Certification Options and Requirements for Finance Professionals

Oct 20, 2019

There are dozens of certifications available to attest to the qualifications of finance professionals. For ease of discussion, three categories are presented here that, collectively, cover the majority of certifications: accounting, financial management and securities.

Essential Information

Certifications exist for accountants, corporate and managerial financiers, securities brokers, financial analysts and many more finance positions. Requirements for certifications vary but commonly include significant experience (sometimes more up to 5 years), licensure, and at least a bachelor's degree. Some certificate programs may specify a minimum amount of required prior coursework in accounting or financial services or require that an individual already has a previous professional certification, like a CPA, CFA, or ChFC. For those interested in a certificate in securities investment, employer sponsorship may be required. Many accounting and auditing certifications are offered online and individuals must also successfully pass an examination to be awarded these various credentials.

Accounting and Auditing Certifications

Accounting certifications, such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation, are likely the most well-known. Many accounting certifications are specific to a single area of accounting, such as the Certified Hospitality Accountant Executive (CHAE) or the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) credential. CPAs may do audits, taxes, compliance and forensic accounting, or they may specialize in just one area. Many companies will not hire accountants who are not CPAs or don't have another major certification.

Most certification agencies offer online classes to help the candidate prepare for the exam. For certifications that don't have this option, there are private companies that offer preparation courses such as attestation and accounting ethics. These prep courses typically introduce students to both the format and content of the exam. For example, a CPA exam prep course may cover topics such as the following:

  • Auditing, fraud
  • Corporate governance
  • Financial accounting and reporting
  • Business law
  • Federal taxation
  • Estates and trusts

Financial Management Certifications

The goals of financial management in business are to generate wealth and income for a business and to invest some of its resources with a satisfactory return. This is done through financial planning, control and decision-making. Certification in an area of financial management indicates that an individual has a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the field and a proficiency in the particular area of certification.

At least one certification, actually titled a charter, has its own program with three levels of study; each level has 48-75 readings to be completed. Each level must be completed in sequence to earn the related certification. Most certifications simply have review programs. Review coursework for various certifications includes:

  • Certified Treasury Professional:
    • Systems of payment
    • Cash and treasury management
    • Retirement fund management
    • Global treasuries
    • Working capital
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (Levels I, II and III):
    • Quantitative methods for valuation
    • Microeconomics
    • Derivatives
    • Capital markets
    • Portfolio management

Securities and Investments Certifications

Securities are investment contracts for which the owners have the right to buy, sell or keep a particular asset. Although financial managers have a fair amount of information and expertise in finding and managing securities (such as stocks and bonds), there are those who specialize in the field. They connect sellers and buyers of commodities and securities, manage these investments and give financial advice.

Most certifications are given by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, FINRA, which is a private, self-regulatory corporation that oversees business between investors, dealers and brokers. These certifications are called 'Series' plus a number. The other major group that has certifications in this area is the Global Association of Investment Professionals.

The Global Association of Investment Professionals has its own curriculum of readings for the Certificate in Investment Performance Measurement (CIPM). FINRA offers many courses; however, preparatory textbooks and software to help prepare for their certification exams are offered by other companies. Topics of study for certain certifications include the following:

  • CIPM:
    • Professional standards and ethics
    • Performance evaluation
    • Standards for global investments
  • Series 6:
    • Stocks and bonds
    • Securities markets
    • Mutual fund sales
    • Calculation of gains and losses
  • Series 7:
    • Debt securities
    • Annuities
    • Retirement plans
    • Government securities

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

A 6% increase in accountant and auditor jobs is predicted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) between 2018 and 2028. This is considered as fast as the national average. The median wage for accountants and auditors in mid-2018 was $33.89 per hour, and the middle half of earners took home a yearly income ranging from $55,070 to $92,910.

The outlook for financial manager jobs has an expected overall increase of 16% during the period from 2018-2028, according to the BLS. The bureau indicated that competition would be fierce and the best opportunities would be for those with a master's degree and certification. In 2018, financial managers earned a median hourly wage of $61.53 (

The investment industry has a number of different job titles, such as securities broker, investment banker, financial services sales agent and others. Collectively, these jobs are expected to increase by about 4% from 2018-2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Continuing Education Information

Certain job activities require specific certifications. For example, CPA status is required of any accountant who files reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Most certifications must be renewed every two years, and the certifying agencies usually offer continuing education classes to help candidates meet the standards for renewal. They may also have a list of other continuing education courses that are approved for use towards recertification.

FINRA delivers the securities industry's continuing education program. Certified individuals must complete a computer-based program every three years to maintain certification. In addition, broker-dealers are required to regularly offer continuing education courses to keep their certified employees current with product- and job-related topics.

Those working in the finance industry have a variety of professional certifications they could pursue in order to prove their abilities or enhance their employability. The requirements for each certification vary, but typically include a combination of education and experience.

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