March 2003

Professional Certification Opportunities for Accountants

By Paul D. Hutchison and Gary M. Fleischman

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of professional certifications available for practicing accountants. But what is the impetus for accountants to seek one or more professional certifications? And what certifications are available for accountants? Before addressing these questions, it is important to grasp the role of certification.

Formal Education

Most practicing accountants have a business education that entailed rigorous coursework over four to five years, culminating in a degree in accounting. This education forms the bedrock of accounting knowledge that positions an accountant for a process of lifetime learning. Most modern degree programs provide the opportunity for accounting students to develop oral, written, and interpersonal communication skills, as well as exposure to organizational skills and technology. But an accounting degree alone is insufficient for many accountants to achieve their career goals. Many accountants desire further recognition of their ongoing professional knowledge, and wish to carve out specialization niches by obtaining professional certifications, some of which may be required to engage in public practice. For these persons, formal accounting education represents only the first step in pursuing professional certification.

Why Seek Professional Certifications?

Accountants can accrue significant upward mobility by obtaining one or more professional certifications. Other benefits include the following:

Certifications Available to Accountants

The Exhibit provides an extensive listing of key certifications related to the accounting profession. The following discussion briefly describes each of the certifications listed therein.

Accredited Estate Planner, AEP. The National Association of Estate Planners & Councils offers this accreditation to individuals that have attained a specialized level of knowledge in estate planning. To obtain this designation, one must meet certain qualification requirements and pass two graduate level courses administered by the American College.

Accredited in Business Valuation, ABV. A specialization certification issued by the AICPA to CPAs with extensive experience and specialization in business valuation. The ABV designation is a marketing tool that enables CPAs to position themselves as the leading providers of business valuation services.

Associate Computing Professional, ACP. Sponsored by the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals, the ACP is a computing designation for entry-level professionals. Candidates must pass a core examination demonstrating a broad understanding of computer systems plus an exam on one of six programming languages.

Certification in Control Self-Assessment, CCSA. This is an Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) specialty designation for Certified Internal Auditors (CIA). Demonstrated by examination, this new certification program identifies the skill sets needed by successful practitioners and measures their understanding of control self-assessment.

Certified Association Executive, CAE. The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) established the CAE program in 1960 to elevate professional standards, enhance individual performance, and designate those who demonstrate knowledge essential to the practice of association management. This program is designed to provide in-depth knowledge of every aspect of association management.

Certified Bank Auditor, CBA. This designation, issued by the Bank Administration Institute, is recognized throughout the banking industry as the only certification program that thoroughly tests candidates in four distinct banking-specific areas: accounting; auditing principles and bank laws and regulations; auditing practices; and general business. The CBA program provides professionals a level of credibility, respect, and distinction in the banking arena.

Certified Computing Professional, CCP. Another Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals program, the CCP is a vendor-independent yardstick against which experienced computing professionals can be judged. Both the CCP and ACP require a core examination. Additionally, the CCP requires 48 months of industry experience and two exams related to 11 computing specialty areas.

Certified Environmental Auditor, CEA. Administered by the Canadian Environmental Auditing Association, the CEA was created in 1995 to recognize professionals capable of performing environmental audits in accordance with national and international standards for environmental auditing. Competence is evidenced by successful completion of an exam and field experience.

Certified Environmental Profes-sional, CEP. The Academy of Board-Certified Environmental Professionals administers the CEP certification program to identify environmental professionals who possess special qualifications in education and have related experience. An individual may be certified in one or more of the following functional environmental areas: assessment, documentation, operations, planning, and research and education.

Certified Estate Advisor, CEA. Designed to provide estate planning expertise and credible credentials, the CEA program is administered by the National Association of Financial and Estate Planning. This designation is unique and respected in the estate and financial planning community.

Certified Financial Planner, CFP. Introduced in 1972 by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, the CFP designation has become the most widely recognized financial planning credential among consumers. Licensees are trained to analyze and provide advice on all areas of a person’s financial life: income tax management, employee benefits, retirement planning, estate planning, investment management, and insurance. Certification requirements are grouped into four areas: education, examination, experience, and ethics.

Certified Financial Services Auditor, CFSA. The National Association of Financial Services Auditors sponsors this certification program to recognize professionals with knowledge in audit and financial services. Competency is determined by examination in four specific areas: internal audit, banking, insurance, and securities.

Certified Fraud Auditor, CFA. Awarded by the International Fraud Training Institute, Inc., the CFA is a CPA who has substantial expertise in developing audit programs and conducting field audits related to fraud. This professional is a forensic accountant who can detect and deter fraud.

Certified Fraud Consultant, CFC. Another certification by the International Fraud Training Institute, the CFC has had strategic planning and management-level experience and has designed programs to detect and deter fraud. This professional has been a manager of case files, and an intelligence analyst who educates organizations on effective methods to combat fraud.

Certified Fraud Examiner, CFE. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) awards the CFE designation. With an international membership of 25,000 professionals in 70 countries, the ACFE aims to reduce the incidence of fraud and white-collar crime through prevention and education. The CFE credential recognizes those that have proven expertise in detecting, preventing, and investigating a wide range of fraudulent conduct.

Certified General Accountant, CGA. The Certified General Accountants Association of Canada created the CGA designation. This is the first Canadian accounting body to give students the opportunity to earn a professional designation and a university degree concurrently. The CGA program combines weekly assignments, lectures, national examinations, and work experience.

Certified Government Auditing Professional, CGAP. This certification was established by the IIA as a new specialty for auditors involved specifically in governmental auditing. The CGAP program explores candidates’ comprehension of government auditing practice, methodologies, and environment, as well as related standards and control/risk models.

