Degree is Relevant; But Certification Be Golden – Choosing CFA vs CPA vs CIBP

Finance certification

Should you get certified? If you want to graduate to become a finance and accounting professional, do not waste time struggling with the question.

The simple answer is, yes, it wouldn’t hurt to have one. Especially when Investment Banks are so picky when choosing a talent amid the strong job market and the war for best talent ongoing in the investment banking industry.

A certification may not be a guarantee to a successful career, but it can definitely give you a decent head start.

Table of Contents

Be more than a fresher

New graduates entering finance and accounting industry can differentiate themselves from freshers with certifications. Companies don’t expect a fresher to know intricacies of the field, such as liquidity control or treasury ops, but an investment banking certification holder would certainly be expected to understand what an investment bank does. It gives you an edge over your peers, helps you up-skill and makes your general degree more impactful. Many MBAs, Engineers, and Freshers go about kickstarting their careers with certification route.

Mid-career professionals also choose certifications as the designation and prefixes that comes with them signals to the employers and clients that they have the knowledge they say they do. This trend has especially augmented in the gig economy we live in. Gaining promotions and additional responsibilities become easier with certification.

Further, those who make a comeback in their careers after a gap period of 3 years or more, improve their market value by getting certified.

CFA vs. CPA vs. CIBP – Choosing the right certification

Once you decide to pursue certification, your homework begins. How do you choose from several options available for getting certified?

Know that not all are alike, and each certification comes with certain requirements and criteria different from another. Gathering information about them is the first step towards making an informed choice.

Here, we explore three popular certifications for finance and accounting careers.

About CFA

CFA, the acronym for Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), is one of the most coveted professional designations controlled by CFA Institute. It is recognized around the world and equips one with skills necessary for a career in financial analytics. It is an ideal certification for those looking to become professionals at Wall Street firms, hedge and investment funds.

  • Entry Requirements: Completed or in the final year of bachelor’s (US equivalent); or minimum 4 years work experience in the field of finance; or a minimum of 4 years work and college experience
  • Level(s): Three
  • Mode and Duration: 6 hours for each exam (computer-based test taken at an offline location)
  • Exam Window: June & December (Level 1); June (Level 1 & 2)
  • Subject Focus: Professional and Ethical Standards; Investment Tools; Asset Valuation; Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning

About CPA

CPA stands for Chartered Public Accountant offered by American Institute for Certified Public Accountants. The designation is recognized in the US, and is more specific to the region one intends to practice in. It is ideal for candidates seeking a career in accounting and financial statements audit in the US-based firms.

  • Entry Requirements: A US citizen or have a legal status of permanent or long-term residence in the country; and completed 120 college credit hours or bachelor’s degree
  • Level(s): One
  • Mode and Duration: 14 hours (at Prometric Test Centers at an offline location)
  • Exam Window: Jan-Feb; or Apr-May; or Jul-Aug; or Oct-Nov
  • Subject Focus: Business environment concepts; Financial accounting and reporting; Audit and attestation; Financial regulation


CIBPTM aka Chartered Investment Banking Professional is the designation offered by Investment Banking Council of America (IBCA). Like CFA, CIBPTM prepares one for a career as an investment banker and financial analyst. The certification is recognized across the world and assesses candidates on core areas of Investment Banking. It is ideal for candidates seeking to become analysts and associates at investment banks, or those looking for promotion and upgrading their careers. CIBPTM offers a niche knowledge of investment banking, and steers away from basic finance and accounting. Its focus remains entirely on the mechanics and analytics of investment banking industry.

  • Entry Requirements: Bachelor’s with at least 3 years of experience; or MBA/masters with at least 2 years of experience; or students pursuing MBA/masters from B-Schools accredited by IBCA or other global accreditation bodies
  • Level(s): One (comprising 2 assignments and 1 exam)
  • Mode and Duration: 5 hours (Online)
  • Exam Window: Around the year
  • Subject Focus: Valuation and Comparable Companies Analysis; Leveraged Buyouts; Discounted Cash flow analysis; LBO analysis for decision making; Sell-and buy-side mergers & acquisitions

Bottom Line – Which one should you choose?

All three are professional certifications that open a wide range of career choices in finance and accounting. Opting for investment banking certification means widening the scope and opportunities for yourself. To be able to do that successfully, choosing the right certification that can see you through your career is important. To make the apt choice, ask yourself:

  • What do I want to accomplish in my career?
  • Where I am at present in my career?

Let’s analyze the three certifications based on these two.

CFA can benefit if you love finance and want to make a top-notch career in finance and investment analysis. The exam, however, takes a lot of effort and time, and along with passing three levels of exam, you will have to get the required work experience to be awarded the designation. It is best for high-achieving students who are at early stages of their careers.

CPA is ideal for those seeking to embark an accounting career or get promoted to high-level positions. Though the scope of employment with CPA is limited, it is a perfect option for those who want to work with Big 4, and US based MNCs in job roles requiring knowledge of accounting, taxation and audit.

CIPBTM is centered on the job roles and skills specific to investment banking career. It is ideal for new graduates or undergraduates with basic exposure to the industry, business concepts and knowledge of finance. Given the niche focus of the certification on investment banking industry, those looking to upgrade their professional standing to take on core responsibilities in investment banks can also opt for this certification.

The complexity of investment banking career is marked by its steep learning curve and fierce competition. Getting certified can streamline your knowledge and be your conduit to a prized career!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here