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How a Few Little Letters Can Change Your Career

September 30, 2018

When there are hundreds of thousands of CPAs at work in public accounting, business and industry, government, academia and consulting, how can you stand out in such a crowded profession?

Many CPAs do this by leveraging the rapid growth of advisory services. By offering specialized knowledge to your clients or employer, you’re positioned to be more competitive in the marketplace and are able to differentiate yourself from others in the field. And that translates into increased compensation and career advancement opportunities.

Firms, as a whole, are finding that offering more services can increase their bottom line. When you move beyond compliance work to more future-oriented, value-added work, you are able to do more for your clients, serving them in new ways. Organizations with credentialed professionals realize increased profit margins through the management of risk, improved controls, process and workflow improvements and faster decision-making through simulations and data analytics.

The fact is, value-added services are not just a trend, and they are not going away. Of Accounting Today’s Top 100 Niche Services, business valuation consistently has ranked in the top five for the past 15 years. Also, an IBISWorld 2012 report projects that forensic accounting will grow at a rate four times that of the U.S. accounting profession through 2017. Financial planning follows closely at a growth rate that is double that of the accounting profession. According to the Robert Half 2014 Salary Guide, the need for financial professionals with technology experience is rising, given the complexities of systems and tools, and emerging technologies.

Unlock the Possibilities

The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) offers the only credentials built on the CPA foundation of competency, objectivity and integrity. The credentials are: Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF®), Personal Financial Specialist (PFS™), Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV™) and Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP®).

According to VSCPA President & CEO Stephanie Peters, CAE, “CPAs who are looking to move up in their career, add greater value in the workplace and take advantage of the recent growth of advisory services within the accounting profession should pursue a credential after their CPA.”

Want further evidence that a credential can be an effective career boost? First, 66 percent of CPAs say holding an AICPA credential in advisory services makes a difference in receiving job offers. What’s more, the average salary for CPAs who hold these credentials is 15 percent greater than CPAs without a specialty credential.

Credentials for All Areas of Interest

Forensic accounting has become one of the fastest growing specialty practice areas for the U.S. CPAs who want to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and experience in the forensic accounting area are pursuing the CFF credential. It encompasses fundamental and specialized forensic accounting skills that you can apply in a variety of service areas, including bankruptcy and insolvency, computer forensic analysis, family law, valuations, economic damages calculations and fraud prevention, detection and response. In addition, the CFF credential sets you apart as an expert witness in the courtroom.

The PFS credential showcases a CPA’s expertise in personal financial planning. This credential is an excellent next step for CPAs seeking to expand or diversify a tax-focused practice. Your comprehensive knowledge in financial planning and tax enable you to bring a holistic approach to your clients’ financial needs, whether advising in retirement, estate, tax, risk management and/or investment planning.

Two major factors are driving up the demand for CPA financial planners. First, given the complexities of ATRA and the new net investment income tax that will impact every area of financial planning, clients are looking for the objective guidance that CPAs provide. Secondly, large numbers of boomers are heading into retirement and seeking advisers to help them plan accordingly to avoid outliving their financial resources. 

The ABV credential is ideal for CPAs who want to enter this in-demand area by positioning themselves as a premier business valuation service provider who goes beyond the core service of reaching a conclusion of value to creating value for clients through the strategic application of this analysis. 

The rise in demand for business valuation experts and firms that offer this service has been fueled by a rapid increase in merger and acquisition activity, gifting and estate transfers, and the Small Business Administration’s requirement for independent business valuations on loan regulations. Other valuation services include valuing a business due to transfer of ownership, divorce settlement, fair value accounting, ESOP valuations, economic damage calculations and expert witness or litigation support.

CPAs who have considerable expertise in information management and technology assurance should seek the CITP credential. CPAs who have earned the CITP credential are recognized for their unique ability to provide technology-related assurance and business insight by leveraging knowledge of information, data relationships and supporting technologies. This credential spans a broad base of knowledge — from IT assurance, IT risk management and security, and privacy to analytics and emerging technologies. CITP credential holders are helping their clients or organization improve operations, ensure financial data integrity, determine risks associated with financial reporting, and prevent and detect fraud.

A Closer Look at the Requirements

In addition to holding a valid and unrevoked CPA license or certificate issued by a legally constituted state authority, being an AICPA member in good standing and signing a Declaration of Intent to comply with the requirements of credential recertification, each candidate must also meet the following requirements:


Exam Requirement

Business Experience Requirement

Education Requirement


Pass the CFF Examination

1,000 hours of business experience in forensic accounting within the 5-year period preceding the date of the CFF application

75 hours of forensic accounting continuing professional education (CPE) within the 5-year period preceding the date of the CFF application


Pass one of three comprehensive exams: Personal Financial Specialist (CPA/PFS), Certified Financial Planner® (CFP) or Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)

3,000 hours of personal financial planning experience within the 5-year period preceding the date of the PFS application; up to 1,000 hours of tax compliance experience can count toward the total experience requirement

75 hours of personal financial planning CPE within the 5-year period preceding the date of the PFS application


Pass the ABV Examination(this is waived for Accredited Members and Accredited Senior Appraisers of the American Society of Appraisers)

Either 6 business valuation engagements or 150 hours of business valuation experience withinthe 5-year period preceding the date of the ABV application

75 hours of valuation CPE within the 5-year period preceding the date of the ABV application


Pass the CITP Examination


1,000 hours of business experience in information management and technology assurance within the 5-year period preceding the date of the CITP application

75 hours of information management and technology assurance CPE within the 5-year period preceding the date of the CITP application


Resources Available From the AICPA

No matter which credential you pursue, the AICPA supports you every step of the way by providing everything from exam prep materials to exclusive tools and technical resources that will help you, as a credential holder, maintain the highest level of competency in delivering advisory services. When you’re ready to take your career to the next level with an AICPA credential, visit aicpa.org/credentials.

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