You may not know this, but auditors have options as to which internal audit certification they can use to advance their careers. Specifically, both the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) certification and the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification can serve as an auditor certification. Therefore, you need to learn more about these certifications to determine which one is better for achieving your career goals. So, let’s debate the CIA vs CPA to help you decide between them.
CPA vs CIA: Comparison Chart
|Focus & Recognition|
|Focus||General audit and accounting||Internal audit|
|150 credit hours|
|Minimum number of accounting courses|
|Exam availability||4 testing windows||Throughout the year|
|Total testing time for all exam parts||16||6.5|
|Number of exam parts/sections||4||3|
|Average pass rate||50%||41%|
|Estimated expenses (US$)||$2,000-3,000||
CIA vs CPA: What Is the CIA?
To know if the CIA certification is right for you, you need to know what the CIA is.
The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) created the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) certification. Now, the CIA is the only globally recognized internal audit certification, and this certification demonstrates that internal auditors have the necessary knowledge, skills, and competencies to effectively perform any audit, anywhere.
With the CIA behind your name, you prove that you have:
- Credibility and trust
- Expertise in the understanding and application of the International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing
- Knowledge of organizational governance
- A commitment to the internal auditing profession
- Readiness for career advancement
- A place among a distinguished class of internal auditors
CIA vs CPA: What Is the CPA?
If you want to determine whether the CPA certification is worth your pursuit, you must learn what the CPA is.
The CPA is the Certified Public Accountant license that the boards of accountancy in each of the 55 U.S. jurisdictions award to accountants. The state boards hold CPA candidates to very high standards because CPAs are accounting experts entrusted to protect the public interest. In order to verify their ability to fulfil the responsibilities of the position, CPA candidates must meet a strict set of requirements specific to their state board before receiving the license.
So, because meeting the CPA requirements involves demonstrating high levels of knowledge and competence, CPAs are an elite group of greatly respected accounting professionals. The CPA is the gold standard in accounting certifications and equips accountants for a vast number of career positions and possibilities.
CIA vs CPA: CIA Careers
CIA's usually work in the internal audit departments of government agencies, financial institutions, or corporations. And within these departments, a CIA is responsible to analyze financial records objectively so as to discover any deficiencies in internal controls.
And instead of just working with financial statements like regular auditors, CIAs supply a wide range of services to help a company handle risk and safeguard assets. So, the scope of a CIA’s audit of financial reports extends beyond just checking for accuracy to include working with company leadership to establish systems for the prevention of loss, fraud, theft, and damaged goods. For these reasons, CIAs have many more obligations than non-certified internal auditors.
CIAs distinguish themselves from CPAs with their more focused set of skills. These skills enable CIAs to fulfill internal audit jobs and duties such as:
- Reviewing an organization’s business procedures
- Evaluating the efficacy of current risk management procedures
- Ensuring compliance with relevant laws
- Protecting against fraud and theft committed against the organization
- Recommending improvements to internal controls and governance processes
Furthermore, a CIA’s expertise in internal auditing allows them to work in the following industries:
- Private commercial entities
- Public commercial entities
- Public accounting firms
- Governmental agencies
CIA vs CPA: CPA Careers
CPAs have the skills and certification sway to pursue all kinds of career paths in the accounting and finance industries. Due to the demanding requirements of knowledge and ethics they’ve met and continue to meet to sustain their certified status, CPAs can hold a host of jobs such as auditors, accounting consultants, business advisers, decision makers, tax accountants, and more.
CPAs are qualified to operate in these and many other industries:
- Assurance services
- Taxation services
- Consulting services
- Information Technology (IT) services
- Litigation services
- Business valuation
- Environmental accounting
- Forensic accounting
- International accounting
- Financial planning
- Non-profit organizations
What’s more, CPAs are plenty capable of serving as company management and holding executive positions such as:
- Chief Accounting Officer
- Accounting Vice President
- Chief Executive Officer
- Chief Financial Officer
- Director of Financial Operations
- Assistant Director of Finance
- Assistant Director of Financial Operations
CIA vs CPA: CIA Salary
When you earn the CIA certification, you can enjoy a career that is not only financially stable but also financially lucrative.
The IIA reports that CIAs earn an average of $38,000 (40%) more than non-certified internal auditors. Additionally, Indeed, Glassdoor, Payscale, and other job sites verify that the CIA salary ranges from $69,000-$84,000.
