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The 10 Best Professional Credentials for Accountants

Managing a career in accountancy requires staying current and up-to-date on industry trends, as well as maintaining a commitment to ongoing education and professional advancement. Through specialized certifications, accounting professionals can revive, nurture, and increase their knowledge base.

Why Professional Accounting Qualifications?

Accountancy and financial services is an industry that constantly changes. This creates a demand for highly knowledgeable accounting professionals. From government regulations to marketplace needs, accounting professionals are expected to possess advanced skills and expertise. Failure to invest in professional development can result in a lack of career advancement, loss in earnings potential and ultimately, less opportunity.

Obtaining accounting certifications helps people differentiate themselves from other applicants or peers, and sets them up for long-term success. While accounting designations are plentiful, it is important to pursue the right credentials that fit within your planned scope of work.

In addition to traditional degrees, accounting certifications highlight competency and ability to prospective employers. Individuals who hold a certification experienced an increase of 22 percent in average salary 1 and a 29 percent increase in total compensation.

Public Accounting Certifications

For those in the public sector, several accounting certifications help build a foundation as a practitioner. Whether working for a large public firm or at a small or mid-size business, these accounting certification broaden the possibility of work with multiple clients, which increases exposure to various types of business operations.

The top certification for public accounting is the well-known certified public accountant 2 (CPA) certification. For most accounting professionals, obtaining a CPA is vital to obtaining a job and advancing their careers. As of 2014, there were 1.3 million practicing accountants with an expected job growth of 11 percent through 2024. (3) Further, the CPA is also a basic requirement to pursue other professional credentials.

Additional public accounting certifications, such as the Accredited Business Valuation (ABV) and Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA), require the applicants to hold a CPA license. 3

Accredited Business Valuation (ABV)

  • Exam consists of two parts covering engagement practices, professional and regulatory stands, qualitative and quantitative analysis
  • Administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)
  • Interested candidates must complete 10 business valuation engagements and 75 hours of industry-related lifelong learning activities.

Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA) – Issued by the National Association of Certified Valuation Analysts (NACVA), this credential requires:

  • Practitioners be a member of NACVA
  • Pass two-part comprehensive exam
  • Complete a five-day training program
  • Three personal and professional references

Corporate Accounting Certifications

Private accounting qualifications require professionals to hone specific industry expertise. Industries could range from manufacturers, major retailers, and biotechnology companies to start-up tech firms, governmental agencies, and environmental organizations.

Many employers don’t realize accountants have specialties, so having a specialty can be a memorable eye-opener. The following accounting certifications are among the most popular and in demand: 4

  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
  • Certified Accounts Payable Associate (CAPA)
  • Certified Treasury Professional (CTP)

Offered by the Institute of Management Accountants, the CMA is universally recognized and differentiates accountants who are qualified to work inside organizations that places a high value on technical expertise for strategic purposes. This requires a four-part exam mapped to develop and track critical thinking and decision-making skills. Professionals in this role may manage full accounting departments or serve as directors and chief financial officers. 5

The CAPA and CTP designations require 2-3 years of professional work experience and at minimum an associates degree.

Government Certifications

Professionals who find a career in government accounting quickly learn how specialized this sub-sector is and the importance of meeting and exceeding standard qualifications. The Institute of Internal Auditors, (IIA), created a specialty certification – Certified Government Auditing Professional certificate.

This exam tests the applicant’s public sector auditing knowledge and distinctive features such as grant funds, legislative oversight and confidentiality. The CGAP candidates also need to meet the following three requirements:

  • Two years of auditing experience in a government environment
  • Educational requirements – 3- or 4-year post-graduate degree
  • Character reference

A CGAP certification can increase a professional’s earning potential by 40 percent and prepare you for the variety of challenges facing public sector auditors. 6

For accountants who also work heavily in government finance, a Certified Government Financial Manager qualification emphasizes the unique skills and special knowledge required of today’s government financial managers. This certificate is applicable for finance professionals working at the federal, state and local levels.

Additional Designations for Career Growth
Career paths vary for accounting professionals and the accounting credentials listed above are amongst the best certifications one can obtain throughout their career. Moreover, there are professional licenses that expand into other industries related to and/or parallel to accounting. For example, the banking industry offers several accounting designations including:

  • Certified Bank Auditor (CBA)
  • Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA)
  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

Many of these certificates complement each other and can help you obtain supplemental certifications faster. The ABV allows candidates who hold a CBA or CFA certificate to only complete one part of a two-part exam. Others are highly specialized and can set you apart from accounting professionals.

The CIA is the only internationally accepted designation for internal auditors.

Lastly, there are opportunities to expand knowledge and expertise in fields that require the use of accounting for business success. Those in operations management have a list of accounting certifications to choose from through the Association for Operations Management. Professionals working in information technology can refer to the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) for accounting designations, such as a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). 7

When it comes to choosing the best accounting certifications for your career, it is important to assess long-term goals. Whether you’re an entry-level accountant or seasoned professional, the opportunities to grow professionally are bountiful.

The key is to obtain the proper formal education and plan your path. Obtaining a master of accountancy builds a solid knowledge base that becomes an ideal springboard to pursue additional certifications.



Want to learn more about the professional accounting world? Read our free downloadable professional guide.