Considering the GFOA's Certified Public Finance Officers Program

Article excerpt

The Certified Public Finance Officers Program (CPFO) reached a milestone in summer 2012, when the 500th person completed the requirements to be a CPFO. The Government Finance Officers Association's CPFO certification program is designed to prepare government employees for financial leadership positions in local and state government. This self-study program provides a broad overview of five major disciplines in public finance: treasury and investment management; governmental accounting, auditing, and financial reporting; operating and capital budgeting; retirement and benefits, risk management, and procurement; and debt management. Obtaining the CPFO designation is an important step in a finance officer's career.

HOW IT WORKS

Candidates have three opportunities a year to test their knowledge in the area they are studying; eventually, they are tested in all five disciplines. Many state associations host the CPFO testing as part of their annual conferences. For example, the GFOA of Missouri offers a testing session in all five exam areas at its annual spring conference. In addition, the GFOA now allows individuals to take the test in local jurisdictions, after pre-registering. To maintain the certification, CPFOs participate in 60 hours of continuing education every two years. The continuing education requirement keeps CPFOs up to date on current trends and innovations in government finance.

The CPFO designation says that an individual has demonstrated competencies in the major disciplines of public finance. One CPFO said this was the only program she had found that helps candidates learn the specific and practical aspects of governmental accounting. This certification gives finance professionals a large volume of resources to use in delving into and strategizing in areas they doesn't normally address. Another CPFO noted that the broad spectrum of knowledge gained through the study process is invaluable, regardless of one's position in government finance.

THE EXAM AREAS

Each examination requires individuals to demonstrate knowledge of specific subject matter. The treasury and investment management examination is arranged around three main topics: investing, managing banking services, and general treasury management. Recommended reading material for these core areas provides important information on processes for establishing an investment policy, investment economics (such as the yield curve, strategy, monitoring financial markets, and interest rates), and bank depository and custodian selection. Other topics in this category are cash flow forecasting, short-term borrowing methods and instruments, internal controls, and use of technology. In my own experience, this core area provided a more comprehensive understanding of investment policies and parameters that helped me improve the investment policy for the City of Webster Groves, Missouri.

The governmental accounting, auditing, and financial reporting category focuses on three main areas for testing: accounting and internal control, auditing, and financial reporting. The main source of reading material is Governmental Accounting, Auditing, and Financial Reporting, also known as the Blue Book. More specific topics include evaluating control-related policies and procedures, internal control and fraud prevention, auditing standards, independent auditor's reports and findings, fund accounting and fund financial statements, measurement focus, and basis of accounting. Mastering this material means a candidate thoroughly understands the required components of the comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR). …