CISA vs CIA: which of these auditing certifications should you pursue? You want the best possible credentials for your future career so you can land your dream job. But the question is: What are the ideal credentials? The Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) and the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) accreditations are both very good options, but they’re not the same. In a nutshell, the CIA is for generalists, while the CISA is for specialists. So, the one you need depends on the job you want. And this comparison of both can help you choose the best auditing certification for you.
|Focus & Recognition|
|Focus||General internal audit||Information technology audit|
|Entry barrier||Bachelor’s degree (waiver available)||none|
|Standard amount of experience required||2 years||5 years|
|Minimum amount of specialty experience required||1 year of internal auditing||2 years of IT audit|
|Exam availability||Throughout the year||3 days per year|
|Total testing time for all exam parts||6.5||4|
|Number of exam parts/levels||3||1|
|Latest pass rates||40%||Unknown (~50%)|
|Estimated expenses (U.S. $)||$1,000 – 2,000||~$1,000 – 1,500|
The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) awards the CIA certificate. The IIA is an international professional association with over 185,000 members worldwide. Founded in 1941, the IIA is also the chief advocate and global voice of the internal audit profession. So, thanks to the IIA, the internal audit industry highly respects the CIA. Additionally, any company that hires internal auditors will recognize the value of the CIA.
The benefits of the CIA certification are numerous. Consequently, they include:
If you’d like to be an internal auditor but don’t plan to have a specialization, then the CIA would be a good certification for you. The CIA is also the perfect auditing credential if you seek to conduct internal auditing from a management role within a corporation. Furthermore, when you combine the CIA with the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license, you have exactly what you need to qualify for senior positions such as the head of internal audit or Chief Audit Executive (CAE).
The Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) grants the CISA, which is the gold standard certification for IT auditors. What’s more, the ISACA has a presence in 188 countries and has certified more than 150,000 auditors since 1978.
Rather than the heavy bank ledgers of yesteryear, today’s auditors rely on technology to complete their processes and procedures. For this reason, IT auditors are in increasingly high demand. Consequently, large financial institutions frequently search for CISAs to fulfill positions in audit and IT risk management. The industry also prefers CISAs for information systems audit and data security positions.
So, the advantages of having the CISA include:
Another reason to prioritize the CISA over the CIA is the fact that the costs of earning the CISA are usually lower than those of earning the CIA. The CISA exam is more affordable than the CIA exam because while CISA testing costs around $1,500, CIA exam fees can add up to approximately $2,000.
Therefore, if you want to enter the IT auditing industry, then you’ll want to get the CISA certification.
As we’ve mentioned, both the CIA and the CISA can lead you to good jobs that make good money. So, how will a career with the CIA look different than a career with the CISA?
Well, for starters, the CIA is more widely recognized in the internal audit industry. Therefore, it is usually the certification that takes you to the top of the company. For example, with the CIA, you can be the Chief Audit Executive, Chief Financial Officer, Controller, Finance Director, Internal Audit Director, or Vice President of Internal Audit. So, basically, the CIA lets you go as far as you want within a company. On the other hand, the CISA certification tends to leave its holders with promotional limits. Consequently, the highest roles for CISAs are IT Audit Manager, IT Project Manager, IT Security Officer, IT Consultant, IT Risk and Assurance Manager, Privacy Officer, and Chief Information Officer.
However, what the CISA lacks in leadership capacity, it makes up for in financial compensation. Typically, a specialized auditor makes more than a general audit. For this reason, CISA certificate holders (IT audit professionals) can be so well paid that they earn more than CIA certificate holders. So, in comparable roles, such as the position of manager in corporate accounting, a CIA can make anywhere from $134,500-$157,500, while a CISA earns somewhere between $108,000-$166,000.
However, the fact that the CISA applies to a specialization means that you won’t find quite as many job opportunities available to CISAs as to CIAs. In fact, the full list of jobs you can get as a CISA includes:
Understandably, CIAs are not so limited. Instead, they can hold these roles and more:
Ultimately, factors such as company size, industry, and region affect your job and salary options a bit more than your certification. However, either the CIA or the CISA can set you up for a highly successful internal audit career.
