Accounting’s Alphabet Soup: What Do All These Certifications Mean?

It’s always best to hire an accountant who has earned certifications; it means they pride themselves in learning the latest trends in their field and are continuously striving to improve as a professional. But it can be a little disconcerting if you don’t understand what all those letters after the accountant’s name mean.

To save you time from scouring the internet for acronym definitions, here’s a handy guide that will help you impress your accountant with your knowledge of certifications.

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

Certified Public Accountants are required to have at least two years of experience and must pass a strenuous exam on accounting, auditing and tax procedures. They are knowledgeable in all matters of accounting and must be used in the case of an audit; they can also complete tax returns and represent clients in front of the IRS.

There are more than half a million CPAs in the U.S. Other countries have equivalent certifications; for example, CA is “Chartered Accountant” in the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Bermuda, Bangladesh and a few others. Canada has recently transitioned from CA to CPA designation for their public accounting industry.

Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

Whereas CPA is the designation for public accountants who specialize in taxes, compliance, reporting and auditing, those who prefer to work in corporate finance and specialize in business analysis, strategy and financial management may opt to earn a Certificate in Management Accounting.

This certification requires a test that covers the aforementioned specialties as well as accounting, financial planning, investing, budgeting, internal controls, risk management, cost management, ethics, financial statements and more. Businesses that are looking for a more hands-on, managerial financial controller may prefer a CMA over a CPA.

Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)

Chartered Global Management Accountant is a newer form of CMA offered by the American Institute of CPAs. The AICPA refers to the certificate as the “global designation for CPAs working in business and government.”

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

Certified Internal Auditors help larger businesses maintain internal controls within their companies. As the name implies, CIAs evaluate a company’s financial and operational processes as well as its corporate governance.

Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

Certified Financial Planners can help you plan for the future and evaluate your money risks. To earn a CFP certification, professionals must pass a test on financial planning, insurance, investments, retirement planning, income tax, estate planning and more.

Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)

The AICPA offers a specialty designation, Personal Financial Specialist, for CPAs who want to specialize in personal financial planning.

Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)

Certified Fraud Examiners are the cyber-sleuth detectives of the accounting profession. They help detect or prevent fraud and white-collar crimes like embezzlement.

Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP)

Certified Information Technology Professional is a designation offered by the AICPA for CPAs who have expertise in technology. These are specialists who combine business and technology; they meet requirements for CPAs and have additional training in emerging trends, IT assurance and risk, business solutions, data analytics, security and privacy.

Accredited Senior Appraiser (ASA)

Accredited Senior Appraisers can help you determine what your company is worth should you decide to sell it. There are four other business valuation certifications. One example is the ABV, Accredited in Business Valuation, which is offered by the AICPA.

See AccountingWEB.com for a more in-depth guide to the different types of valuation credentials.

Enrolled Agent (EA)

Enrolled Agent is a designation offered by the IRS. It requires an exam on both individual and business tax laws as well as 72 hours of continuing education courses every three years. An Enrolled Agent is authorized to prepare income tax returns and represent taxpayers before the IRS in all 50 states.

Certified Bookkeeper (CB)

The Certified Bookkeeper designation is offered by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers.

Certified Payroll Professional (CPP)

Certified Payroll Professional is a designation offered by the American Payroll Association.

Other Certifications

Those are just a few of the more popular professional certifications that accountants can earn.

Some colleges also offer certificates in accounting. These certificates, however, are a bit different than those listed above and simply indicate that the individual has completed a set of college or trade-school courses. If your accountant’s certificate is not listed above, find out whether his or her certificate is associated with a college or school so you can discern the difference.

There is also an entire category of software certifications that can be earned to prove expertise in a particular software package, such as a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, which acknowledges expertise in QuickBooks. There are also Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisors and certifications for QuickBooks Online, Point of Sale and Enterprise.

Earning a certification takes time, expertise and dedication. Accountants with certifications have gone the extra mile to better serve their small business clients, so be sure to seek out these professionals when looking for help with your finances.

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