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Certifications Beyond the CPA

While the Certified Public Accountant, or CPA, certification is certainly the most common certification, it is also the most comprehensive and typically the most difficult to pass. There are many other great options that bring value and credibility should you have trouble with passing the CPA or decide to specialize in an area of accounting and finance and therefore not need as comprehensive a certification. Here are a few options.

CMA – Offered by the Institute of Management Accountants, the CMA exam is a two-part exam with content including financial planning, analysis, control, and decision support. It originally was a four-part exam, but recent transitions tailored it to a two-part exam. This certification shows that a candidate holds knowledge in the areas of content on the exam, and in professional ethics, and other financial skills in high demand in the job market. Contrary to the CPA exam, the CMA is a global credential focused more on corporate accounting.

MFin – Master of Finance
While achieving a Master of Finance degree may seem more daunting than tackling a CPA certification, it isn’t for some candidates. Earning a Master of Finance degree allows you to focus on financial management and investment management alongside qualitative work to help boost your career to the next level. This program generally takes one to two years to complete, which can be similar to the time spent studying for and taking the CPA exam. Some might compare a MFin degree with an MBA, however there is much more exposure to finance, with much less focus on general business management coursework.

CFA – Chartered Financial Analyst
The CFA designation is considered the gold standard of the investment management industry, and is focused on those who play an active role in the investment decision-making process. Many who earn the title of CFA go on to become portfolio managers or financial analysts. While this is another challenging certification, it might be worth considering if you struggle with certain areas of the CPA exam and find yourself on a career path towards investment management. There are three parts to this exam, and the CFA Institute recommends about 20 hours a week of studying for about 6 months.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of alternatives to the CPA exam, these are some of the most common alternatives. These certifications and designations are not necessarily an “easier” option when compared to the CPA exam, but they might be better alternatives and a better fit for the future career you have set out to achieve.