Earning either the CISA or the CIA is quite a process. Both certifications require candidates to meet a series of demands before they can assume either title.
The IIA has established several CIA requirements for candidates, including:
The amount of experience you need depends on your level of education. So, the more education you have, the less experience you will need. However, if you don’t have any higher education, you can satisfy the education requirement with 7 years of IIA-approved experience. Furthermore, if you’re an ACCA member or CPA license holder, you can qualify for CIA requirement exemptions.
Other minor CIA requirements include providing proof of identification, submitting a character reference, maintaining exam confidentiality, fulfilling the requirements within the eligibility period, upholding the code of ethics, and earning annual continuing professional education (CPE) credits.
The ISACA also expects candidates to meet several CISA requirements, including:
Though the ISACA asks for a lot of experience, they also give candidates several opportunities to waive some of that experience with other qualifications. For example, you can substitute 1 year in information system work, 1 year in non-IS auditing, or 2 years as a full-time university instructor in a related field (e.g., computer science, accounting, information systems auditing) for 1 year of experience in professional information systems auditing, control, or security.
You can also use 60 credit hours (2-year degree) from a university, a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a university that enforces the ISACA-sponsored Model Curricula, or a master’s degree in information security or information technology from an accredited university to reduce the experience requirement by 1 year.
To shave off 2 years of the experience requirement and cut those 5 years down to 3, simply present the ISACA with 120 credit hours (4-year degree) from a university, current ACCA membership, or the full CIMA certification. Finally, you can receive a 3-year waiver for possessing a master’s degree in information systems or a related field.
You can also submit other degrees, qualifications, and credentials with a significant information systems auditing, control, assurance, or security component to the CISA Certification Committee for consideration.
Both the IIA and the ISACA allows candidates to take the CIA or the CISA exam before meeting the experience requirement.
For the CIA, you must meet all of the certification requirements within 3 years of receiving approval into the CIA program. And for the CISA, you must acquire your work experience within 10 years before you apply for the CISA or within 5 years of passing the CISA exam.
In either case, you must submit the appropriate documentation proving you’ve met the experience requirement before you can receive the certification.
Both the CIA exam and the CISA exam seek to serve a similar purpose. They intend to test your proficiency in the principles of internal auditing and verify your ability to perform the duties of an auditor efficiently, effectively, and thoroughly. However, the format and syllabus of these exams differ.
The CIA exam’s coverage of internal auditing is fairly broad. Therefore, Part 3 is the only part that really shares the same focus as the CISA exam.
Additionally, each of the 3 CIA exam parts presents candidates with a certain number of multiple-choice questions that candidates must answer within the testing time limit:
|Number of Questions||Total Testing Time|
|125||150 minutes (2.5 hours)|
120 minutes (2 hours)
120 minutes (2 hours)
The ISACA CISA exam has 1 part featuring 5 domains. These domains address the following areas:
As you can see, the CISA exam places a great deal of emphasis on information systems, as one would expect from a specialist exam. The exam only devotes 21% of its content to the general information systems auditing process.
Furthermore, the CISA exam contains 150 multiple-choice questions that candidates must answer in 240 minutes (4 hours).
As mentioned, the CISA exam has only 1 part and concentrates on only 1 aspect of internal auditing (IT auditing). Therefore, many people find this exam to be easy enough. The typical candidate can prepare for and pass the CISA exam in just 6 months. What’s more, if your current work involves IT auditing, you may even be ready to pass in as few as 1-2 months. Furthermore, thanks to the fact that the CISA exam is now available 365 days a year, you can finish the exam process faster than ever.
In contrast to the 1-6 months required to pass the CISA exam, preparing for and passing the CIA exam can take about 12 months. Again, the CIA exam encompasses a greater variety of internal auditing topics and therefore has 3 parts, not just 1.
For these reasons, studying for the CIA exam involves a bit more time and effort than studying for the CISA exam. For example, if you study for at least 10 hours a week, studying for each CIA exam part can take anywhere from 3-10 weeks, depending on the part. So, if you study for 2-3 months and give yourself a short break between exam parts, then you’ll find that passing the CIA exam can take the better part of a year.
