Breaking them down: Accounting certifications to enhance your career

Ernst & Young is a multinational professional services firm.

By Aisyah Liliana 

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If you’re interested in carving yourself a strong career in accounting, auditing, taxation, and finance, supplementing your degree with an accounting certification can bolster your job prospects and boost your earning potential.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the employment of accountants and auditors is projected to grow 6% from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. 

“In general, employment growth of accountants and auditors is expected to be closely tied to the health of the overall economy. As the economy grows, more workers should be needed to prepare and examine financial records,” it said.

With so many finance or accounting bodies offering accounting certifications to help you stand out from the competition, it can be tough to decide which is right for you. To boot, these certifications can be costly and require you to dedicate ample time studying. 

Despite that, these credentials will likely pay off in the long run. Here’s a breakdown of some of the popular accounting certifications and what they entail: 



The ACCA qualification is a professional accounting qualification awarded by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, a widely recognised international accountancy body headquartered in London, UK.

The ACCA notes that where you start studying depends on the qualifications you already have.  

Those who don’t have specific university-entrance level qualifications can start at the Foundations level, or a preliminary course. If you have a relevant degree, you could start at a higher level and potentially be exempted from some exams.

Apart from completing exams and the ethics module, you’ll also need three years’ practical experience in a relevant role to qualify. It can take about three years to complete the qualification.



Another widely recognised credential is the CPA, which stands for Certified Public Accountant. It is provided by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)

If you want to work in the US or will be working with US-based clients, you might want to consider taking the CPA exam. The AICPA notes that the exam is the same no matter where it’s taken, but it’s worth noting that each state in the US has its own licensing requirements, which means you’ll need to meet the licensing requirements in the state you wish to practice in the US.

The CPA Exam is a 16-hour, four-part assessment. Candidates must pass all four sections within 18 months, earning a minimum score of 75 on each part.

“There is no centralised body and each state has slightly different CPA exam and licensing requirements. International candidates are often confused and frustrated by the complicated application process,” notes author Stephanie Ng, who is familiar in the matter.

International applicants, however, can find out more about the CPA exam here.



The American-based CFA Institute notes that the CFA Program is designed to equip you with the expertise and real-world skills in investment analysis that will help advance your career. It is a widely recognised investment credential in the world.

You’ll need to meet one of the following requirements to enrol:

  • Undergraduate education: Complete a bachelor’s program or equivalent program and have received a degree from the college/university. 
  • Be a final-year student of a bachelor’s programme (or equivalent) on the date of enrolling for the Level I exam and becoming a candidate in CFA Program. You must complete your degree prior to registering for Level II.
  • Work experience: Have a combination of four years (or 48 months) of full-time work experience and/or college/university education on the date of registering for the Level I exam. 

Earning your Chartered Financial Analyst charter entails passing a series of three examinations (Levels I, II, and III) in succession. Each culminates in a six-hour exam. The CFA Institute notes that on average, candidates invest over 300 hours of study in advance to successfully pass each level.

While there are many other finance and accounting certifications from what was highlighted above, which one you choose ultimately depends on your career goals. With the right expertise and training, however, you’ll be able to take your career to new heights of success, so a credential in the field will likely prove to be a rewarding one.