Accounting certifications and designations that stand out to employers

8 min read
Female accountant at desk after earning Accounting Certifications

After you've earned your CPA license, you may be wondering what's next? You could take a much-needed and well-deserved break, or you could begin thinking about the next step. Accounting certifications are an effective way to expand your expertise in a specific area and gain a competitive edge over your peers for high-paying jobs. To help you start this next step, we're sharing the seven accounting certifications employers are looking for. 

Accounting certifications vs CPA licensure 

Before we dive in, let’s clarify one thing: accountant certifications and licensure are *not* the same. A CPA license is granted by the state board of accountancy and is a legal requirement to complete the following tasks: 

  • Prepare financial statements 
  • Conduct external company audits 
  • Defend a tax return before the IRS 

Holding a CPA license also proves you have more intensive knowledge in both foundational and specialized accounting topics and are better prepared to take on more senior roles in accounting or even open your own accounting firm. 

Accounting certifications are optional ways to demonstrate excellence within the profession. Typically, they're issued through private organizations and focus on a specific niche within the profession. Although they’re not legally required for any job, accounting certifications can make you more attractive to employers since many are granted by esteemed professional organizations. 

Why get an accounting certification?

If you already hold your CPA license, why should you take the next step? 

 Shows competency and commitment 

Why not just use Continued Professional Education (CPE) courses to stay sharp on trends and changes or build new skills? After all, its already a requirement to keep your license. 

While courses are a great way to gain new skills and even focus on specializing in a particular area, it commands less authority than certification. While CPE shows a desire to learn, accounting certification demonstrates intentional focus and a much more intensive proficiency in your niche.

Aligns you with a standard of integrity and reputation 

Accounting certifications are granted by professional organizations, which hold themselves and their members to high expectations. For example, they typically hold certified members accountable to ethical requirements and yearly CPE to maintain their certification. In doing so, you put yourself in step with the organization’s values, integrity and quality of expertise. 

Attracts employers 

Going the extra mile to earn an accounting certification shows employers you have a growth mindset. Although certifications aren’t legal work requirements, some employers may require  them because they illustrate your ability to go above and beyond to improve yourself. 

7 Accounting certifications to help you stand out to employers

You're ready to start working toward a certification, but which one? These seven accounting certifications will open the door to a wide variety of career paths. 

Certified Management Accountant (CMA) 

The Institute of Management Accountants offers the Certified Management Accountant designation which shows competency in 12 specific topics, including risk mitigation, financial strategy, and data analytics. This option is ideal for accounting and finance professionals who thrive in high-impact, decision-making work in corporate settings. CMAs are often involved in board meetings, present to shareholders, and advance into senior or executive positions. 

Average CMA salary: $118,122


  • Education: Bachelor's degree or higher from an accredited university or college or an international equivalent 
  • Membership: You must hold an active membership in the IMA 
  • Work experience: Two consecutive years of experience in management accounting or financial management, excluding internships or training roles.
  • Exam: The CMA Exam is a two-part exam with each part covering six specific topics and consisting of 100 multiple-choice questions and two essay questions. 
  • How to maintain your certification: Complete 30 hours of CPE each year and hold an active membership in the IMA. 


Enrolled Agent (EA) 

Enrolled Agents are tax specialists authorized by the U.S. Department of Treasury to represent taxpayers before the IRS. They help clients plan and prepare tax returns, prepare clients for audits, and represent them in cases of tax debt. 

Average salary: $90,1571 


  • Education: No specific education is required
  • Membership: n/a 
  • Work experience: Two years of experience in tax compliance and law. 
  • Exam: Pass the Special Enrollment Exam, a three-section exam focused solely on tax topics. The exam consists solely of multiple-choice questions.
  • How to maintain your certification: Complete 72 hours of CPE every three years. 


Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) 

A CFA charter holder is a finance professional with in-depth competency related to investment management and analysis. Granted by the CFA Institute, this designation shows you can provide knowledgeable investment advice and make informed recommendations on how to increase growth and profitability. CFAs often work in an analysis or advisory capacity to help their clients or organization manage wealth, develop portfolios and minimize risk. 

