You may not know this, but auditors have options regarding 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 auditor certifications. 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.
|Focus & Recognition
|General audit and accounting
|150 credit hours
|Minimum number of accounting courses
|Throughout the year
|Throughout the year
|Total testing time for all exam parts
|Number of exam parts/sections
|Average pass rate
|Estimated expenses (US$)
|$1,000 – 2,000
To know if the CIA certification is right for you, you first need to know what the CIA is.
The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) created the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) certification. Furthermore, the CIA is the only globally recognized internal audit certification. Plus, 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:
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 fulfill the responsibilities of the position, CPA candidates must meet a strict set of requirements specific to their state board before receiving the license. For instance, CPAs must pass a difficult exam and meet the CPA work experience requirements.
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. As a result, if you plan to advance your career as an accountant, you should definitely look into how to become a CPA.
CIAs usually work in the internal audit departments of government agencies, financial institutions, or corporations. And within these departments, a CIA is responsible for analyzing financial records objectively to discover any deficiencies in internal controls.
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. That is to say, 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:
Furthermore, a CIA’s expertise in internal auditing allows them to work in the following industries:
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:
What’s more, CPAs are plenty capable of serving as company management and holding executive positions such as:
Plus, CPAs who are particularly interested in tax law can also consider if taking the LSAT is a good career step, too.
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 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.
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 $41,000-$59,500 with less than 1 year of experience, $49,750-$70,750 with 1-3 years of experience, and $62,500-$87,500 in a senior position. CPAs who work in the audit/assurance department of a public accounting firm can make $41,000-$58,000 with less than 1 year of experience, $46,000-$64,500 with 1-3 years of experience, and $55,000-$78,750 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 $44,000-$63,250 with less than 1 year of experience, $57,500-$82,000 with 1-3 years of experience, and $71,000-$100,750 in a senior position. When operating as a tax accountant, CPAs can earn $45,250-$65,250 with less than 1 year of experience, $61,500-$87,250 with 1-3 years of experience, and $75,500-$108,250 in a senior position.
According to the 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.
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.
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:
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:
So, all CPA candidates must meet some version of these requirements. But many states also mandate one additional requirement:
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:
|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:
Number of Questions
Types of Questions
|2 ½ hours
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 16 different languages, including Arabic, Chinese Traditional, English, French, German, Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish, Thai, and Turkish.
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:
|Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
|Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
|Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
|I. Ethics, Professional Responsibilities, and General Principles (15-25%)
|I. Enterprise Risk Management, Internal Controls, and Business Processes (20-30%)
|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 (25-35%)
|II. Economics (15-25%)
|II. Select Financial Statement Accounts (30-40%)
|II. Business Law (10-20%)
|III. Performing Further Procedures and Obtaining Evidence (30-40%)
|III. Financial Management (10-20%)
|III. Select Transactions (20-30%)
|III. Federal Taxation of Property Transactions (12-22%)
|IV. Forming Conclusions and Reporting (10-20%)
|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.
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:
|Remembering & Understanding
The AICPA has computerized the entire CPA Exam and allows candidates to take it at Prometric testing centers around America and around the world. Along with hundreds of U.S. testing centers, Prometric also administers the international CPA Exam in 17 different countries including Bahrain, Brazil, Egypt, England, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Jordon, Kuwait, Lebanon, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates.
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. But then, if you fail an exam section, you may also have to pay a registration fee of a similar amount.
What’s more, 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 in CPA review is Becker CPA. Becker 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 on Becker and all your other best CPA Exam prep options when you use CPA review discounts. Plus, Becker is the CPA course purchased by all Big 4 firms so that their team members can study and pass the CPA Exam.
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.
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 $855.
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 Review is the most popular and widely used CIA review course, and the complete 3-part course can cost $949. This price comes in at the high end of the CIA exam prep spectrum, though. 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.
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 30-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 30 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, in the past, the CPA Exam was only available during these 4 annual testing windows:
However, the CPA Exam is now offered year-round whenever a Prometric testing center is open.
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.
As mentioned, you have 3 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 of 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.”
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 a CPA can make a big difference. You’ll look twice as attractive with the CPA, increasing 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.
Many people do think it is not necessary to have both unless your employer requires them. 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.
If you decide that you should get both credentials, here’s a tip. The IIA offers an accelerated track to becoming a CIA through the CIA Challenge Exam. However, it’s only available to candidates who already have certain other accounting credentials. And the US CPA is one of them. Plus, you can even find dedicated review courses that specifically cater to the IIA Challenge Exam. The Gleim CIA Challenge Exam Review System is a top-rated example. The HOCK CIA Challenge Exam Material is another package that includes the tools you need to pass this special opportunity.
If you’re ready to commit to the CIA certification process, check out my free CIA e-course or sign up directly below:
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.