If you’re considering the CFA vs CIA, or even a CIA and CFA combination, you’ve come to the right place for advice. Besides, getting an advanced qualification can boost your career as an accountant or finance professional. The CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) and CIA (Certified Internal Auditor) are widely recognized worldwide, and some accountants even pursue both. After all, becoming a CIA or CFA can qualify you for desirable careers. However, regarding a CIA vs. CFA, you should be aware of some major differences, including the CIA vs CFA difficulty.
Before reviewing CFA vs. CIA exam requirements and registration, let’s cover some basic information about both certifications.
A Chartered Financial Analyst or CFA is an investment and wealth management expert. The CFA test, administered by the CFA Institute, is a three-part exam. The exam sections cover investment tools, asset valuation, financial management, and financial planning. Furthermore, about 190,000 CFAs practice worldwide.
A Certified Internal Auditor or CIA is a professional certified by the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) to conduct internal audits and fraud prevention. The CIA certification is globally recognized, so CIA-certified auditors can conduct any audit, anywhere. As a result, about 185,000 auditors have a CIA qualification.
|Focus & Recognition||CFA||
|Degree required to take the exam||Bachelor’s or substitute 4,000 hours of work experience (any field)||Associate’s degree or 7 years of work experience in internal auditing|
|Work experience to enter program||None (4,000 hours of work experience only needed if no bachelor’s degree)||None (does not need to be completed before entering)|
|Work experience required to complete program||4,000 hours of investment-related work for all candidates (in addition to the 4,000 hours to enter the program if no bachelor’s degree)||1-7 years depending on your education level|
|Average time to complete||4 years||7 months|
|Additional study (CPE) to maintain qualification?||No||Yes|
|Exam availability||Multiple windows per year||Year-round|
|Total exam time for all test parts||13.5 hours||6.5 hours|
|Number of exam parts||3||3|
|Estimated cost (USD)||$3,750 to $6,300||$1,000 to $2,000|
The Certified Internal Auditor certification and the CFA charter can lead to different career paths. So before starting the CFA or CIA programs, think about where you want to be after pursuing these designations.
What does a CFA do? Careers for CFA charterholders typically involve being a researcher or analyst in the investment industry. According to Investopedia, the most common CFA jobs include:
Of course, remember that your CFA finance career opens up when you’ve passed all CFA levels (Level 1, 2, and 3). Your choices are more limited if you just pass CFA exam 1 and then give up.
What is a Certified Internal Auditor position like? Well, accountants who are just starting their careers or have just acquired the CIA certification may find jobs as:
Higher-level positions in this field include:
And finally, highly experienced CIAs can pursue positions as:
Regarding base compensation, the average CFA charterholder salary is a little bigger than CIA salaries. Still, both certifications lead to higher paychecks compared to uncredentialled accountants.
How much does a CFA make? Well, the CFA designation has major salary benefits. According to Payscale.com, the CFA average salary is $97K in the US. However, CFAs have the opportunity to make much more. For instance, Senior Financial Analysts make an average of $85,014, Portfolio Managers make $105,257, and Chief Financial Officers bring home about $177,774.
In comparison, the average salary for uncredentialed financial analysts is lower at $62,725. As you can see, the CFA registration is worth it in terms of salary alone.
Payscale.com also collects data about Certified Internal Auditors. Although uncredentialed internal auditors make about $62,351, CIAs have an average base salary of $90K USD. That’s just an average, though, as Senior Internal Auditors make about $83,676. But at the more senior end, executives have average salaries in the low to middle six figures. For example, a Vice President of Internal Audit can make $150,847 and Chief Audit Executives can make $161,925 or more.
The education requirements for the CFA and CIA credentials are similar. After all, they both allow candidates to substitute qualified work experience.
Before you sit for the CFA exam, you must meet certain requirements for education OR work experience. The choice of substituting work experience for a college degree is unusual among accounting credentials. Therefore, this option makes the CFA application requirements somewhat unique.
To meet the CFA Level 1 requirements, you must have a bachelor’s degree. If you’re in your final year of completing a bachelor’s degree, you can also be a CFA candidate. What’s more, the CFA exam requirements don’t specify majors. So, in theory, you could study any field as an undergrad. Even someone with a BA in art meets the CFA exam registration standards. Of course, you’ll answer the CFA exam questions easier with an accounting degree.
Getting a college diploma isn’t the only path to becoming a CFA. Conversely, you can substitute 4,000 hours of professional work experience in place of a bachelor’s degree. Your experience doesn’t have to be in an investment position, either. But it should be related to making good business decisions. As described by the CFA Institute, “Professional work experience requires specialized knowledge, education, or advanced skills…and requires the application of higher-level judgment and business skills.”
Alternatively, CFA eligibility also allows for a combination of education and work experience that adds up to 4,000 hours. If you have any questions about your CFA Level 1 registration eligibility, you can contact the CFAI.
To participate in the CIA program, you must have an associate’s degree (two-year college degree) or an alternative like a Diploma of Higher Education. And like the CFA, the CIA exam eligibility rules do not specify a major.
The CIA education requirement may be waived if you have seven or more years of experience in internal audits. Regardless, your journey toward becoming a Certified Internal Auditor might be quicker if you pursue a two-year college degree instead of working for seven.
