What are the Top 10 Accounting & Finance Certifications?
Accounting and finance certifications highlight that someone has put in the time and effort to expand their knowledge and skills. More and more people nowadays have access to university education. Consequently, this means that bachelor’s degrees are becoming less valuable. Therefore, attaining a professional certification will help you stand out from the crowd.
Accounting and finance certifications show employers that you have the skills and specialized knowledge to succeed. Thus, they are a great way to improve your reputation, earning power, and job prospects.
We’ve prepared a list of the top 10 accounting and finance certifications to help you improve your ability to deliver top-quality financial analysis!
List of the Top 10 Accounting & Finance Certifications
- Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA) designation
- Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation
- Certified Management Accountant (CMA®) certification
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification
- Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA®) designation
- Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®) designation
- Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC®) designation
- Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA®) designation
- Financial Modeling and Valuation Analyst (FMVA™) certification
- Financial Risk Manager (FRM®) certification
Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA) Designation
The Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA) designation is a globally recognized accounting certification that focuses on topics such as financial management, reporting, taxation, auditing, leadership, and ethics. Unlike the CPA, ACCA is more internationally recognized and applicable as it focuses on IFRS as opposed to U.S. GAAP. However, this means that ACCA is less appropriate in the United States. Additionally, it no longer counts for CPA exam exemptions.
The ACCA accounting designation consists of three levels (modules) and up to 13 exams. It costs roughly £2,000 to attain the designation and takes around three years to complete. As there are many exams in the ACCA, the pass rate can vary from 30% to 80% depending on the exam.
Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Designation
The Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation is a great finance certification for anyone who is pursuing a career in investment or wealth management. This certification is focused on financial planning – the high net worth and retail segment of investment management. Though the CFP’s coverage of wealth management is extensive, its focus is narrow, thus making it not as applicable to other finance careers.
The CFP has two levels and two exams. While completing the CFP, you also complete an FPSC (Financial Planning Standards Council) Level 1 certificate as part of the process. It costs about $2,000 and 4 years to obtain this designation. The pass rate for the CFP is around 67%.
Certified Management Account (CMA) Certification
The Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification is an accounting certification that is offered by the Institute of Management Accountants. The CMA looks further into financial accounting and mixes in elements of strategic management. The certification is concerned with teaching the underlying factors behind a company’s financials and what strategic business decisions can be derived from them.
There are no levels in the CMA certification but there is a final exam with two parts that are tested separately. The CMA can cost anywhere between $850 to $2,500, depending on if you are a student or professional and if you are purchasing supplemental study resources. The pass rate for the CMA exams lies between 40-50%.
Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Certification
The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification is one of the most important certifications for accountants and is also significant for a finance career path. For a career in accounting, the CPA is virtually a “must have” certification. Many employers list it as a requirement for accounting positions. The CPA program covers topics such as auditing, attestation, financial accounting and reporting, business environment and concepts, as well as regulation.
The CPA does not have any levels and has a single exam that consists of four sections. Each of these four sections is tested separately, acting as their own exam. Completing the entire program can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the jurisdiction and study program (self-study or live classes). However, accounting companies, especially the big four accounting firms, often pay for their employees CPA fees. The pass rate for the CPA exam is usually around 50%.
Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) Designation
The Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) designation is a finance certification which focuses on alternative investments. This finance certification is aimed at people who want to work in asset management and hedge fund industries. CAIA primarily covers topics such as hedge funds, private equity, real assets, asset allocation, structured products, risk management, and ethics. While not as versatile as other designations, the CAIA is very useful for niche areas of finance, specifically for managing alternative investments like real assets.
The CAIA consists of two levels and two exams. Finishing the CAIA costs around $3,000 and takes between one to two years. The pass rate for CAIA exams is approximately 70%.
Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Designation
The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation is a well-recognized and sought after finance certification by financial professionals globally. It is highly regarded and often used as a filtering mechanism for firms when they are hiring for financial analysts. However, while comprehensive, the CFA touts a very low pass rate for the program, which can be attributed to the vast amount of material that is tested.
The main focus of the CFA is portfolio management and investment analysis. The designation covers topics such as ethics, quantitative methods, economics, financial reporting and analysis, equity, fixed income, portfolio management, derivatives, and alternative investments.
The CFA usually takes about four years to complete all three levels of the program. Attaining the CFA designation can cost $4,000 to $5,000, depending on whether you need to rewrite any exams and how early you register for them. The pass rate for each exam can vary from 30-50%. Consequently, this means the pass rate for the entire program usually lies around 20%.
Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) Designation
The Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) designation is a finance certification that is awarded by The American College of Financial Services. The ChFC designation was initially created to be an alternative to the CFP designation. However, it is less recognizable than the CFP.
The ChFC includes comprehensive coverage of all kinds of financial planning topics, such as insurance planning, income tax planning, and retirement planning. Unlike the CFP, which has a final exam at the end of the program, the ChFC includes exams at the end of each course.
The ChFC has eight required courses and eight exams. Obtaining your ChFC designation usually takes between six to nine months and costs $5,400. There are no publicized numbers for the pass rates for the ChFC exams.
Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) Designation
The Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation was jointly established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). It is a globally recognized accounting certification that has been established by two of the longest standing accounting associations. If you are a current CIMA member, you automatically qualify for a CGMA and if you are a current voting AICPA member, you have the option of a faster route to obtaining the designation.
The CGMA focuses on topics such as financial and management accounting, reporting, and strategy. There are three levels in the CGMA, each consisting of three courses which have their own exam. In addition, a case study exam must be completed at the end of each level. Thus, the CGMA has a total of 12 exams.
Finishing your CGMA takes about three to four years and costs about $3,000 to $5,000 when the mandatory AICPA membership is included. This amount varies depending on how long it takes for you to complete your CGMA. The program provides all material to you on a subscription basis and the price increases for longer subscriptions. Depending on the exams, the pass rates for the CGMA can vary from 50-88% for first-time test takers. Students usually spend three to four months studying for each exam, and six to eight weeks for each case study exam.
Financial Modeling and Valuation Analyst (FMVA) Certification
The Financial Modeling and Valuation Analyst (FMVA) certification is a finance certification that is offered by Corporate Finance Institute®. The FMVA is a popular option for corporate finance professionals what want to improve their financial modeling skills. The FMVA is built on practical topics and applications, using real-world examples and case studies. The curriculum of the FMVA includes topics such as finance theory, advanced Excel skills, how to build financial models, advanced valuation techniques, and sensitivity analysis. Additionally, the FMVA focuses on teaching students using the best practices of the Analyst Trifecta®. This program focuses on more than just financial theory and analytics. By also teaching soft skills and presentation skills, the FMVA prepares you for all stages of any task or project that you will work on as a financial analyst.
The FMVA finance certification program includes over 20 courses and over 50 hours of video instruction. The program requirements consist of:
- 8 optional prerequisite courses
- 9 required core courses
- 7 elective courses (minimum 3 required)
Every CFI course has an assessment at the end of the course. Therefore, the FMVA program consists of 12 qualifying assessments. Additionally, the pass rate for FMVA assessments is approximately 70%.
The price of the FMVA is $497, which is much lower than other finance certifications. This includes lifetime access to all CFI courses which are continually updated to uphold the most up-to-date industry standards in financial modeling and valuation. All CFI courses are taught online so that students can access their resources and study at any time. Additionally, it only takes about 120-200 study hours to finish the FMVA certification program, which can be completed in less than a year.
Financial Risk Manager (FRM) Certification
The Financial Risk Manager (FRM) certification is offered by the Global Association of Risk Professionals (GARP). The FRM is designed for finance professionals looking for careers as risk analysts, risk officers, or other positions in risk management. The topics covered by the FRM revolve around risk management, such as valuation and risk models, credit risk measurement, and operational risk management.
The FRM only has one level, however, there are two parts to the exam. Examinees can choose to take both parts on the same day or take them separately. The FRM costs around $1,500, depending on how early you register for the exam, and takes about a year to finish. The pass rate for the FRM is about 50%.
Finance Certification Comparison Chart
You can compare all the details for the certifications on this list using the chart below!
|Number of Levels||3||2||1||1||2||3||1||3||1||1|
|Number of Exams||Up to 13||2||2||4||2||3||8||12||12||2|
|Costs||£2,000 to £2,500||$2,000||$850 to $2,500||$1,000 to $3,000||$3,000||$4,000 to $5,000||$5,400||$3,000 to $5,000||$497||$1,500|
|Exam Pass Rate||30-80%||67%||40-50%||40-50%||70%||30-50%||N/A||50-88%||70%||40-50%|
|Content Focus||Financial Management, Reporting, Taxation, Audit||Financial Planning||Financial Accounting, Strategic Management||Financial Management, Reporting, Taxation, Audit||Real Assets, Alternative Investments||Portfolio Management, Investments||Financial Planning||Financial Accounting, Strategic Management||Financial Modeling, Valuation||Financial Risk Management|
|Career Application||Accounting and Finance||Retail and Wealth Management||Accounting, Finance, Management||Accounting and Finance||Asset Management||All Encompassing||Retail and Wealth Management||Accounting, Finance, Management||All Encompassing||Risk Management|
|Study Time (hrs)||300-400 per exam||Varies||60-170 per exam||Varies||200 per exam||300-350 per exam||Varies||Varies||120-200 total||200-300 per exam|
|Completion Time||3-4 years||4 years||1-3 years||2.5-5 years||1-2 years||3-5 years||< 1 year||3-4 years||<1 year||<1 year|
|Work Experience||3 years||3 years||2 years||1 year||1 year||4 years||3 years||3 years||N/A||2 years|
Additional Financial Analysis Resources
Our mission at CFI is to help advance your career. We want to provide you with all the tools and training that you need to become a world-class financial analyst. In addition to the certifications we’ve listed, we also have a library of free resources to help you expand your knowledge and develop your skills as a certified financial analyst. Check out some of CFI’s most popular free resources below!