The 2019 Robert Half Salary Guide also provides some CIA salary insight by presenting annual salary information for internal auditors in corporate accounting and in financial services. From Robert Half, we learn that the CIA certification allows internal auditors in corporate accounting to earn anywhere from $16,750-$157,250 more than non-certified internal auditors annually, depending on their position and years of experience. What’s more, CIAs in finance and accounting can make $25,250-$81,250 more a year than regular internal auditors.
And unsurprisingly, with increased experience comes increased earning potential, as CIAs in high positions such as Chief Audit Executive or Internal Audit Director can make anywhere from a quarter to a half a million dollars annually.
CIA vs CPA: CPA Salary
Of course, you’ll also enjoy elevated earning potential with the CPA certification thanks to the CPA salary.
The average U.S. accountant’s salary is $69,350, but CPAs make about 10-15% more than unlicensed accountants.
According to ThisWaytoCPA, CPAs offering tax services in public accounting can make $39,500-$74,250 with less than 1 year of experience, $47,750-$91,500 with 1-3 years of experience, and $60,500-$113,000 in a senior position. CPAs who work in the audit/assurance department of a public accounting firm can make $39,500-$74,250 with less than 1 year of experience, $43,500-$82,740 with 1-3 years of experience, and $53,250-$101,500 in a senior position.
Certified Public Accountants who find positions in corporate accounting can make even more. When working as a budget analyst, CPAs can make $42,250-$80,750 with less than 1 year of experience, $55,000-$104,750 with 1-3 years of experience, and $67,750-$128,750 in a senior position. When operating as a tax accountant, CPAs can earn $43,000-$82,250 with less than 1 year of experience, $58,500-$101,000 with 1-3 years of experience, and $72,000-$126,750 in a senior position.
According to the 2019 Robert Half Salary Guide, CPAs can also make the following figures in positions like these, depending on the size of the company and your experience level.
- Staff Accountant: $68,000
- Senior: $84,250
- Manager: $122,500
- Director: $158,750
- Tax Accountant: $83,000
- Senior: $102,250
- Manager: $126,250
- Controller: $138,250
- Certified Financial Officer: $236,500
- Internal Auditor: $83,000
- Senior Auditor: $102,250
- Manager: $132,250
- Chief Audit Executive: $210,500
As if these CPA salary figures weren’t enough to entice you, you should also know that many companies financially support their employees on their CPA journeys and award bonuses for becoming a CPA. Moreover, CPAs can charge more for their services solely because they have those 3 letters behind their name.
CIA vs CPA: CIA Designation Requirements
As with most professional accounting certifications, earning the CIA involves meeting a specific set of requirements. In order to receive the CIA certificate, candidates must satisfy the following IIA-established CIA requirements:
- You must have an associate’s degree or higher to get into the CIA program.
- IIA-accepted associate’s degree equivalents include a Foundation Degree, Diploma of Higher Education, and Higher National Diploma.
- The IIA expects to receive the following documents as proof of your education:
- Copy of your degree or official transcripts
- A letter from your university confirming your degree
- A letter from an evaluation services agency confirming your degree level
- The IIA may also grant entry into the CIA program to candidates who possess 7 years of verified experience in internal audit or its equivalent.
- You must demonstrate high moral and professional character.
- A CIA, CGAP, CCSA, CFSA, CRMA, or your supervisor must sign the Character reference form as proof of your good character.
- The work experience requirement you must meet varies depending on the level of education you’ve achieved.
- If you have a master’s degree or equivalent, you must have 12 months of internal auditing experience or its equivalent.
- With a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, you must acquire 24 months of internal auditing experience or its equivalent.
- Finally, candidates with an associate’s degree, A-Level Certificate, or an equivalent must accumulate 60 months of internal auditing experience or its equivalent.
Proof of Identification
- You must present a current copy of either your official passport or your national identity card.
- You must pass all 3 parts of the CIA exam.
- You must finish the entire CIA exam within 4 years of the date you received approval into the CIA program.
CIA vs CPA: CPA Qualification Requirements
Becoming a Certified Public Accountant involves meeting the CPA requirements, but these requirements are not universal.
While the IIA establishes the CIA requirements, no one national governing body makes the rules for the CPA certification in the U.S. Instead, the boards of accountancy of the individual states/territories regulate accounting and dictate the CPA licensure for that area.
Therefore, the CPA requirements vary from one jurisdiction to the next. However, due to the unifying efforts of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), the state CPA requirements do share general areas of overlap.
