CPA vs. CFA – What Are the Differences?

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation is different that the Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) credential. Many accountants, however, get both of these licenses during their careers. A CPA focuses on accounting transactions and generating financial statements. If you work as a CFA, you spend your time on financial analysis.

To help you decide between pursuing a CPA vs. CFA, here are the roles performed by each of these professionals:

The CPA role

The American Institute of CPAs website provides a great overview on the profession. A CPA needs to know about every part of a company’s operations, including sales, manufacturing and customer service. CPAs decide on the accounting systems that need to be in place. They select the accounts that need to be used and how transactions should be posted.

A CPA posts accounting transaction and closes the books at the end of each month and year. Once the books are closed, the CPA generates financial statements.

Your role as a CFA

The work of a CFA can be categorized into one of two broad categories:

  • Investment portfolio management: Many CFAs enter the profession and become money managers. Specifically, they manage portfolios of stocks, bonds and other investment vehicles. Portfolio managers consider the investor’s goals and the future prospects of investments. They choose a portfolio and closely monitor the investment performance of the securities.
  • Research analysts: Research analysts use financial and economic tools to assess the value of investments and businesses. While a portfolio manager may oversee dozens of investments, a research analyst typically goes into much more detail on a smaller number of investments.

CFAs learn about many topics that are not directly related to accounting. For example, there are dozens of financial ratios and economic indicators that CFAs use to assign a value to investments. If you work as a CPA, you may not use these same statistics.

CPA vs. CFA: Which path should you choose?

Both credentials can help you advance in your career. I found that the CFA required a much higher level of technical analysis than accounting work. If you enjoy digging into detail- and you have great focus- a CFA career may be great for you. Many CFAs spend their day working on their own.

CPAs, on the other hand, work with many different people within an organization. They’re exposed to every operation a business performs. If you like technical work, but you also want to work with people, a career as a CPA may be right for you.

I’ve had friends succeed in both of these fields. To decide which credential is right for you, talk to people who work in both professions. Both of these careers can be very rewarding.


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