Certified Government Financial Manager, CGFM. This designation is issued by Advancing Government Accountability, an organization with approximately 13,000 members. The CGFM measures a wide range of knowledge and skills that a professional needs to succeed in the federal government financial environment or to meet the unique challenges faced by state and local government financial managers. Established in 1994, the CGFM has become the standard by which government financial management professionals are measured.

Certified Healthcare Executive, CHE. The American College of Healthcare Executives established this credential to signal commitment, professionalism, and adherence to the highest standards for healthcare professionals. Based on an examination and other requirements, an individual can obtain diplomate status and be designated a CHE.

Certified Healthcare Financial Professional, CHFP. The Healthcare Financial Management Association provides this certification to those healthcare professionals in accounting and finance seeking to demonstrate their dedication to professional development and a higher standard of excellence. Requirements for certification include a core exam, specialty exam, experience, and education.

Certified in Financial Management, CFM. The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) awards this certification to recognize the unique qualifications and expertise of financial management professionals. This designation seeks to foster higher educational standards, objectively measure an individual’s knowledge and competence, and encourage professional development in financial management.

Certified Information Systems Auditor, CISA. Created in 1978, the Information Systems Audit and Control Association awards this credential to qualified information systems audit, control, and security professionals. The CISA is globally recognized and assures the competence of qualified information system professionals.

Certified Information Technology Professional, CITP. This is a specialty certification granted by the AICPA as a means of recognizing excellence in the provision of technology-related services. This designation seeks to recognize the CPA as the preferred information technology professional.

Certified Internal Auditor, CIA. For over 25 years, the IIA has issued this certification to recognize accountants with competence in the principles and practices of internal auditing. The CIA is recognized worldwide and held by nearly 30,000 internal auditors.

Certified Management Accountant, CMA. Another IMA certification, this widely recognized designation for management accountants seeks to acknowledge the unique skills and expertise of professionals engaged in management accounting. Obtained by meeting education and examination requirements, this certification seeks to encourage higher educational standards, measure professional competence, and encourage professional development in management accounting.

Certified Professional Environmen-tal Auditor, CPEA. The Environmental Auditing Roundtable, the Institute of Internal Auditors, and the Board of Environmental, Health & Safety Auditor Certifications jointly certify professionals in environmental auditing and related scientific fields. The CPEA designation seeks to demonstrate competence and represent the exceptional knowledge, skill, and understanding of highly effective and fully qualified environmental professionals.

Certified Public Accountant, CPA. Awarded by each state’s board of public accountancy, this is the premier accounting certification for public accountants in the United States. Generally, this designation is obtained based on education requirements, a standardized exam created by the AICPA to evaluate competency, a review of ethics, and practical work experience in accounting.

Certified Trust Auditor, CTA. Since 1985, the National Association of Trust Audit and Compliance Professionals has issued this professional designation to signify competence and expertise in trust auditing. Additionally, it is accepted as evidence of trust audit proficiency by regulatory examiners, general auditors, and audit committees.

Certified Trust Compliance Professional, CTCP. Another certification issued by the National Association of Trust Audit and Compliance Professionals, this designation signifies competence and expertise in trust compliance. It is accepted as evidence of trust compliance proficiency by regulatory examiners, trust division managers, trust committees, and others committed to the integrity of compliance and internal controls.

Chartered Financial Consultant, ChFC. This American College credential seeks to provide financial planners and others in the financial services industry with an in-depth knowledge of the skills needed to perform comprehensive financial planning. Since its inception in 1982, more than 32,000 individuals have met the ChFC requirements.

Diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Accounting, DABFA. The ABFA developed additional training, testing, and the ABFA designation to give added qualifications to the increasing numbers of CPAs working in the field of forensic accounting and litigation support.

Diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Examiners, DABFE. Established by the ABFE, the DABFE certification refers to a professional who performs an orderly analysis to make an expert opinion. Almost every scientific and technical field has a forensic application.

Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, FACHE. The highest credential offered by the American College of Healthcare Executives is the FACHE. Widely recognized in healthcare management, this credential is obtained by a Certified Healthcare Executive (CHE) with three years of tenure, additional education requirements, and completion of a fellow project.

Fellow of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, FHFMA. This is the highest designation for financial management professionals awarded by the Healthcare Financial Management Association. This credential is acknowledged as a pinnacle accomplishment and can be obtained by being a Certified Healthcare Financial Professional (CHFP) for five years and achieving points through career development activities.

Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, MCSE. The MCSE credential, authorized by the Microsoft Corporation, is the premier certification for professionals who analyze the business requirements and design and implement the infrastructure for business solutions based on the Windows platform and Microsoft server software. This credential signifies an individual with skills necessary to lead organizations in the successful design, implementation, and administration of Microsoft products.

Personal Financial Specialist, PFS. The first AICPA-accredited specialization, the PFS certification indicates a CPA who has considerable experience in personal financial planning. Before receiving this certification, a CPA must pass an exam and demonstrate experience and expertise in a wide range of personal financial matters.

Selecting the Right Certification

Before pursuing professional certification, accounting professionals should consider the following issues:

Given the substantial time and financial commitment associated with most certification programs, accountants should conduct a cost/benefit analysis to ensure that pursuing certification is feasible. This analysis should include personal and family goals, in addition to short- and long-term career goals.

Although obtaining and maintaining professional certifications is not an easy task, the benefits may be substantial. Generally, most professional designations represent a given level of competence and adherence to an organization’s ethical standards, and are generally perceived by the public and employers as a positive attribute for accountants.

Paul D. Hutchison, PhD, is an assistant professor of accounting at the University of North Texas, Denton, Texas.
Gary M. Fleischman, PhD, CMA, CPA, is an associate professor of accounting at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyo.

Thomas W. Morris
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