When it comes to the accounting profession, there are a multitude of areas of specialization available. While the areas cover a wide range of topics, tasks, and activities, one thing is almost always a constant: the need to become certified.
A few of the accounting certifications might sound familiar to some, but you would be surprised how many there actually are. The purpose of this article is to give a brief overview of the main ones, while not getting too deep into the exact details. For more specific information on the individual certifications, click the one you are interested in below.
The CPA certification is the most common, and also the most versatile certificate for an accountant to have. It presents the most job opportunities, and is the most universally recognized throughout the business community. A CPA can sign a tax return, conduct an audit, discuss important matters with IRS agents, and a whole lot more. In addition, most of the other certifications discussed also require a CPA as a prerequisite, so this really is the most important one there is.
The CMA certification is for people who specialize in cost accounting. This field is more focused on the decision making and future forecasting of a specific business, as opposed to the cold hard fact type financial accountants. CMAs can be in charge of implementing control systems within a company, and then analyzing the results.
The CIA certification is one obtained by accountants who do auditing within a company (as opposed to working with many outside companies). Often times internal auditors work within companies that will later be subject to external audit (as mandated by the government), and it is their job to make sure the books are properly maintained and financial information is properly reported.
Just as the name sounds, the CFE certification is for accountants who specialize in preventing or recognizing fraud within a company. They specialize in examining reports and analyzing financial data for inconsistencies and suspicious activity. CFEs are more familiar with laws and regulations than many other certifications, and often times participate in court cases that occur due to their findings.
The EA certification is the only one of the discussed certifications that is a licensee of the federal government. EAs are specialists of the IRS tax code, and their focus is on taxes only. They are licensed to deal directly with the IRS during personal or business audits, and can also prepare personal and business tax returns.
While the exact field of work is not related to accounting, the CFP certification, and those who earn it, often have a background in accounting. CFPs give clients advice on planning for their financial future, and often work side by side with a client’s personal accountant to help for future planning.
Personal Financial Specialist
The PFS certification is earned by a CPA who wishes to specialize in financial planning. Often time it is earned by CPAs who want to do CFP type work, however do not have the qualifications or desire to pursue a full fledged CFP certificate.
Chartered Financial Analyst
As the name implies, the CFA certification is the ultimate certificate that can be earned by a financial analyst. Specializing in analyzing and interpreting financial data, it is more considered to be a part of the financial services industry than accounting industry.
Certified Government Financial Manager
The CGFM certification is for workers in the federal, state and local government sectors. They understand the complex, and often times obscure, laws that apply only to the governmental entities. This is a difficult certification to obtain, and one that is not as common as some of the others discussed above.
Certified Financial Manager
The CFM certification is a defunct certification, in that you are no longer able to earn a certificate. It was seen as an extension to the CMA, with focus being placed on report analyzation.
As you can see, there are no lack of certifications available to those in the accounting field, and this is just a start. Some additional accounting certifications that will be discussed are the CRMA, CFSA, CCSA, CGAP, CISA, GVA, HFMA, CBA, ABV, and CVA, but the above was an introduction to the most common ones.