CPA vs. CFA (Major Differences and Examples of Roles)

Updated June 10, 2023

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and the Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) are two of the most prestigious certifications available to professionals in the financial field. These designations give you access to many professional perks and opportunities. Understanding the differences between CFA and CPA can help you decide on the ideal career path. In this article, we discuss CPA versus CFA, explore roles you can consider as a CPA, and outline roles you can consider as a CFA.

Explore jobs on Indeed
Part-time jobs
View more jobs on Indeed

Major distinctions between CPA vs. CFA

Here are some of the major differences when considering CPA versus CFA:

1. Meaning

CPA stands for chartered professional accountant and is a professional designation for accountants. CPA Canada is the national body responsible for issuing this designation. The CPA designation is an equally prestigious one that can aid business, finance, and accounting careers. This designation is a highly recognized marker of competence in accounting, which can grant you access to various professional opportunities.

In contrast, CFA stands for chartered financial analyst and is an internationally recognized professional designation that attests to the competence of financial analysts. The issuing authority of the CFA is the CFA Institute, which was once the Association or Investment Management and Research. The CFA designation is a highly reputable one that grants access to various professional opportunities. The CFA Institute is present in over 164 countries across the world.

Related: How To Become a CFA: A Step-by-Step Guide

2. Requirements

CPA Canada requires candidates who want to take the CPA professional education program (CPA PEP) to have 30 months of practical accounting experience and an undergraduate degree covering specific subject areas. If you don't have a degree that covers these areas, you can enrol in the CPA preparatory courses which provide relevant training. In such cases, it's only necessary to pass the subject areas your degree didn't cover. Candidates with no tertiary education can obtain a CPA with proof of eight years of work experience in the CPA's competency areas and completing CPA PEP requisite courses.

Obtaining a CFA is a straightforward process. To take the first charter exam, it's necessary you're in your final year of a bachelor's degree, or you have one already. The institute also requires you to have four years of work experience. There are no specifications regarding what type of work experience, though work in the financial field is an asset. It's essential you have an international passport, can write the exam in English, and live in Canada or one of the other 164 participating countries. Completing the three levels of the charter exam is essential for receiving the official designation.

Related: What Is a CFA vs. an MBA? (With Pros, Cons, and Differences)

3. Syllabus

The CPA designation has four courses in the syllabus. These courses include regulations, audit and attestation, business environment and concepts, and financial accounting and reporting. In contrast, the CFA program takes candidates through three syllabus areas. The courses include financial principles, portfolio management, financial analysis, and accounting.

Related: The 10 Most Valuable Certifications Today

4. Exam

The CPA exam tests candidates in four competencies, audit and attestation, regulation, business environment and concepts, and financial accounting. The CPA exam is also fully computer-based and comprises multiple-choice questions, written communication, and case study questions. Candidates can choose to take the four parts of the exam at once or one after the other. If candidates choose to take the four-hour sections one at a time, it's necessary they complete them within eighteen months. The CPA uses continuous testing, meaning you can retake the exam immediately.

The CFA charter consists of three different exams, which qualify you for different levels. To move to the next level, it's compulsory you pass the previous exam. The questions majorly focus on financial analysis and portfolio management. Recently, the CFA Institute began administering computerized tests. You can take the exam in February, May, July, August, or November. While the CFA exam is virtual, it's still necessary for candidates to complete it at a designated testing centre. All participating countries have designated centres which you can find on the CFA website.

5. Cost

The CPA designation can cost up to $12,000. The CFA designation requires a one-time enrollment fee of $450, making it an ideal choice for those on a budget. Both designations require candidates to be working. This means you can use your salary to fund these exams. Similarly, many organizations offer their employees sponsorship for both designations and even encourage it. If your employer doesn't have any provisions, you may approach them and request sponsorship.

6. Duties

CPAs manage the financial structures and activities of an organization. A CPA can analyze an organization's financial structure and provide advice on minimizing cost and maximizing profitability. Additionally, they handle administrative tasks such as tax reporting and filing. CPAs compute and create detailed financial reports showing the financial status of their employers. They can then serve on a company's executive board as the treasurer or chief financial officer. Often, they can consider careers in auditing or financial consulting.