Consequently, the basic requirements for the CPA license are:
- Earn a 4-year bachelor’s degree and 150 credit hours of general education
- Pass the entire Uniform CPA Examination
- Acquire at least 1 year of relevant accounting experience
So, all CPA candidates must meet some version of these requirements. But many states also mandate one additional requirement:
- Pass the state’s ethics examination
CIA vs CPA: CIA Exam
One of the most imposing CIA requirements is the CIA exam. CIA candidates must pass all 3 parts of this exam in order to become a CIA, so there’s no way around it.
The 3 CIA exam parts, their content areas, and coverage percentages are:
CIA Exam Content
|2: Practice of Internal Auditing|
I. Foundations of Internal Auditing (15%)
|I. Managing the Internal Audit Activity (20%)||
I. Business Acumen (35%)
II. Independence and Objectivity (15%)
|II. Planning the Engagement (20%)||II. Informational Security (25%)|
III. Proficiency and Due Professional Care (18%)
|III. Performing the Engagement (40%)||
III. Information Technology (20%)
IV. Quality Assurance and Improvement Program (7%)
|IV. Communicating Engagement Results and Monitoring Progress (20%)||
IV. Financial Management (20%)
V. Governance, Risk Management, and Control (35%)
VI. Fraud Risks (10%)
Furthermore, the number of questions, types of questions, and total testing time for each CIA exam part are as follows:
CIA Exam Details
Number of Questions
Types of Questions
|2 ½ hours||125||
The IIA has fully computerized the CIA certification exam and made it available at over 500 Pearson Vu testing centers around the world. Additionally, you can take the CIA exam in one of 19 different languages including Arabic, Chinese simplified, Chinese traditional, Czech, English, Estonian, French, German, Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Thai, and Turkish.
CIA vs CPA: CPA Exam
The CPA Exam is just as imposing as the CIA exam (if not more so) and just as essential to the CPA certification process. You have to pass all 4 sections of the CPA Exam in order to become a CPA, and because the CPA Exam has more sections and topics, you must know more about accounting to do so.
The 4 CPA Exam sections, their content areas, and coverage percentages include:
CPA Exam Content
Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
|Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)||Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)||
I. Ethics, Professional Responsibilities, and General Principles (15-25%)
|I. Corporate Governance (17-27%)||I. Conceptual Framework, Standard-Setting, and Financial Reporting (25-35%)||
I. Ethics, Professional Responsibilities, and Federal Tax Procedures (10-20%)
II. Assessing Risk and Developing a Planned Response (20-30%)
|II. Economic Concepts and Analysis (17-27%)||II. Select Financial Statement Accounts (30-40%)||
II. Business Law (10-20%)
III. Performing Further Procedures and Obtaining Evidence (30-40%)
|III. Financial Management (11-21%)||III. Select Transactions (20-30%)||
III. Federal Taxation of Property Transactions (12-22%)
IV. Forming Conclusions and Reporting (15-25%)
|IV. Information Technology (15-25%)||IV. State and Local Governments (5-15%)||
IV. Federal Taxation of Individuals (15-25%)
|V. Operations Management (15-25%)||
V. Federal Taxation of Entities (28-38%)
Not only does the CPA Exam cover a lot of accounting content, but it also does so at varying levels of depth. In order to ensure that the CPA Exam fulfills its purpose of proving you have the knowledge necessary for the CPA position, the exam tests you at 4 different skill levels.
CPA Exam Skill Levels
- Evaluation (highest): The examination or assessment of problems and use of judgments to draw conclusions.
- Analysis: The examination and study of the interrelationships of separate areas in order to identify causes and find evidence to support inferences.
- Application: The use or demonstration of knowledge, concepts, or techniques.
- Remembering and Understanding (lowest): The perception and comprehension of the significance of an area utilizing knowledge gained.
The CPA Exam also uses 3 different types of questions to assess candidates at these skill levels.
The weight of the different question types on each CPA Exam section varies. For AUD, FAR, and REG, the MCQs contribute 50% of your total score, while the TBSs account for the other 50%. On BEC, the MCQs give you 50%, the TBSs provide 35%, and the WCs supply the other 15%.
So, the number and types of questions, the percentage of difficulty levels, and total testing time for each exam section are as follows:
CPA Exam Details
|Remembering & Understanding||
The AICPA has computerized the entire CPA Exam and allowed candidates to take it at Prometric testing centers around America and around the world. Along with hundreds of U.S. testing centers, Prometric administers the international CPA Exam in 10 different countries including Bahrain, Brazil, England, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, and the United Arab Emirates.
