Navigating the Maze of Today's Professional Credentials

Article excerpt

There was a time, seemingly not all that long ago, when the array of professional credentials that seasoned accounting professionals could pursue was relatively narrow; many chose to work toward the CPA certification. Although this certification provides its holder with the only licensed accounting designation in the United States, financial professionals can now choose from among a wide variety of additional certification opportunities and career paths in order to differentiate themselves within the marketplace.

Expertise in specific areas-such as business valuation, forensic accounting, information systems, financial services, internal auditing, and management accounting, among others-has become an option for all and a necessity for many. Certification credentials evidencing such types of expertise have proliferated, creating an ever-broadening array of certification possibilities. Researching the key attributes of the myriad of professional organizations and the benefits of their respective certifications and credentials is a significant undertaking, for which most accounting professionals lack the necessary time; thus, this discussion provides professionals with a guide to the more prominent U.S.-based professional organizations (i.e., those with memberships of more than 10,000) and the certifications they offer.

Such organizations include the AICPA, the Institute of Internal Auditors (Π?), the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Board of Standards Inc. and the Financial Planning Standards Board (FSPB), the ISACA, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), the Institute of Management Accountants (MA), and the Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation (ACAT). A streamlined discussion of these organizations (in descending order of membership size) and their respective certifications is followed by a discussion of essential implications and questions for professionals to consider, including potential benefits and costs. (The Exhibit provides an overview of the organizations discussed below.)

AICPA

Founded in 1887 and consisting of nearly 400,000 members, the AICPA is the longest established and arguably most recognized among the U.S.-based accounting organizations. It publishes the Journal of Accountancy; The Tax Adviser; CPA Letter Daily; AICPA Weekly Update; CPA Client Bulletin·, six e-newsletters; and numerous online guides, alerts, and specialty-area articles. Although the AICPA is often associated specifically with the Uniform CPA Examination, it actually serves the accounting profession in a rather broad capacity, as stated on its website:

The AICPA is the world's largest association representing the accounting profession, with nearly 386,000 members in 128 countries and a 125-year heritage of serving the public interest. AICPA members represent many areas of practice, including business and industry, public practice, government, education and consulting. The AICPA sets ethical standards for the profession and U.S. auditing standards for audits of private companies, nonprofit organizations and federal, state and local governments. It develops and grades the Uniform CPA Examination, (http://www.aicpa.org)

The AICPA offers five different specialty credentials to those who already hold the CPA designation: Personal Financial Specialist (PFS); Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV); Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP); Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF); and, most recently, Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA). These credentials offer qualified CPAs the opportunity to further distinguish themselves and thus advance their careers and enhance the value of their practices.

PFS. This credential, established in 1987 for CPAs who have or seek expertise in personal tax and financial planning, is provided to qualified CPAs who meet certain experience requirements, earn 80 hours of personal financial planning continuing professional education (CPE) within the five-year period preceding the PFS application date, pass the six-and-one-half-hour PFS Exam (or have passed either the Certified Financial Planner [CFP] Exam or the Chartered Financial Consultant [ChFC] Exam), complete the PFS application, and pay a $400 fee. …