Should You Bother Getting Certified?
Updated: May 31
In the finance and accounting field, there are several different certifications you can pursue. 34, to be exact. CPA, CMA, CGMA—it can be overwhelming to look through a list of these and try to decide what certification to work for. You should be creating elements to your 6-Figure CPA firm that will draw your ideal client directly to you. How do you do that? By discovering what set's you apart from every other CPA. Below are a few certifications you should consider.
Sabine Charles, CPA, CIA, CISA, CFE, CISM, CEO at TAPA Institute, and a Lady Ambassador here at The Lady CPA, has a question for you before you go any further: what certifications do you need to advance your career?
Just because there are so many options out there doesn’t mean you have to take any of them. Instead, this decision needs to be the product of some serious self-reflection.
How can you make more money doing the job you already have?
How can you maximize your cash flow?
Once you’ve been honest with yourself about the answers to these questions—and your path is leading you toward professional development (and success!)—Sabine has a recommendation for you: certifications.
While there are a lot of choices out there for women in accounting, Sabine has 3 tried-and-true certifications that we’re going to share with you: CISA, CIA, and CFE.
Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
This certification is available from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) and is widely respected in the IT space. As the name suggests, this certification focuses on IT and information security. If you have a career in, or are looking to focus on, auditing, controlling, monitoring, and assessing an organization’s information technology and business systems, this certification is for you.
The CISA certification requires a minimum of 5 years of professional work experience in information systems auditing, control, or security. Any substitutes to work experience may be applied for a max of the 3 to 5 required years.
The cost of this certification is pretty reasonable, at approximately $470 for members and $645 for nonmembers.
The exam is tested globally and is structured as one exam with five domains.
Domain 1: The Process of Auditing Information Systems (14%)
Domain 2: Governance and Management of IT (14%)
Domain 3: IS Acquisition, Development, Implementation (19%)
Domain 4: IS Operations, Maintenance, and Support (23%)
Domain 5: Protection of Information Assets (30%)
Now, the pass rate for the exam is 50%—and most of these exams are around the same percentage (the CPA exam, for example). What does this mean? Sabine says that this means it’s not going to be a walk in the park: you have to study, you have to be focused, and you have to be dedicated. The path to progress isn’t simple, but it’s worth it.
So, what do Certified Information Systems Auditors do—and what’s the financial benefit?
Normally, CISAs work within an internal audit department that’s headed by the Chief Internal Auditor (CIA). Their responsibilities include implementing an audit strategy for information systems that’s based on risk management, planning audits that can be used to determine whether IT assets are protected, managed, and valued, and ensuring that they’re helping the business meet their strategic goals.
And what’s the return on investment for you?
According to a recent IIA salary report, the 236 survey respondents with a CISA certification had an average salary of $105K—versus $65K for those without certification.
Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
The CIA certification is available from the Institute of Internal Auditors. For women in finance who are internal individuals performing audits at their organizations—and wanting to invest in themselves and advance in their profession—this certification is for you.
The CIA certification has a few different options when it comes to their educational requirements. To qualify for this certification, you either need a Master’s degree (or equivalent), plus 12 months of internal auditing experience or an equivalent experience, a Bachelor’s degree (or equivalent), plus 24 months of internal auditing experience or an equivalent experience, or an Associate’s degree, three A-level certificates grade C or higher (or an equivalent), plus 60 months of internal auditing experience or equivalent experience.
That’s right: for this certification, you don’t necessarily need a four-year degree.
This certification is a little pricier than the CISA, at approximately $855 for members and $1,315 for nonmembers.
This exam is also tested globally and is structured into three parts:
Part 1: Essentials of Internal Auditing: 125 questions, 2.5 hours (150 minutes)
Part 2: Practice of Internal Auditing: 100 questions, 2.0 hours (120 minutes)
Part 3: Business Knowledge for Internal Auditing: 100 questions, 2.0 hours (120 minutes)
The pass rate for this exam was 42% in 2017, and you must complete all three parts in a 3-year window.
So, what do Certified Internal Auditors do—and what’s the financial benefit?
CIAs provide independent assurance that an organization’s risk management, governance, and internal control processes are operating effectively. As a CIA, you would report administratively to the President and functionally to the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors.
And the financial aspect?
According to the IIA, certified internal auditors can earn up to $38,000 more than non-certified individuals in the same position.
Sabine herself has been an internal auditor for years and can say from experience that the work/life balance and compensation that the profession has given her has been, in one word: great.
She actually ran into a friend of hers recently who started in the industry at the same time, without her CIA. She’s since gotten certified, and when Sabine curiously asked her what she was making now, her friend obliged and admitted: she’s more than quadrupled her salary.
Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
The CFE certification is available from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and progresses fraud examiners.
This certification requires a Bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) from an institution of higher learning. But, no specific field of study is required.
If you don’t have a Bachelor’s degree, guess what: you still qualify! Without a Bachelor’s, you can substitute two years of fraud-related professional experience for each year of academic study.
Out of the three certifications we’ve talked about, the CFE certification is the most cost-effective, at approximately $400.
No need to drive to a center and sit in a cold room for hours while you take this exam; you can take the CFE exam at home. You have 30 days from when you receive the CFE exam keys to finish the exam, and precautions are taken to ensure you don’t cheat during testing.
The exam itself is made up of four sections and you have two hours to complete each section:
Financial Transactions and Fraud Schemes
Fraud Prevention and Deterrence
The most recent pass rate is from 2018, at 77.6%.
So, what do Certified Fraud Examiners do—and what is the financial benefit?
CFEs perform a diverse range of services across an array of industries and sectors, acting (in part) as accountants, investigators, attorneys, and criminologists. The type of work you do here depends pretty heavily on your background, but for the most part, you’ll be examining records for fraud, analyzing data, transactions, and financial statements, and even reconstructing accounting records.
But, how are you compensated?
Based on participant responses to an ACFE survey, the median total compensation for a CFE is $91,000, compared to $73,000 for a non-CFE professional.
As you can see, the options are out there! As soon as you make the decision to commit, there’s no shortage of certifications available for you to advance your professional life (and your salary).
But, self-reflection is key. Certifications aren’t necessarily for everyone, and you won’t make it through the strenuous time commitments and stress if you aren’t truly dedicated to seeing this goal through.
Sabine puts it best: having a CPA is a great, wonderful accomplishment for women in accounting. But, if you really want to retool and focus, use that CPA certification as a base and further develop a niche and expertise for yourself.
Do you want to go into forensics? Information technology? Maybe information security? But you don’t want to get another Master’s or pursue a Ph.D.?
Then, maybe, your answer is yes: you should absolutely bother getting certified.
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