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6 Certifications That’ll Build Your Cred

Today’s accounting and finance professionals have a lot to gain by adding the right credentials to the ends of their names. By Selena Chavis | Digital Exclusive

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Finishing up your accounting degree and landing that first job is a feat unto itself. So is surviving tax season or your annual close. So go ahead and give yourself that proverbial pat on the back, but if you’re a savvy professional, you won’t stop or settle there. That’s because adding sought-after credentials to the end of your name is one of the best ways to accelerate the upward momentum of your career.

The robust demand for talented accounting and finance pros is no secret, nor is the excellent pay grade for most—the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics kindly points out that $67,190 is the average starting salary for accountants and auditors. That’s good news and all, but did you know that certified public accountants (CPAs) and chartered financial analysts (CFAs) can realize 35 percent pay increases on average over professionals without those certifications?

In other words, it’s wise to invest in the certifications that fit your future job goals. Here are six to consider:

1. Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

It generally goes without saying, but CPAs are highly sought for just about every accounting, auditing, business, consulting, finance, tax, and, well, you get the point—earning the CPA is a major professional differentiator that can land you just about anywhere, from your local accounting firm to the head of a Fortune 500 company.

Earning a CPA is not for the faint of heart, however. Because this credential provides a multitude of opportunities, and has earned recognition for positioning holders as the nation’s most trusted business advisors, obtaining it isn’t exactly easy. On average, it takes CPA exam candidates six-and-a-half attempts to pass all four parts of the exam. What’s more, sitting for the exam can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on the investment made in the exam and review courses and preparation materials. Plus, once you earn your CPA credential, you’ll also have to maintain it with ongoing accredited professional education.

2. Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

Ever dream of becoming the next CFO of that innovative company you admire? Next to the CPA, the CFA credential could go a long way in proving you’re worthy of the role. While this credential doesn’t always help much in the auditing or accounting worlds, it’s almost an essential in the global investment world and among those aiming for top corporate financial executive positions.

To obtain this certification, you’ll need an applicable bachelor’s degree and four years’ professional experience in a related industry. You should also be prepared for a hefty time and resource commitment—it generally takes four to five years to complete the three levels of testing at a minimum cost of $2,400.

3. Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)

If you’re interested in working in a multinational business or financial management environment, consider picking up the CGMA credential. Offered through the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, a joint-venture between the American Institute of CPAs and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, the CGMA highlights an accountant’s talent throughout the world.

Specifically, this credential equips professionals with a niche set of skills in finance, operations, and strategy and management that’s underpinned by extensive global research. Like the CPA, potential CGMAs qualify through rigorous education, exam, and experience requirements, and they must commit to lifelong continuing professional education and adherence to a stringent code of ethical conduct. The computerized exam costs about $325 and is offered four times a year.

4. Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

The CIA is the choice if you’re looking to differentiate yourself as an auditor with expertise in risk, control, and information technology. Granted by the Institute of Internal Auditors, the CIA comes with a price tag of $1,150 and requires candidates to have a bachelor’s degree and two years of auditing experience prior to testing.

Like some of the other credentials mentioned, the CIA has three levels of exams, total six-and-a-half hours of testing, and takes around a year or more for most to complete. Don’t let that deter you, however, because the CIA is becoming an essential credential for auditors eyeing the coveted chief audit executive position, along with positive upward career advancement along the way.

5. Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

Not to be confused with the aforementioned CGMA, the CMA is awarded by the Institute of Management Accountants to candidates that show excellence in budgeting, strategic assessment, and financial analysis. If you’re considering this credential, you’re likely looking to fine-tune your skill s in the corporate accounting and finance sector.

The CMA comes at a cost of $1,000 to $2,000, and requires candidates to already possess a bachelor’s degree along with at least two years of experience in financial management or management accounting. What’s more, you’ll likely need to make a two-year commitment to complete the requirements that earn you this credential.

Considering the CMA is more fine-tuned for the corporate world, it actually pairs well with the CPA credential to round out one’s skillset—so keep that in mind if you’re thinking that public accounting may not be your ultimate career destination.

6. Master of Business Administration (MBA)

The broad expertise that accompanies earning an MBA can open many doors for accounting and finance professionals. Unfortunately, outside of your undergrad degree, it’s the most costly acronym to add to the end of your name.

US News & World Report notes the average cost of a two-year MBA program at one of the top 10 business schools in the U.S. topped out over $125,000 in 2016. Costs clearly vary based on the university attended, program type (full-time, part-time, or online), scholarships and grants potentially received, and any employer assistance aimed at helping you earn this esteemed degree (many Fortune 100 companies offer tuition assistance). But by all measures, this is an undertaking that takes serious consideration for most.

Much like the CPA, there’s no easy path to earning an MBA, but it’s also a means to entry to greater career choices and higher-level—and higher-earning—executive positions.

Credentials don’t come easy, and they certainly don’t come for free, but that doesn’t mean they’re unattainable. In fact, Robert Half International says 72 percent of CFOs will cover all or some of the costs of their professional employees’ certifications. Many also would cover the continuing professional education required to maintain certification. The reality is that keeping your skills current is vital to staying competitive and relevant in today’s business world.

Regardless of which credentials you choose to collect, each one says something important about who you are as an accounting and finance professional.

Are you up to the challenge to build your cred?