While there are many CPAs who are generalists and like delivering a diverse group of services, others prefer specializing in just a few areas. Based on your competencies, skills and mindset, which specialty is a good fit for you?
Specialization is a growing trend, not only in accounting, but throughout all professions. Companies and organizations want their talent to drive their businesses forward, improve profitability and enhance their reputation. In accounting, instead of seeking a jack-of-all-trades with generalized knowledge of tax, audit and assurance for all industries, companies want their staff to be problem solvers with a deep knowledge base.
Today, thanks to efforts by the AICPA and a diverse group of accounting associations, there are many specialty credentials to pursue. Most CPAs choose one suited to their experience and background, asking themselves, “Where do I really want to spend my time?”
If you’re a young CPA, you may not yet know the answer to this – and that’s OK! Your firm or company, however, is probably investing time and resources into offering you a career path that not only helps them retain customers and clients, but makes you a happy and satisfied employee. Just as you had to eventually choose a major in college, you probably will need to decide if you’ll become a specialist rather than a generalist, and which one of many areas to pursue.
Of course you can hopscotch between these niche areas, but most CPAs find they only want to look at one because it gives them, again, that deep intrinsic knowledge that is so important to the bottom line. A specialty credential also tells your clients and employer that you possess the expertise in any given area and are using your intellectual capital in very good ways.
Take a look at the four specialty credentials offered by the AICPA. Which specialty is good for you?
Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF)
Created for CPAs who specialize in forensic accounting, the CPA/CFF encompasses skills in bankruptcy and insolvency; computer forensic analysis; family law; valuations; fraud prevention, detection, and response; financial statement misrepresentation; and economic damages calculations.
Interested in the way things work? If you are intrinsically nosey, inquiring, and inquisitive, the CPA/CFF is probably suited to your personality. Many liken the forensic accountant to a private investigator who uncovers important clues to help piece together a puzzle.
- Do you like audit? Many CPAs who work in forensic accounting have an auditing background, so if you tend to enjoy audit more than tax or assurance work, then you would find some satisfaction in using your analytical skills to uncover or determine information critical to any of the areas described above.
Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV)
When you ask any CPA/ABV to tell you about his or her most interesting appraisal, you’re likely to hear some pretty outrageous stories! The AICPA’s ABV credential offers knowledge in business valuations – and more specifically, the ability to determine “value” based on cost, usability, application, and several other variables.
Do you like working in the field? CPA/ABVs often have to work in some pretty strange places. Depending on what their clients do and where the businesses are located, you could work in just about any environment because you have to analyze the business in its entirety.
- Expert witnesses. Many CPAs specializing in business valuation also specialize in litigation consulting. Although the two areas are completely separate, they do interrelate when you are hired to testify in court as an expert witness based on your business valuation work or about the work done by someone else. Many CPAs find expert work exciting and challenging.
Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)
Offering estate planning, retirement, investment, and insurance advice has become a justified extension for the accounting profession. The CPA/PFS credential integrates tax expertise with financial planning.
Do you like the “personal” connection? If you care about the well-being of people, enjoy seeing others live their life-long dreams, and are altruistic, then the CPA/PFS is ideal for you. You’ll get to work with clients who need to know how they can achieve their investment goals and plan for their retirement. Many CPAs who work in this area really like the one-on-one connection they establish and actively maintain the relationship for many years.
- If tax is your primary area, then the PFS complements it. The basis for any CPA/PFS is a thorough knowledge of personal and corporate tax, including keeping up with rules and regulations. Similar to how CFFs piece together a puzzle, many CPA financial planners do the same kind of activity by considering all aspects of a person’s or company’s situation.
Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP)
As evident by its name, this credential focuses on how a CPA helps clients and employers with managing the information technology function. CPA/CITPs are known for their unique ability to provide business insight by leveraging knowledge of information relationships and supporting technologies through a blend of business, financial and information management skills.
Are you a techno-geek? If you are the one person in your office who needs the latest gadget, wants to download the most current OS, or as comfortable on a PC or Mac … then the CPA/CITP might be suited to your personality. Seriously, many CPA/CITPs live and breathe all aspects of technology and enjoy passing on this knowledge to their clients and employers.
- Process and business improvement is key. Today, many companies have extensive needs in process and business improvement. CPA/CITPs like helping their clients and employers in these areas because they get to figure out how to apply their knowledge of technology and systems to help a company become more efficient.
While you won’t have to take a Myers-Briggs or DISC evaluation to figure out which specialty or credential is for you, consider and assess your options carefully. You might also talk with your peers – accounting professionals who already specialize in any of these areas. Your future to your company can’t be taken for granted; the more you spend time drilling deep into any one area will be time well spent.