Top Professional Finance Certifications

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Editorial Team

Updated on March 11, 2023

Financial certifications are becoming more popular as the finance industry becomes more competitive.

These certifications are helpful to those looking to start new careers or move up the career ladder.

To have these certifications, there are exams that need to be taken and courses that need to be completed.

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This article will only go over the top finance certifications, not offered by all companies or institutions, but those that give a person an edge in the business world.

There is no set order as each professional has his/her own opinion on which one is the best.

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

The CPA is the most well-known accounting certification out there and possibly one of the hardest.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is the organization in charge of administering the CPA exam.

This certification requires four years of undergraduate education (Bachelor's degree) with 150 hours of course work and passing all four sections of the exam and a strong ethics score.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

The CFA Institute is the organization that offers this certification. The exam consists of three levels and on average, will take approximately 4 years to be completed.

The exam covers a variety of topics from accounting, economics, ethics, to bonds.

The CFA exam does not have a specific undergraduate degree requirement, but knowledge of finance is recommended as the exams are known to be more difficult.

The CFA is more beneficial to those looking for their next promotion in the investment world at a large financial institution such as a bank or brokerage firm.

Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

To get this certification, one must go through a rigorous education process and pass a seven-hour long exam.

It also requires completing coursework in economics, financial planning, law, investments, and retirement planning.

The exam is being administered by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc.

This certification is beneficial to those who want a career in the financial planning industry or who would like to start their own financial planning firm.

This is mainly because the CFP designation is highly respected in the financial planning industry.

Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)

The American College provides this certification which requires passing a challenging exam that consists of several sections that are all writing-based.

It requires applicants to have a bachelor's degree with three years of experience working in the finance field.

Having finance knowledge and/or previous experience in the financial services industry is very helpful when trying to get this certification.

Having this certification will allow one to work in insurance, stocks, real estate, retirement plans, and mutual funds.

Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)

This certification is offered by the American College, but the exams are administered by The American Society of CLUs.

This certification requires applicants to finish a 10-course study program and a 20-hour long exam.

This certification is great for those looking to open their own insurance agency or work in the insurance industry.

CLUs are known to be very good in the insurance and investment world.

Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

This certification is offered by the Institute of Management Accountants, but the exams are administered by The American Society of Certified Management Accountants.

The exam is divided into two parts, each part having six competencies. Passing such a rigorous exam will prove a person knowledgeable in accounting, finance, economics, and business.

Despite the exam being difficult, many believe that studying for this exam is truly beneficial as it prepares an individual on all parts of the business spectrum.

The CMA is mostly beneficial to those who want to work as management accountants at large organizations such as hospitals, universities, and government agencies.

Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA)

This certification is offered by the CAIA Association. The program takes about a year to complete which includes exams and coursework.

If one wants to become a fund manager or an investment analyst who specializes in alternative investments, then this certification will prove beneficial while also showing that they are well-rounded enough to do so.

Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC)

This certification is offered by the Investment Counsel Association and its exam focuses on portfolio management.

A CIC is able to work as a financial consultant, mutual fund analyst, or investment analyst.

Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA)

This certification is being issued by the Investment Management Consultants Association.

The course has to be taken only by investment consultants who have a minimum of three years of professional experience.

Having this certification will allow individuals to work as investment managers while also demonstrating that their portfolio management skills are advanced enough for such positions.

Financial Risk Manager (FRM)

This certification is offered by the Global Association of Risk Professionals and its exam focuses on many quantitative topics such as interest rates, inflation, and market risk.

Applicants should be able to achieve approximately 50% of an 8-hour multiple-choice exam that covers all major areas of risk management such as credit risk, market risk, counterparty credit risk, operational risk, liquidity risk, and more.

This certification best fits those looking to manage the risks of large organizations such as banks or insurance companies.

Final Thoughts

Although the right financial certification may not guarantee future success, it does provide one with some great benefits such as boosting their resume and increasing their chances of obtaining better positions.

These certifications are not easy to obtain and show that one is knowledgeable in many aspects of finance.

One should do research on these different types of certifications before deciding which ones best fit them.

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About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website, view his author profile on Amazon, or check out his speaker profile on the CFA Institute website.

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