In contrast, CFAs analyze various financial reports, trends, and data to help clients make informed financial decisions. For example, a CFA is likely to analyze the financial reports created by CPAs and use them to advise their clients on viable investment options. CFAs specialize in investment management, so they work for various financial organizations. Examples of these organizations include banks, hedge funds, mutual funds, and private equity firms. In those organizations, CFAs consult with clients and create investment plans to cater to each client's unique situation. In addition, CFAs can engage in other related careers like day trading.

7. Salary

Professionals holding the CPA designation can expect an average salary of $66,123 per year. The CFA designation is a rewarding one that gives you access to many high-paying professions. On average, holders of the CFA designation earn an average salary of $76,799 per year.

Related: Average Annual Salary for CPA

Careers you can consider as a CPA

Here are some careers you can consider if you have the CPA designation:

1. Forensic accountant

National average salary: $53,309 per year

Primary duties: Forensic accountants use their accounting knowledge to investigate and detect any discrepancies in financial statements. They do this to uncover cases of fraud, misrepresentation, and to resolve financial disputes. Forensic accountants work for banks, companies, and law enforcement agencies. Their work environment is usually fast-paced, with some roles requiring frequent travel. In addition, they require attention to detail, numerical skills, and critical reasoning. Their daily activities include extracting and analyzing financial data, tracing funds and confirming receipts, testifying in court, and preparing forensic reports.

2. Internal auditor

National average salary: $79,385 per year

Primary duties: Internal auditors perform independent and objective evaluations of an organization's activities. While this role usually involves financial audits, it can also involve operations and information technology audits. Internal auditors work closely with company executives to ensure that all aspects of the organization are operating properly. They may work independently or as part of an audit department. An internal auditor's duties include evaluating company processes, ascertaining compliance with relevant laws, assessing risk, and investigating fraud. They require attention to detail, critical thinking, and knowledge of relevant laws.

Related: What Are CFA Careers? (With Jobs List and Salaries)

Upgrade your resume
Showcase your skills with help from a resume expert

Careers you can pursue as a CFA

Here are some careers you can consider with a CFA designation:

1. Financial consultant

National average salary: $67,283 per year

Primary duties: Financial consultants provide financial advice to individuals and organizations. They perform extensive financial analysis by studying relevant financial data and trends. With insights from these analyses, financial consultants can provide financial advice to their clients. They provide organizations with strategies to help them achieve corporate goals. A financial consultant may work independently or as part of a consulting firm. The pace of their work environment is moderate, usually involving consultation sessions with clients. Their daily activities include analyzing financial data to make forecasts, developing corporate financial strategies, and creating reports.

Related: What Does a Financial Adviser Do? (and How To Become One)

2. Portfolio manager

National average salary: $79,408 per year

Primary duties: Portfolio managers are finance professionals who help individuals and organizations to manage their investment accounts. They often work with investment banks or consulting firms and have a moderately paced work environment. A portfolio manager's major duties involve consulting with clients, providing informed advice on investment options, advertising investment products, managing investment accounts, and creating reports on investment accounts. Most employers require portfolio managers to have a bachelor's degree in accounting, finance, or a related area. Portfolio managers require numerical skills, attention to detail, and effective communication.

3. Research analyst

National average salary: $71,395 per year

Primary duties: Research analysts compile, sort, and interpret research data to help individuals and organizations make better decisions. These professionals work for various organizations in different industries. The daily activities of a research analyst include analyzing research data, using data visualization to make presentations, preparing detailed research reports, and using research data to detect issues and recommend solutions.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location.

Explore your next job opportunity on IndeedFind jobs

Explore more articles

  • Flexible Work-from-Home Jobs (With Average Salaries)
  • What Can You Do With a Master's In Psychology? (With Duties)
  • What Does a Mail Sorter Do? (With Steps and Skills)
  • What Is a Test Automation Engineer? (With a List of Duties)
  • Top 9 Job Search Strategies (With Examples and Tips)
  • What Does a Biomedical Technician Do? A Definitive Guide
  • 15 Entry-Level Medical Jobs (With Salaries and Duties)
  • How Many Jobs Are Available in Public Utilities? (With Salaries)
  • What Do Automation Engineers Do and Why Do They Do It?
  • How to Become an Administrative Services Manager in 6 Steps
  • What Does a Business Consultant Do (With Salary and Example)
  • Top Order Picker Certification Options (With Details)