Average salary: $126,0002


  • Education: Hold a bachelor’s degree or be an active undergrad within 11 months of graduation
  • Membership: Active membership with CFA Institute 
  • Work experience: Between 1,000 and 4,000 hours depending on higher education. 
  • Exam: Pass all three parts of the CFA Exam. Level I, Level II, and Level III all consist of multiple-choice questions and vignette-supported essays.  
  • How to maintain your certification: The CFA Institute recommends 20 hours of CPE annually, two of which should be focused on standards, regulations and ethics content. You must also maintain an active membership with CFA Institute. 


Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) 

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners grants the CFE certification to professionals who specialize in investigating and preventing fraud. They identify and anaylze fraudulent activities, gather evidence, and support legal proceedings. CFEs may work in different industries and organizations, including corporations, government agencies, and law enforcement. 

Average salary: $147,2033


  • Education: Typically a bachelor's degree, though there is an eligibility points system
  • Membership: Must be an active member of ACFE 
  • Work experience: Two years of relevant experience related to fraud prevention and detection 
  • Exam: The CFE Exam is a four-section exam covering financial transactions and fraud schemes, law, investigations, and fraud prevention. Each section contains 100 multiple-choice questions per section. 
  • How to maintain your certification: You must earn 20 CPE credits yearly. At least 10 of those credits need to focus on ethics, detection and deterrence of fraud, and two credits dedicated to ethics. 


Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) 

The CFF certification is similar to the CFE, but this credential shows you specialize in applying accounting principles and techniques to legal matters. Having this designation shows you demonstrate competency in risk management for internal controls, financial statement misrepresentation and dispute resolution, damages calculations and bankruptcy. 

Average salary: $85,1774 


  • Education: You must be an active CPA and must complete 75 hours of CPE in forensic accounting within five years of applying for the CFF exam. 
  • Membership: active membership with the AICPA 
  • Work experience: At least 1,000 hours working in a related field and within five years of applying for the CFF exam 
  • Exam: The Global Standard CFF Exam consists of 175 multiple-choice questions in a four-hour format. 
  • How to maintain your certification: You must complete 20 hours of CPE yearly and hold an active membership in the AICPA. 

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) 

This accountant certification given by the Institute of Internal Auditors allows you to perform internal audits within a company, anywhere in the world. Whereas CPAs are U.S.-based, external hires, CIAs are globally recognized and work for the organization they audit. 

A CIA certification authorizes you to audit your own company without conflict of interest by holding you accountable to a code of ethics and standards of practice. CIAs commonly work in the finance department, making sure that their financial statements are accurate and follow regulations but may also work in internal controls, compliance, assurance or corporate governance, creating and influencing the guiding principles for company operations.

Average salary: $76,1855 


  • Education: Must have a bachelor's degree, or one of the following: 
    • Active Internal Audit Practitioner designation 
    • Five years of internal audit experience
    • Be an active student in your last year of college
    • Be an active student with an approved Internal Audit Education Partnership (IAEP) school 
  • Membership: n/a 
  • Work experience: Between one and five years, depending on your higher education amounts. 
  • Exam: This is a three-section exam totalling 325 multiple-choice questions.
  • How to maintain your certification: 40 hours of CPE per year 

Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV) 

Like CMAs and CFAs, ABV certification puts you on the path to high-level, executive strategy work. Some areas you could work in include: 

  • Mergers and acquisitions 
  • Litigation support 
  • Business transition 
  • Fair market value, e.g. estate planning, gifting 
  • Investment management 

Average salary: $101,3776


  • Education: You must have at least a bachelor's degree, 75 hours of CPE related to business valuation within five years of applying and an active CPA license.  
  • Membership: AICPA membership 
  • Work experience: 150 hours of business valuation experience within five years of your exam application submission 
  • Exam: The ABV Exam is a two-part exam consisting of both multiple-choice questions and case-study scenarios, like the CPA Exam. 
  • How to maintain your certification: You must complete 60 hours CPE every three years.  


CPA licensure is just the beginning 

You have options to leverage your analytical skills to build a career that’s challenging, exciting and fulfilling. Whether you’re fighting financial fraud, working with the IRS or collaborating with the board of directors, certification will help you curate your professional identity to stand out from the crowd. CPA life isn’t just an end goal; it can also be a jumping-off point for you to achieve even greater ambitions.

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