insight magazine

Leveling Up Your Accounting and Finance Credentials

Digital badges and micro-credentials offer accounting and finance pros fun (but serious) ways to master — and show off — their expertise. By BRIDGET MCCREA | Spring 2019


Like the badges, medals, and trophies that separate the noobs from the best and keep video gamers grinding away at their craft, digital badges in the business realm stand to separate the generalists from the specialists.

While they may not yet hold the same clout as a CPA designation, digital badges earned from online certificate and micro-credential curriculums are becoming invaluable to today’s accounting and finance professionals. Thanks to our increasingly digital world — where nearly everyone interacts, communicates, and conducts business online — being able to display a digital badge earned in data analytics, for instance, can differentiate you as an accountant who is putting in extra effort to stay current and competitive, and is willing to go beyond the basics of continuing education requirements.

By definition, a digital badge is a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality, or interest that can be earned in many learning environments and is based on a shared and open technical standard. Much like traditional credential and degree programs have increasingly moved online, this “new” assessment and credentialing mechanism is gaining momentum — and it makes continuing professional education a little more fun.

“With their increased granularity, transparency, and portability, digital credentials are quickly supplanting paper certificates as a means of non-degree skills verification in leading-edge continuing and professional education units,” says Boston University’s Jonathan Lehrich in “Measuring the Value of Digital Credentials.”

And CPAs are particularly well positioned to take advantage of this new trend says digital badging and micro-credentialing proponent Dr. Kyle Peck, professor emeritus of education at Penn State University.


“In the accounting world, everyone comes out of school looking the same, and because the CPA is a mega-credential, CPAs tend to have relatively broad sets of skills. As a result, clients and employers can’t always tell who is better than someone else or who specializes in certain areas of interest,” Peck points out.

“Micro-credentials, on the other hand, certify smaller chunks of knowledge and tell everyone (i.e., clients, employers, business partners, etc.) that, while you may have a macro-badge that says CPA, along the way you earned other competency-based badges in certain specialty areas,” Peck continues. “Each credential becomes a mini portfolio of your accomplishments. These badges become little electronic packages where suddenly, instead of everybody looking the same, I can say, hypothetically, ‘Oh, Brenda’s resume looks good and she has the family tax accounting badge from the Illinois CPA Society.’ The result is a very rich, transparent archive of what someone has done beyond the basic CPA requirements.”

“Most people in the accounting or financial services field already have traditional degrees, designations, and credentials — like the CPA, CMA, CFA, CFP, CIA, etc. — that have served them well. But the profession is changing, and changing rapidly,” says Dan McNeill, the Illinois CPA Society’s chief learning director. “Specialized digital badges and other forms of micro-credentials are a way to keep up with the changes. Think of them as just-in-time designations that give you a way to set yourself apart from others in your field.”


Professional services firm EY has already jumped on the digital badging bandwagon to help empower its professionals and bolster business development. “As CPAs, our world is quickly evolving. Our professionals will need to acquire new skills and credentialize themselves numerous times during their careers,” explains Jeff Bilek, EY’s talent leader for the Central Region. “Digital badging is a program that allows all of our professionals to gain those skills in a real-time way and, most importantly, have a credential that differentiates them in the market.”

To earn a digital badge, employees must complete 20 hours of education from a designated curriculum plus at least one “experience.” The experiences include passing a simulated case study, providing a synopsis on using specific tools in client situations, participating in relevant nonprofit work (i.e., Girls Who Code volunteering), or demonstrating digital industry experience (within the last two years), among other options. Employees also must complete a contribution requirement that ranges from participating in EY’s Yammer page to bringing that new knowledge to others in the firm by coaching a colleague or publishing an article on the topic. Since launching its EY Badges program in November of 2017, nearly 4,300 badges have been earned globally.

Once earned, EY’s people are encouraged to display their badges alongside their traditional credentials both inside and outside the organization, which, according to EY’s Global Chairman and CEO Mark Weinberger, opens up new opportunities and increases their long-term professional value.

“Digital disruption and new technologies don’t have to be threats but opportunities to continue to grow as a professional,” Weinberger says. In an FAQ about EY Badges, the firm says the value of digital badges includes being more relevant for clients while also differentiating yourself and “enhancing your personal brand by building digital skills and credentials that help you be known for your digital expertise.”


In a world where online business is projected to replace most traditional transactions, having one or more digital badges in areas like analytics, cybersecurity, machine learning, for instance, can certainly help CPAs and other accounting and finance professionals differentiate themselves and shine a spotlight on their specialties. So, it’s no surprise that McNeill and Peck expect digital badges to continue gaining momentum as more professionals start to use and respect them and as more clients and employers look for them.

While he admits there’s still plenty of work to do to get to this point, Peck goes so far as to predict that we’ll see more “aesthetic” credentialing blended into professionals’ digital footprints, with badges awarded for affective qualities like a good sense of humor or resilience. “The culmination will be a ‘Wow Badge’ that can just knock someone’s socks off,” Peck says.

However, like anything when it comes to professional development, McNeill points out that the credential is only as good as the institution behind it. “A badge offered by a well-known organization such as the Illinois CPA Society — or if you’re lucky enough to work for a notable employer which offers digital badges to its employees — is going to carry more weight when you add it to your resume or LinkedIn profile than one earned from some digital badge mill,” McNeill cautions. “Just make sure to do your homework.”

So, if you didn’t know, now you know: Digital badges are a powerful new tool for identifying and validating your skills, knowledge, accomplishments, and competencies — and it’s time to get your game on.

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