Advancing the Level of Professionalism

By Forte, Jim | Government Finance Review, June 1992 | Go to article overview

Advancing the Level of Professionalism


Forte, Jim, Government Finance Review


The finance profession may seem to layperson a stagnant, staid environment filled with balances, ledgers and statements. In reality, the activities undertaken by the modern finance professional are highly complex and the variety of situations, exposures and circumstances confronted on a daily basis match the challenges faced by professionals in nuclear physics and neuro-surgery. What amplifies the challenge to the finance professional is not the magnitude, but the vast array of topics in which he or she must be expert.

Of critical importance is the preparation available to the contemporary finance professional. There exist many fine academic institutions and curricula teaching the theory and methodology of public finance; the problems arise, however, when the student becomes the practitioner--the world unfolds on the horizon and reality is confronted. To see the effects of a rapidly changing finance technology, one only needs to look at a text on such subjects as debt issuance or accounting practices, as current as five years, to find significant changes in that landscape compared to the present. Arbitrage rebate, GASB, GICs and others--terms foreign to governmental finance until just recently--all introduce new areas in which finance professionals must be knowledgeable of effects upon their discipline.

In addition to the need to maintain a working knowledge of the profession, there also exists a need to put that knowledge to use for personal as well as professional purposes. Governmental officials are migratory, ever seeking a more fertile locale. Many of their skills are portable and can be applied in any number of jurisdictions. The burden of proof, however, falls on the individual, when trying to convince a future employer of his or her capability. There exists no single credential that satisfies the needs for professional development and professional advancement.

GFOAT's Certification Program

The Government Finance Officers Association of Texas (GFOAT) had a dream: The creation of a program which uses contemporary literature to supplement pre-existing knowledge and offers, as incentive to its membership to participate in the program, a credential which would be recognized by peers and superiors as an acknowledgment of attainment of a certain level of accomplishment. The dream became reality through a program devised in the early 1980s as the responsibility of GFOAT's Professional Development Committee, and has evolved into the Certified Government Finance Officer (CGFO) designation.

In its original framework, the program involved review and testing in four areas:

* Accounting and Financial Reporting

* Budgeting and Capital Programming

* Treasury and Debt Management, and

* Financial Administration Study guides were designed by the GFOA to be used by applicants to prepare for certification.

An examination was developed to comprehensively test the applicant's knowledge in each area, in a multiple-choice, objective problem-solving and short essay format. Each test required approximately three hours to complete. The program was designed to allow an applicant to complete two study programs over a four- to six--month study period, by devoting two to three hours weekly to each module.

The program initially contemplated successful completion of all four study modules in order to receive the CGFO designation; it also established a "grandfathering" procedure, to allow acceptance of a combination of education and experience to qualify for certification, in lieu of the testing. This provision was included to stimulate interest among members of the organization.

The certification program gained momentum among the membership in 1987, when the GFOAT Board of Directors encouraged the Professional Development Committee to actively market and pursue membership interest in the program. One of the first initiatives was to encourage members who met the "grandfathering" criteria to apply for certification; this would develop a core of advocates for the program. …

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