CFA VS CPA – Making the Distinction and the Decision

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is an accountant who has met state licensing requirements. CPAs provide accounting services, ranging from preparing financial statements for large corporations to preparing taxes for individuals.

A Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) is a financial analyst who has completed the CFA program through the CFA Institute. Financial analysts analyze investment options and provide investment information to financial planners and their clients and to upper management of investment companies. It is important to note that a CFA is different from a CFP (Certified Financial Planner), who works directly with individual investors.

CFA VS CPA – Choosing the Right Credential

With the CFA and CPA being among the most respected credentials in the world of business and finance, and given that both require the completion of a rigorous credentialing process, many are left to ponder: Which one is best suited to their particular career goals. While this is by no means an easy decision, there are a number of factors that when weighed heavily and considered thoroughly can help lead a thoughtful CFA or CPA candidate to the right decision.

Firstly – if an accounting and finance professional is interested in establishing a private practice accounting firm to serve the small-to-medium sized businesses in their community, or would like to join a CPA firm partnership already established in their neighborhood, the clear choice would be to pursue the highly lauded CPA credential.

Sponsored Content

In all likelihood, anybody who is really perplexed as to which credential to pursue has their mind set on a career in financial consultancy or business finance, where both credentials are revered for their unique strengths. The question of whether to pursue a CFA vs. CPA is much more challenging in these instances.

For practicing accountants and financial professionals, the decision is often ultimately determined by the preference of the employer. Accountants working for a major accounting firm will likely find themselves prompted to pursue one or the other based on the needs of the organization.

For those looking to start their careers by selecting the most sought after of the two credentials are left to arrive at their own conclusion as to which is best suited to their personal career aspirations. Most business leaders, hiring managers, and executives would be quick to remind up-and-coming talent that it is not the right credential that gets the job, it is the person who has the skills to get the job done that gets the job.

Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

Licensing requirements to become a CPA vary by state, however, as most states move towards full integration of he the Uniform Accountancy Act, requirements are generally quite similar from state to state:

  • Passing the Uniform CPA exam
  • One year of accounting experience
  • Holding a bachelor’s degree at minimum
  • Completing a total of 150 credit hours of post-secondary schooling
  • Meeting specific credit hour requirements as determined by each state’s Board of Accountancy in:
  • Financial accounting
  • Auditing
  • Business
  • Ethics
Featured Programs:
Sponsored School(s)
Featured Bachelor Programs
SNHU’s undergraduate degrees in accounting are delivered fully online by world-class expert faculty, offering the best in convenience and academic excellence.
Purdue University Global Logo
Purdue University Global
Purdue University’s online learning experience is like no other, offering students interactive, live seminars that can be accessed from anywhere in the world. Theory here is complemented with team-building and project-based learning for a well-rounded educational experience.
Eastern Oregon University Logo
Eastern Oregon University
Eastern Oregon University offers diverse bachelor’s options, delivered 100% online. Your own support team will ensure you’re on-time, on-track, and headed toward success. Take an additional 45 credits and you’ll be qualified to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam.
Lindenwood University Logo
Lindenwood University
Lindenwood’s fully online BBA in Accounting allows students to take classes wherever and whenever it’s most convenient. Lindenwood students enjoy perks that include an online academic advisor and career center. Also offers a Master of Accountancy and an MBA in Accounting.
Arizona State University Logo
Arizona State University
Featured Program: BS in Accountancy
ASU’s BS in Accountancy is backed by a 15-year track record of offering innovative, online degree programs. Student support is part of the package at ASU, with enrollment coaches, academic advisors, and success coaches focused solely on your success.
Featured Masters Programs
Offering the same tuition rates for ten years running, SNHU’s online master’s in accounting is one of the most affordable high-quality programs in the business. Dedicated advisors and 24/7 tech support provide students with unmatched support and guidance in a fully online program. No GMAT or GRE required.
Capella University Logo
Capella University
Capella’s online PsyD in Clinical or School Psychology program is rich in support and engagement, highly interactive, and designed with your unique learning needs in mind. Online learning here is complemented with dynamic, in-person experiences.
Liberty University Logo
Liberty University
The online MSA program through Liberty University offers an affordable, accessible, high-quality way to develop advanced accounting skills, putting a world-class Christian-centered education within reach. Holds specialty, programmatic accreditation through the ACBSP. 100% online. Military tuition discounts available.
The University of Scranton Logo
The University of Scranton
At the University of Scranton, you can earn your master’s in accounting 100% online in as little as 12-months. Custom tailor your program with a wide selection of diverse and contemporary electives. No GMAT or GRE required.
Utica College Logo
Utica College
Utica’s online MBA in Finance & Accounting program develops business-focused accounting skills, providing you with real-world financial modeling experience while putting managerial and cost accounting front and center. Holds specialty, programmatic accreditation through the ACBSP. No GMAT or GRE required. 100% online with no on-campus requirements.

CPAs must be licensed in every state in wish they wish to practice.

CPAs can choose from a diverse number of career paths including:

  • Auditing
  • Tax advising
  • Accounting staff positions at large corporations or accounting firms
  • Government accounting
  • Private practice

CPAs may also provide services related to valuation and forensics, such as fraud prevention, detection and investigation.

Becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

The self-study CFA program is a graduate-level program that teaches skills needed to analyze investments and make appropriate investment decisions. Acceptance into the program has minimum education/experience requirements, and most people take about four years to complete the program. Program requirements include passing three six-hour exams:

  • The Level I exam tests knowledge of tools and concepts used for portfolio management and investment valuation; understanding of basic concepts about securities, asset classes, and markets; and understanding of the CFA Institute’s code of ethics.
  • The Level II exam is all about asset valuation.
  • The Level III exam tests knowledge of portfolio management.

The CFA is a globally recognized credential, and according the CFA Institute, more than 90,000 CFA charterholders work in over 135 countries in the following positions (percentages represent percent of CFAs holding that position as of August 2011):

  • 22% Portfolio Managers
  • 14% Research Analysts
  • 7% Chief Executives
  • 5% Consultants
  • 5% Risk Managers
  • 4% Corporate Financial Analysts
  • 4% Financial Advisers
  • 4% Investment Banking Analysts/Bankers
  • 4% Relationship Managers or Sales & Marketing
  • 30% Other, such as, traders, auditors, and brokers
Sponsored Content