will jump in here and agree with the next statement) "that recruiters and HR job spec developers disagree, unless you can make an exceedingly good value proposition."

It seems that we bend over backwards for certifications that in reality mean that we passed a test once, take foolish continuing ed to maintain and in the final analysis doesn't mean you know what you are doing. The alternative is that the job spec developers use key words (certification requirements) in their spec without knowing what they are; and you as someone who does can't apply.

Joan said it so well, no one knows what we do...

(Director, Internal Audit) |

I would suggest taking the CMA exam. It is directly relevant to the VP Finance/CFO role. And it should not take much time either. You could complete both the parts 1 and 2 within 3 to 6 months. It is a good way of disciplining yourself toward acquiring a solid conceptual base. Take it as a sort of professional development. It will not hurt to have a reputed credential toward marketing yourself to the board, senior management, and cross functional departments. A good credential, combined with years of continuing career experience and professional development and professional judgement will all be very beneficial.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

Problem with CMA is no one knows what it is, who the IMA is, and what it means (or doesn't).

Again, Joan had it right, "CEO's and HR don't know what a CFO does"


Bear in mind that there is more to becoming a CPA than "getting the certificate." All of the 50 states have different education and experience requirements for becoming a CPA. All of the requirements must be documented in writing and submitted for approval to the State Board of Accountancy of the individual state in which you are applying before becoming licensed. You must actually sit for and pass the 4-part CPA exam, which requires advance preparation. Once you pass the exam and become licensed, there are additional issues with which you must deal. If you want to maintain your hard-won registration status as ACTIVE, there are annual continuing education requirements to be met. You must also agree to abide by the profession's code of ethics, and are subject to the profession's oversight and rules. To get the most benefit out of becoming a CPA, you really need to join your state's society of CPAs, the AICPA, and possibly look into becoming a CGMA, which another poster mentioned. (This is not difficult once you are a CPA and a member of the AICPA.)

"Becoming a CPA" is a decision that must be entered into with eyes wide open, and with knowledge of what you are getting yourself into. There is a time commitment involved, so "getting a CPA" just to "get a job" will not happen over night, or even in a year, most likely. I am not arguing against becoming a CPA -- it's one of the best things I ever did -- just know what you're doing before heading off in that direction. The best resource for what's required to become a CPA in your state is that state's Board of Accountancy -- you can probably find it on your state's .gov home page. Best wishes for success!

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP Operations and Finance
Company: VP / CFO - Private Company
(VP Operations and Finance, VP / CFO - Private Company) |

I find the CPA or not debate goes company by company and their individual hiring practices - especially in the early screening phases when HR is overseeing the process.

Where a CPA seems to matter is for companies who face public reporting and require SOX, etc. - the CPA is an early 'screen in' for risk management simply because the company will likely see the CPA as an indicator of on-going investment into their accounting skills. To be clear, a CPA needs to be active to be relevant.

There CFOs on both sides of the fence of this argument - so it does come down to looking at the company's needs, how it views finance, the CEO style, etc. to determine whether or not you have a shot at their CFO position.

Hope this helps.


(Founder, CEO, CFO, Accountant, and Consultant) |

There are a lot of details that non-CPA's will not know that could be a part of a comprehensive internal control and finance strategy that companies will miss out on by hiring a non-CPA (or one who hasn't mastered the CPA body of knowledge).

Non-CPA's will have knowledge gaps as they have never been truly tested or grilled and may not know how to research rules or which rules to research, how to setup effective and efficient internal controls, how to price a bond at issuance or how to issue bonds with warrants, when to timely file reports or forms with the SEC, when a capital versus lease transaction is appropriate under US GAAP or IFRS, what auditors are looking for when conducting an audit, and the advantages of various business entities (S-Corp, C-Corp, Partnerships, LLC's and etc) as far as federal taxation goes, among other topics. How can a non-CPA add value setting up a financial structure or strategy without knowing these things?

I am 99% confident that non-CPA's will have gaps in their knowledge about many of these matters that get tested by going through the CPA testing process. I have a high degree of respect for CPA's that have earned the credential as they are highly knowledgeable, competent, and hard-working, enabling them to add max value, which ultimately reduces the risk of hiring a bad leader or a potential "faker" into the organization. Knowledge and competence coupled with some soft skills and managerial skills, and I think you have the makings of an excellent leader that will add exceptional value!

So, to answer the initial question, I would recommend getting the CPA license, unless you're retiring within the next few years. I don't think it would hurt your job prospects. The CMA is also very good, but I don't think that recruiters look for it as much. Just know that it takes a lot of time and commitment to complete these credentials, but it will, I think, show your dedication to your profession. I hope my viewpoints have been helpful.

Brian D.


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