And if you fail a CIA exam part, the process can take longer. Unfortunately, having to take more exam parts increases the odds of failure. And, according to the average CIA exam pass rate of 41%, failing is a common occurrence among CIA candidates. Therefore, the CIA exam seems to be fairly difficult. However, if you study well with the right materials, you can pass it.
Good news for international candidates: If you aren’t completely comfortable with your fluency in business English, you’ll appreciate the fact that both the CIA and the CISA exams are available in many different languages. However, you should know that the certification process for non-English language exams varies. Therefore, you should visit the IIA or ISCA website for your country so you can discover what the procedure will be like for you.
You can take the CISA exam in 10 different languages: Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Engish, French, German, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, and Turkish.
Currently, candidates can take the CIA exam in 19 languages: Arabic, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Czech, English, Estonian, French, German, Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and Thai.
However, the current English version of the CIA exam reflects the recent exam changes. The other languages will receive the latest exam updates on the following schedule:
Therefore, once the IIA has released all of the updated exam versions, the exam will no longer be available in Czech, Estonian, Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, or Polish. So, CIA candidates have just a short period of time left in which to take the exam in these languages.
Holding the CISA or the CIA certification isn’t a one-and-done situation. Instead, you have to remain in good standing with the certification organization in order to maintain your certified status. To do so, you don’t have to take either of the tests again, but you do have to complete a certain amount of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits each year. You also must abide by the relevant Code of Ethics created by your certifying organization.
During the year in which you become a CIA and the year after that, the IIA will award you 40 hours of CPE each year for a total of 80 hours of CPE. Therefore, you won’t need to worry about earning CPE until your third year as a CIA.
When you do need to start accumulating CPE, the number of hours you need will depend on your certification reporting status. So, if you’re a practicing CIA actively performing internal audit or related activities, then you must acquire 40 hours of IIA-approved CPE every year. However, if you’re a non-practicing CIA not actively performing internal audit or related activities, then you only need 20 hours of CPE a year. In either situation, 2 of your CPE hours each year must focus on the subject of ethics.
For the CISA, you must complete and report at least 20 CPE hours each year. These credits must focus on CISA-related material, as determined by the ISACA. Furthermore, you must report that you’ve earned 120 CPE hours every 3 years. And, if you’re chosen for the annual audit, you’ll also need to submit documentation of your CPE activities. Finally, you must also pay the annual CPE maintenance fees to the ISACA.
If both the CIA and the CISA certification are good for internal auditors to have, and both are different, should you earn them both? The answer to that question depends on your current career situation as well as your future vocational intentions.
If you already have the CIA and decide that you’d like to specialize in IT, then getting the CISA credential could be valuable for you. If you determine that it is, then you’ll find that studying for the CISA exam won’t be too hard when you remember what you learned for Part 3 of the CIA exam. Also, you should already feel comfortable with the computerized testing format. So, you just need to study the specific IT related topics, and you’ll be ready to go.
On the other hand, if you already have the CISA and are content to continue to specialize in IT audit, then you probably don’t need to earn the CIA certificate. The CIA won’t give you any additional edge when applying for an IT auditing position. So, you’d only want to add the CIA to your repertoire if you plan to pursue more general internal auditing roles and climb the corporate ladder to a leadership position. If you change your mind about IT and want to change the direction of your career in this way, then you should take the CIA exam.
Does the CISA certification sound right for you? If so, then you need to start preparing for the CISA exam. You can use the CISA Review Manual to help you with this. But, I also advise you to supplement with a CISA review course because the manual is dry and lacks explanations and examples of the concepts. You can use my analysis of the best CISA review courses to find the best one for you. You can also use this page to save big on your preferred CISA exam prep.
Furthermore, if you’re ready to secure the CIA certification, then you need to invest in a CIA review course. A CIA review course gives you the best chance at achieving CIA exam success. Therefore, I never recommend CIA candidates take the exam without using CIA study materials. Additionally, I always encourage them to find the best CIA exam review course for them using my comparison of the most popular courses on the market. You can also contact me to receive a personalized CIA exam prep suggestion. Then, when you’re ready to buy, you can use my CIA review discounts to save money on your study materials.
And, to get free information on the CIA process and passing each exam part the first time, you can take my CIA e-course. As I said, it’s free, so learn more or sign up here!
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites.