How to Become a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 9, 2022 | Published November 5, 2021

Updated September 9, 2022

Published November 5, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

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In this video, we follow Ektaa, a tax accountant working for a family-owned accounting firm, as she shares the skills and education needed to be a successful accountant.

If you're interested in working in accounting, pursuing a chartered professional accountant (CPA) designation can help you advance your career. The CPA designation is a nationally recognized professional designation that requires years of education and experience to obtain. Learning more about becoming a chartered professional accountant can help you determine if it's the right career path for you. In this article, we explain how to become a chartered professional accountant, explain what a CPA does, discuss the amount they earn and their working conditions, and answer frequently asked questions you may have about becoming a CPA.

Related: 33 Great Jobs in Accounting (With Salaries)

How to become a chartered professional accountant (CPA)

Knowing how to become a chartered professional accountant can help you decide whether you want to pursue this position. Here are the steps you can take to become a CPA:

1. Earn an undergraduate degree

To pursue CPA certification, first ensure you meet CPA Canada's prerequisites, one of which is completing a relevant undergraduate degree. Any degree can qualify you for the certification, but consider a program in accounting, finance, business, or another related field to give you the foundational knowledge to become a chartered professional accountant. If your program doesn't include relevant coursework that counts towards the CPA designation, you can take CPA Canada's PREP course, which takes around two years to complete.

When you apply for the CPA professional education program, CPA Canada may ask for a transcript to analyze your grades, so it's important to focus on your coursework. This increases your chances of getting accepted into the program. Undergraduate degrees typically take three to four years to complete.

2. Apply for the CPA professional education program

Once you have your bachelor's degree, you can apply for the CPA professional education program (PEP). Each province and territory has its own prerequisites, so check your local CPA branch to ensure you meet them all before applying for the program. When applying, include your personal information, educational background, and information that proves you have good character, such as a reference letter.

3. Finish six modules in the CPA PEP

If you get into the CPA professional education program, you then complete six modules over two years. To move to the next module, students must pass an examination first. The modules include the following:

  • Two common modules that cover six technical competencies: financial reporting, management accounting, audit and assurance, strategy and governance, finance, and taxation.

  • Two elective modules where you can choose from the following options: assurance, performance management, tax, or finance.

  • One capstone integrative module: focuses on building leadership and professional skills.

  • One capstone exam preparation module: prepares students for the final exam they must take to complete the program.

4. Complete 30 months of accounting experience

In addition to the coursework you complete during the CPA PEP, you also need 30 months of accounting experience to finish the program. CPA Canada designed the program for students to work in the accounting industry at the same time. You can meet your practical experience requirements in two ways:

  • The pre-approved program route: CPA Canada typically partners with employers in your area that offer employment and training programs to students. This gives you a mentor that can help guide you as they understand the program.

  • The experience verification route: You can also find your own employer, but CPA Canada typically approves your choice. With this option, you must find a CPA mentor willing to guide and coach you.

5. Pass the common final examination (CFE)

All candidates take and pass the common final examination to obtain their CPA destination. The exam takes three days to complete and tests students' competencies in the following areas:

  • advanced financial reporting

  • management accounting

  • strategy and governance

  • audit and assurance

  • finance

  • taxation

  • professionalism

  • ethical behaviour

  • written and oral communication

  • leadership

  • problem solving

  • decision making

6. Get and maintain your certification

Once you pass the common final examination and complete your 30 months of accounting experience, you can earn the CPA designation. To maintain it, prepare to complete continuing education courses each year. Your province or territory may have specific requirements to maintain your certification, but it's typically 30 hours of continuing education. There are also CPA membership fees to pay each year.

7. Apply for chartered professional accounting positions

After earning your certification, you can start applying for chartered professional accounting positions. Look for relevant postings on job boards or on specific company's websites. To apply for these positions, you need an updated resume. Highlight your new credential by including it at the top of your resume next to your name. This is one of the first things prospective employers look for to ensure you're qualified, so including your designation at the top encourages them to keep looking at your resume.

You can also include keywords you find in job postings or descriptions, such as specific skills. This shows employers you have the skills and experience they're looking for and helps you stand out over other candidates. Tailor your resume to each job you apply for to help you stand out further.

Related: A Guide to Entry-Level Accounting Interview Questions

What does a chartered professional accountant do?

A chartered professional accountant is a professional designation for people working in the accounting or finance industry. CPAs are experts in financial planning and analysis. Their duties may vary depending on their role and the industry they are working in, but typically include:

  • preparing and analyzing financial statements

  • making financial forecasts for the company

  • creating and maintaining company budgets

  • managing a company's general ledger

  • supervising staff in accounting or finance departments

  • preparing and reviewing company tax returns

  • preparing and presenting financial reports

  • completing internal audits

Chartered professional accountants may work in roles such as corporate accountants, cost accountants, management accountants, financial planners, financial strategists and risk managers. They are often financial decision-makers for the company.

Related: 13 Types of Accountants and What They Do

Average salary and working conditions

The national average salary of a chartered professional accountant is $61,572 per year. Pursuing the CPA designation helps you earn more money, as the national average salary of an accountant is $55,998 per year.

Chartered professional accountants typically work in corporate office environments with their own space. Some also work from home and connect with their team or clients virtually. Most CPAs work a typical 40-hour work week, but may have to work overtime during peak financial times in the year, such as tax season. Chartered professional accountants spend a lot of time working independently, but also collaborate with accounting staff, senior-level executives, and other members of the finance department.

Related: Average Annual Salary for CPA

FAQs about becoming a chartered professional accountant

To help you determine if becoming a chartered professional accountant is the best option for you, consider the answers to the following frequently asked questions you may have:

How long does it take to become a chartered professional accountant?

It takes at least six years to become a chartered professional accountant as you first pursue a bachelor's degree, which can take three to four years. You then complete the CPA PEP, pass the common final examination, and obtain 30 months of accounting experience. This can take two to three years if you're working while you're in school.

What skills and attributes does a chartered professional accountant need?

It can help your ability to become a CPA and thrive in this role by developing your relevant skills. Successful chartered professional accountants typically have the following qualities and attributes:

  • leadership skills

  • verbal and written communication skills

  • organizational skills

  • interpersonal skills

  • numeracy skills

  • integrity

Related: 12 Skills Accountants Need for Workplace Success

What's the difference between a chartered professional accountant and an accountant?

The main difference between a chartered professional accountant and an accountant is their education. Accountants typically have a bachelor's degree in accounting while CPAs pursue an additional two years of schooling to gain more technical knowledge. Thanks to CPAs' additional knowledge and certification, they can complete certain tasks that accountants can't, such as preparing an audited financial statement.

Related: The Differences Between a Bookkeeper and an Accountant: a Review

What are the job prospects for chartered professional accountants?

The job prospects for chartered professional accountants vary by province and territory. According to the Government of Canada Job Bank, here are the job prospects for each province and territory:

  • Alberta: fair

  • British Columbia: fair

  • Manitoba: fair

  • New Brunswick: good

  • Newfoundland and Labrador: fair

  • Northwest Territories: good

  • Nova Scotia: good

  • Nunavut: good

  • Ontario: fair

  • Prince Edward Island: fair

  • Quebec: fair

  • Saskatchewan: fair

  • Yukon: fair

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