What Kind of Certification and Training Do Accountants Need?

Working as an accountant can be both challenging and rewarding. It’s a high-pressure industry that stresses performance, but the salary and benefits can be worth it. However, there is a certain amount of training and certification you’ll need before you can become an accountant.

For starters, you’ll need a degree from an accredited college or university, and preferably a bachelor’s degree instead of an associate’s degree. The higher your degree, the better job you’ll be able to get. You can also choose to further your education with a master’s degree, whether it’s a master’s of business administration or a more focused master of accountancy. Both are good degrees, just with different executions: the former gives you a broader base in business, while the latter gives you a greater degree of training in specific accountancy matters.

In order to become an accountant, you’ll need to pass the Certified Public Accountant exam, which is administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. CPAs are licensed to provide accounting services to the public, like auditing, tax preparation, litigation support, and more. The CPA exam comprises four separate sections — auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation — and takes about 14 hours to complete.

Other types of accountants and auditors also typically need to be certified in order to be considered for the best jobs. For instance, a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) has also passed a four-part test, this one administered by the Institute of Internal Auditors. Rather than focus on the public, though, a CIA typically provides auditory service for a client or employer.

Some accountants focus more on the needs of smaller businesses as well as financial services to families and individuals, and those accountants often become Accredited Business Accountants (ABAs). An ABA is someone who has passed a qualification exam administered by the Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation.

Accountants can also sit for more than one exam and be licensed by multiple groups; for example, you can be a CPA and a CIA. But the bottom line is that accredited schooling and rigorous exams are going to be necessary in order to practice as an accountant.