Welcome to the 21st century - an era ripe with opportunity for both would-be accountants and those already at work in the financial industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of accountant and auditor jobs should increase in response to the business community's growth, changing laws and regulations, and ever more intense scrutiny of corporate record-keeping.
At last check, accounting occupations ranked in the top 25 occupations for number of jobs (2.2 million) and number of openings (more than 38,000 per year). These positions include a high level of job security, competitive starting salaries and top income potential.
Available Licenses and Certifications [top]
Accounting practices build their success on experience, education and compliance with regulatory requirements for certifications in a chosen field of accounting. The licensing process helps ensure that only qualified individuals are authorized to serve the people. Licenses are checked and verified by using the practitioner's name, or license number. Below is a list of credentials for career advancement:
Certified Public Accountant (CPA): This is the most popular professional designation for accountants, and requires "sitting" for the Uniform CPA Exam, which is developed and graded by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. The Uniform CPA Examination is one of the "Four Es" - Education, Examination, Ethics and Experience - required for licensure as a CPA. Consequently, passing the examination is not, in itself, sufficient to meet requirements for licensure. Requirements vary by jurisdiction, and are described on the websites of all state Boards of Accountancy, A directory of and links to all of the state boards can be found on the website of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) .
- Certified Management Accountant (CMA) : This credential is sponsored by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), and is only offered to Institute members.
CMA certification results in salaries that are competitive to those with a CPA. The role of management accounting differs from that of public accounting, since management accountants work at the "beginning" of the value chain, supporting decision making, planning and control, while audit and tax functions involve checking the work after the fact. Management accountants are valued business partners, directly supporting an organization's strategic goals.
The CMA credential differs significantly from the CPA designation, and the decision to pursue one over the other depends entirely on individual career goals. For a career in public accounting, the CPA designation is appropriate - and required by state law. However, more than 80 percent of accounting professionals in the United States work inside organizations, building quality financial practices into the organization. IMA's most recent salary survey indicates that accountants with CMA certification earn 24 percent more than those without certification.
- Certified Financial Planner (CFP) assists clients in managing, sheltering and expanding their assets through a comprehensive plan geared toward a client's financial objectives and resources. CFP candidates must pass the comprehensive CFP Certification examination, pass CFP Board's Candidate Fitness Standards, agree to abide by CFP Board's Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility which puts clients' interests first, and comply with the Financial Planning Practice Standards. These are just some of the reasons why the CFP certification is becoming increasingly recognized.
- Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) is widely recognized for expertise in the anti-fraud field. Career opportunities abound and more are growing.
Qualifications for certification are as follows:
- Be an Associate Member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) in good standing;
- Meet minimum academic and professional requirements with a minimum of a bachelor's degree or the equivalent, and at least two additional years of professional experience;
- Be of high moral character;
- Agree to abide by the Bylaws and Code of Professional Ethics of the ACFE ; and
- Pass the CFE exam.
- Forensic Certified Public Accountant (FCPA) and fraud examination are different, but related. Forensic accounting is done by accountants in anticipation of litigation and can include fraud, valuation, bankruptcy and a host of other services. Fraud examination can be conducted by accountants or non-accountants and refers only to antifraud matters. Thus, the FCPA designation is for CPAs who want to differentiate themselves as forensic specialists. Certification is through the Forensic CPA Society.
- Enrolled Agent (EA) is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to represent taxpayers before all administrative levels of the IRS. Often called the best kept secret in accounting, EAs provide an important and marketable service to the public, government and accounting community. The EA recognition signifies a concentration of competency in the field of taxation.
The Licensing Process
Accountants face stringent compliance requirements when it comes to accounting and auditing standards, the Tax Code and Sarbanes-Oxley. But post-certification career paths are many and varied. Maximizing accounting training is as simple as planning ahead and making some good decisions.
Accounting certifications and professional designations are required to step out into a specialty or independent practice. Trying to understand how to comply with the complex requirements, statutes, rules and regulations of the state boards of accountancy can be difficult and time-consuming.
Key Organizations in the Licensing Process
- The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) serves as a forum for the 55 boards of accountancy. Although individuals must apply for licensure within the state in which they practice, the NASBA provides oversight, review and communications with the boards.
- American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is the national, professional organization for Certified Public Accountants. AICPA seeks the highest possible level of uniform certification and licensing standards and protects the CPA designation.
- State Boards of Public Accountancy Websites provide access to processes needed to practice in that state or province, and links to Board of Accountancy Websites are available on the NASBA Website.
The Uniform Accountancy Act
While not a new document, the NASBA/AICPA Uniform Accountancy Act
(UAA) is constantly undergoing revision so as to keep pace with
the changing economic environment. The UAA contains provisions
that were agreed to by a majority of the state boards of
accountancy. As the name suggests, the act promotes uniformity
to protect the public interest and promote high professional
standards. Its purpose is to clarify a CPA's scope of practice
and to allow CPAs to work across state lines.
As more CPAs provide their services to the public through nontraditional business entities, the law must be clarified for the public to know what type of services will be subject to government regulation.