CPA vs CIA: Cost of the CPA Certification
Though the CPA certification is well worth the investment, the process of earning it is not cheap.
While CPA Exam fees vary from state to state, most jurisdictions follow NASBA’s fee schedule of $208.40 per exam section. Candidates must also pay an application fee of anywhere from $30-$200, and if you fail an exam section, you may also have to pay a registration fee of a similar amount.
Taking the ethics exam (which most states require) will cost you another $150-$190, and finally, funding your official CPA license can set you back another $50-$300. International students will also have to account for travel and accommodation costs and foreign credential evaluations, if not a few other expenses as well.
Last but certainly not least in price or necessity is a CPA review course. You’ll need a complete course with an assortment of study materials, support systems, and guarantees in order to pass the exam, and the most popular CPA review courses cost anywhere from $1,000-$3,000+. The biggest name is CPA review, Becker CPA, has courses that cost upwards of $3,000, but Becker also has the value and reputation to go with the price. And thankfully, you can save big Becker and all your other best CPA Exam prep options when you use CPA review discounts.
So, all told, you should expect to spend at least $3,000 on the CPA certification. After you’ve earned the license, you’ll also have to pay for continuing professional education (CPE) every year, which can cost anywhere from $20-$125 a credit. Though, your employer might foot the bill for some of that.
CPA vs CIA: Cost of the CIA Certification
The cost of the CIA exam includes the application and exam registration fees, which total $1,315 for non-IIA members. If you pay the $250 for IIA membership (which is not necessary for entering the CIA program), you’ll enjoy lower CIA exam fees that come to $1,105.
When you factor in the cost of a CIA review course, which is essential for exam success, you’ll find that passing the CIA exam requires a budget of a little less than $2,000. Gleim CIA Reviewis the most popular and widely used CIA review course, and the complete 3-part course can cost $759. This price comes in at the high end of the CIA exam prep spectrum of ~$300-$750. But, you can save big on Gleim and all the other great CIA review courses and stay well within your $2,000 budget when you use my CIA discounts.
Maintaining the CIA designation also involves earning CPE, but again, you may get reimbursed for this annual expense by your employer.
CPA vs CIA: Time Commitment for the CPA Certification
Not only is the CPA Exam more complicated and more demanding than the CIA exam, but the CPA Exam also allows less time to pass than the CIA exam does.
Once you pass your first CPA Exam sections, you have a rolling 18-month period to pass the remaining 3 sections. If you don’t accomplish this task, you will lose credit for the first section you passed, and the start of your 18 months will move back to the date of your earliest passed section.
Then, you must pass both the section you lost credit for and the other exam sections you haven’t passed yet within this new time period. This process will continue until you pass all 4 exam sections within the stipulations of the 18-month window.
Furthermore, while the CPA Exam is available for the majority of the year, you can only take it during these 4 annual testing windows:
- January 1-March 10
- April 1-June 10
- July 1-September 10
- October 1-December 10
However, as you’ll have less time to pass the exam, you may be able to get your CPA license a bit faster.
CPA Certification Timeline
If you address the different requirements one at a time, earning the CPA certificate can take anywhere from 7-9 years. This time frame includes 5 years to earn 150 credit hours, 1½ years to pass the CPA Exam, and 1-2 years to accumulate accounting experience.
But if you pass the CPA Exam during the summer after you graduate and before you start your first job, or if you take the CPA Exam while working full-time, you can cut the process down to 6-7 years. However, you can only earn the CPA this quickly if you pass each exam section the first time. For each section you fail, you push your end date back by a few months or so.
CPA vs CIA: Time Commitment for the CIA Certification
As mentioned, you have 4 years to pass all 3 parts of the CIA exam once the IIA has approved your application.
And, another convenient CIA exam perk is the lack of testing windows or blackout dates. Such scheduling flexibility means you can sit for the CIA exam at any time of the year. So, if you study for each CIA exam part for 10-15 hours a week and pass each part on your first attempt, you can complete the entire exam in as few as 3-7 months.
CIA Certification Timeline
If you pass the CIA exam as you’re completing your education or accumulating your experience, finishing all the CIA requirements can still take 6-8 years depending on your education level. The more education you have, the less experience you need.
So, if you spend 2 years getting an associate’s degree, you’ll need to acquire 5 years of experience. With a 4-year bachelor’s degree, you need just 2 years of experience. Finally, getting a master’s degree, which can take 2-3 years to earn, will reduce your experience requirement down to just 1 year.
