Finance.  There may be no other professional field with more certifications.  You look at some letterhead and it has a list of names with a veritable alphabet behind them.  It’s like an arms race of acronyms!  Are they really needed to help with your career?

The answer is yes.

You can debate which financial certifications will benefit you most but it’s certain that employers value them.  According to the latest Salary Guide from Robert Half, starting salaries for professionals holding graduate degrees or accounting certifications can be 5 to 15 percent more than the market average.  Recent Robert Half research also shows 72% of CFOs interviewed say their company will cover all or some of the cost for an employee getting a professional certification.  76% say they also help their people maintain such certifications once they’re earned.  But, before you invest the time and money into getting one, it’s important to know the differences between them and whether they go hand-in-hand or lead in opposite directions.

CPA:  Certified Public Accountant

The CPA is the most prestigious, well known, and versatile.  It’s obviously the best one for accountants and the only one that has a statutory right:  signing audit reports and issuing opinions on audits.  We need not dwell on this one.

CMA:  Certified Management Accountant

This compliments the CPA as it covers an area not tested in the CPA exam.  Management accounting covers things such financial analysis and strategic planning.  When paired with a CPA it can lead to a great career working in bigger corporations.

CIA:  Certified Internal Auditor

This is a niche certification that focuses on – you guessed it – auditing.  Auditing is important for all companies and if you want to be an internal auditor or compliance professional.  But if you have no interest in internal auditing you don’t need it.

CFA:  Chartered Financial Analyst Designation

You really need this one if you have your eye on becoming a CFO or the like.  You definitely need it if you want to work in security analysis or be an asset manager.  As discussed in an earlier post, accountants are being called on and should strive to seek a greater, more strategic role in companies.  Pairing this with a CPA makes you very desirable if that is your goal.

CGMA:  Chartered Global Management Accountant

This is good if you’re a financial professional who wants to move beyond the finance department one day as it deals with strategy and analysis to help chart the direction for companies in order to ensure their success.

CAIA:  Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst

This is really a niche as it specializes in alternative investment products.  As such,  it makes a good pairing with the CFA and its popularity has grown tremendously over the past several years.

In the end…

…it’s a good idea to get your CPA.  But in today’s world it’s almost a necessity to pair it with another certification in order to stand out and increase your value in the eyes of potential employers.  This is true as long as you choose the right ones based on where you want to end up.  For instance, it doesn’t make sense to get both a CMA and CFA as they lead in different directions.  But a CPA and CFA?  Now that’s a potent combination.

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