In light of the collapse of Enron and other corporate
disasters, boards have expanded regulation and are partnering
with boards beyond their own borders, and in tandem with the
Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) and the
Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) to better protect the
public interest. A career in accounting will prove to be
financially rewarding whether one chooses to start as a CPA or
to work in private industry, government service or a nonprofit
entity. Earnings are a function of education, experience and
Each field is continuing to evolve as technology improves and the economic picture changes. Continuing education is the key to keeping up with opportunities and regulation in a growing and competitive industry.
Accounting: Training & Continuing Education [top]
"For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them," stated Aristotle many centuries ago. In his day, as well as in modern times, experience and education go hand in hand. Becoming an accountant, with the potential of many specialized fields within the financial spectrum, is no exception. This winning combination can begin in high school and continue throughout a working career.
Accounting offers a wide array of business services that include public, management and government accounting, as well as internal auditing. In each of these major fields are specialties that prepare, analyze and verify financial documents in order to provide information to client entities. These environments are not stagnant, are ever evolving and the successful management of these entities requires strong credentials that must be kept current through ongoing education and training.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of accountants and auditor jobs is expected to grow by 22 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is faster than the average of all occupations. Over this decade more than 279,000 new accounting jobs will be created. However, placement in and development of an accounting career are directly related to the level of education and licensure achieved.
Specialized Education for Accounting
Entry-Level Basics: Today's accountant must have strong business, interpersonal and computer skills with a strong command of information technology to communicate and share data on an "anytime, anywhere" basis. Although bookkeeping and entry level accounting positions may be obtained right out of high school or with an associate degree, most employers require a college education with a bachelor's degree in business, accounting or a related field.
Qualifications identified in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook suggest that some employers prefer applicants with a master's degree in accounting, or with a master's degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting.
Any accountant filing a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is required by law to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). How to Become a CPA : A CPA certification is the most popular designation in accounting and requires licensing by the State Board of Accountancy in which the CPA candidate intends to practice. Most States require CPA candidates to be college graduates. Some States will substitute public accounting experience for a college degree.
As of 2009, 46 States and the District of Columbia required CPA candidates to complete 150 semester hours of college coursework - an additional 30 hours beyond the usual 4-year bachelor's degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only Colorado, California, New Hampshire and Vermont do not require the 150 semester hours.
CPA candidates are required to pass the 4-part Uniform CPA Examination prepared by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The advantage of the "uniform" exam is that it is now a computer-based test that is offered two months out of each quarter at various testing sites throughout the United States, and internationally. Each year, more than half the CPA candidates do not pass all four parts on the first try. However, most States do require that all four sections must be passed within 18 months of passing the first section.
Although the CPA exam is uniform for all States, specific requirements are not. Therefore, CPA candidates should apply through the Board of Accountancy in the State in which they will practice. Information on CPA licensure requirements by State may be obtained from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).
Continuing Professional Education for the CPA
CPA licensure is not for life, but requires periodic renewal - some States are annual, others are for a two or three year period. All license renewals require State-defined criteria which include continuing professional education (CPE) credits. CPE courses and providers should have the following features:
- Be compliant with NASBA and AICPA standards
- Be versatile in offerings, to enhance preferred interests
- Be approved by the individual State Board of Accountancy
- Be written by someone with experience in the field
- Be prompt with grading and certificates
CPE providers charge a fee for courses and/or testing. A CPE provider may offer free CPE courses under specific circumstances. For instance:
- In return for listing with them for employment purposes
- In return for feedback regarding a pilot course
- The course is free, but the provider charges fees for testing or grading
- One free course to encourage sign up for other courses
Always verify that a course is Board approved and meets NASBA/AICPA standards.
Where to Acquire Specialized Accounting Education
A CPA certification is required and regulated by State law. However, professional certifications other than CPA often provide advantages to accountants or auditors in their career paths. Certifications can attest to professional competence in a specialized field. Some designations, such as Forensic Certified Public Accountant, require an initial CPA designation and licensure before the additional education and certification in forensic accounting is approved to practice as a FCPA.
Below is a list of specialty accounting designations, and the professional society that sponsors the certification and links to Websites for application and certification requirements for education, course offerings, fees, and testing. These certifications renew periodically and require CPE and often membership in the sponsoring organization.
- Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Institute of Management Accountants.
- Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc.
- Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
- Forensic Certified Public Accountants (FCPA), Forensic CPA Society.
- Enrolled Agent (EA), US Department of Treasury .
- Certified Internal Auditor (CIA); Certification in Control Self-Assessment (CCSA); Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP); Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA), Institute of Internal Auditors,
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), ISACA, formerly the Information Systems Audit and Control Association.
- Accredited Business Accountant (ABA); Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA); Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP), Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation (ACAT).
- Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM), Association of Government Accountants.
- Accredited Business Valuation (ABV); Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF):, Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP); Personal Financial Specialist (PFS), American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
A background in accounting offers competitive salaries and long-term growth potential no matter where one's career leads. Tomorrow's accountant will need a national and global perspective as well as disciplined education and specialized certifications.
As noted in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook, "Regardless of qualifications, competition will remain keen for the most prestigious jobs in major accounting and business firms."