So, earning the CIA certification can take anywhere from 6-8 years.
CPA vs CIA: Benefits of the CPA Certificate
Now that you know about the differences between the CPA certificate and the CIA certificate, you can start to determine which internal audit certification is better for you by considering the specific benefits. The advantages of the CPA certificate in particular include:
1. Elevated Prestige and Recognition
Most everyone in the industry agrees that the CPA is the accounting qualification to go for. The CPA certification has the longest history, and the AICPA has the most members. What’s more, the CPA qualification looks good behind the names of accountants in all disciplines.
2. High Standards
While the CPA’s regard is high, its barrier of entry is also high. The detailed list of the strict state board requirements certainly presents a challenge to CPA candidates. However, the requirements also establish the CPA as a badge of honor testifying to high levels of skill and capability. Therefore, the CPA’s high standards make the certification all the more valuable to employers.
3. More Versatility
Since the business community views the CPA as the gold standard for general accounting, a Certified Public Accountant can work in a host of companies and venture down various career paths.
For example, positions in public accounting, management accounting, governmental accounting, taxation, financial advisory, compliance, consulting, and more are all open to CPAs. And because of all the value the certification holds, CPAs are usually the first choice to fill new openings and opportunities.
So, the CPA license is harder to get and remains relevant to a broad range of industries. Therefore, the CPA certification is more reputable overall.
CPA vs CIA: Benefits of the CIA Certificate
So, the CPA qualification is super desirable, but is it the only good option for internal auditors? Definitely not. See for yourself by considering the merits of the CIA qualification.
1. The Standard in the Internal Audit Industry
If you are an internal auditor, getting the qualification specifically dedicated to the profession makes the most sense. And the Certified Internal Auditor is the only global designation in the field of internal auditing and compliance. Furthermore, more companies are expecting their Chief Audit Executive (CAE) to hold the IIA’s CIA certification. Therefore, the CIA certificate is your ticket to the heights of the internal audit industry.
2. Entrance into a Great Niche
With corporate scandals and security threats on the rise in recent years, the demand for compliance professionals is ever-increasing. Consequently, the field of internal audit and compliance is a safe and stable place to put down vocational roots. While internal auditor and compliance officer jobs may not be the most thrilling, they are definitely some of the most secure. Therefore, they’re solid sources of steady income.
3. An Easier Certification to Earn
The CIA certification is not only worth every bit of effort you put into it, but it also doesn’t even require that much effort.
As you recall, the scope of the CIA exam targets internal audit exclusively, while the CPA Exam sets its sights on a wider array of topics. The CIA exam also has fewer parts and takes less total testing time.
Furthermore, the IIA asks for a lower level of higher education and a less specific degree than the state boards of accountancy. And while these organizations call for a comparable amount of pertinent experience, only CPAs can verify the work of CPA candidates, whereas holders of other IIA certificates and supervisors with or without the CIA can confirm the work of CIA candidates.
Therefore, with its singular focus, the CIA certification is just as highly respected in the internal audit industry and is easier to get.
CPA vs CIA: Benefits of Pursuing Both Certifications
So, if either certification can help you get a good internal auditing job, can both certifications help you get a great internal auditing job?
Yes. If you aspire to be a senior member in the internal audit department, you should aim to acquire both qualifications. One of my readers explains why:
“Get both, then you won’t be turned down for any IA job. I had to have the CIA to become an auditor II and the CPA to become a supervisor. Now, I am one of the few people in the office with both, so nothing is holding me back from getting promoted further and becoming a supervisor and more at other places.”
Should I Aim for Both If I Want to Switch Jobs?
The desire to switch jobs could give you even more incentive to secure both certifications.
If you are a proven performer and/or if you already have the CIA certificate, your current company may overlook the fact that you don’t have the CPA when considering you for a promotion. However, if you plan on changing companies or distinguishing yourself for the leadership track, getting the CPA can make a big difference. You’ll look twice as attractive with the CPA and will increase your chances of landing the promotion or interview.
So, together, the CPA and CIA certificates will help you truly stand out among your peers and make you even more desirable to large organizations or clients seeking a wealth of services.
Which Qualification Should I Get If I Can Only Get One?
Many people do think it is not necessary to have both unless your employer requires it. And honestly, having the CPA can negate the need for the CIA. However, if you earn the CIA certificate first, your employer may still want you to get the CPA. My friends and colleagues in the field have had this experience, so it seems to be the general attitude about earning the CIA vs CPA.