Although the entry barriers into the CIA and CFA programs are fairly low, you’ll still need a substantial amount of work hours for your credential.
The total hours of work experience for the CFA charter depend on your education. If you have a bachelor’s degree, you need 4,000 hours in an investment position.
On the other hand, without a bachelor’s, you’ll need some work experience before signing up for a CFA Level 1 exam date. More specifically, the CFA requires 4,000 hours in any field to sit for the exam. But then, to become CFA chartered, you’ll need another 4,000 hours in the investing field.
The CIA work experience requirement is based on your level of education. The higher your college degree, the fewer years you need to work.
Of course, if you don’t have at least an associate’s degree, remember that you need to work at least 7 years to take the exam.
Both the CFA and the CIA credentials require candidates to pass multi-level, demanding exams. But which one is harder? Let’s break them down.
The CFA exam consists of three parts referred to as Level I, 2, and 3. Each exam takes approximately 5.5 hours (4.5 hours of test time plus an hour of breaks). The three parts must be taken in order, a minimum of six months apart.
What’s more, the levels in the CFA curriculum build upon each other. For example, the CFA Level 1 curriculum brushes on lots of topics. And then the CFA Level 2 syllabus covers those same topics but in more detail. Finally, Level 3 tests the application of your knowledge from Levels 1 and 2.
The content covered on the CFA level 1 exam is as follows:
Put another way, the CFA Level 1 syllabus addresses your basic understanding of investment tools and analysis. Furthermore, the coverage of CFA Level 1 topics is wide but not deep. As a result, all of the CFA Level 1 questions are multiple-choice.
The content covered on the CFA Level 2 exam is approximately the same as Level 2. However, the second exam tests at a deeper level. Plus, it also places more focus on knowing different types of assets.
The CFA level 3 exam includes ethics and professional standards and asset types. Yet most of the Level 3 focus is on portfolio and wealth management.
The CFA exam is offered on a set schedule. First of all, Level 1 is offered in four testing windows a year. However, Level 2 is offered in only three windows a year. And furthermore, Level 3 is offered in just two windows a year. During each of these windows, the CFA test dates are limited, too. For instance, in the November 2022 window, candidates can only choose from 7 days (November 15-21).
CFA applicants first register for a given part of the test. Afterward, they then schedule a test time and location. Moreover, the test is computer-based and available at Prometric testing locations. About 400 of these CFA test centers are located around the world. Regardless, you might need to travel if you don’t live close to one.
In addition, the three exams must be taken in order. First, Level 1 has 180 questions. However, the other two levels have fewer, more intensive questions. In fact, Level 3 requires written responses instead of multiple-choice answers.
What’s more, your CFA results aren’t instantaneous. Instead, you won’t receive results for each part until 2-3 months after the closed testing window.
For the multiple-choice section of the exam, the minimum CFA passing score is around 60%-70%. The exact number differs because the CFAI assigns a difficulty level to each question. Then, they also assign a different minimum pass rate for each version of the test. Unlike with some tests, you won’t receive a numerical score—just a “pass” or “no pass.”
How hard is the CFA to pass? In recent years, the CFA level 1 pass rate has varied from 49% down to 22%. Some CFA accounting experts have speculated that the CFAI is making the test harder to make the credential more prestigious. After all, unprepared candidates choosing to no-show instead of taking the test can also affect pass rates. For instance, the CFA Level 1 preparation is tough. In fact, some candidates never make it past Level 1. CFA pass rates get higher as you progress through the levels but still aren’t high. Recently, the CFA level 3 pass rate was only 42%, after all. With these low pass rates, it’s clear that adequate CFA exam prep is a must.
CIA applicants must pass the three-part Certified Internal Auditor exam. This process typically takes about three months to a year to complete. Afterward, applicants have four years from applying to finish.
To apply for the CIA exam, however, you first need work experience. But the total amount depends on your education level.
The CIA exam focuses on the following content areas:
The CIA exam schedule is offered year-round on a per-demand basis. In addition, applicants schedule their own test times. The exam is administered by Pearson VUE testing centers, which have 900 locations worldwide. Candidates actually have two options for taking their exams. First, they can take them in person at Pearson. Alternatively, the CIA exam is now offered via remote proctoring. To clarify, candidates can take the exam from their own home office as long as they meet certain remote proctoring requirements.
Unlike the CFA exam, the three CIA exam parts can be taken in any order. Part 1 has 125 questions and a 2.5-hour time limit. Parts 2 and 3, on the other hand, each have 100 questions and a two-hour time limit.
Unofficial CIA results are available immediately. Plus, you don’t have to adhere to any waiting period between the three tests. But if you fail an exam part, you must wait 60 days to retake it. (In the past, you had to wait 90 days. Nevertheless, some CIA exam requirements have changed in the last few years.)
Each CIA exam section is graded on a scaled score of 25-750. But you’ll need a score of 600 to pass. The exact number of questions you need to get right depends on the questions’ difficulty.
The CIA exam pass rate each year is 40%-42% for the entire exam. Like the CFA, this exam is challenging and many test-takers end up retaking it.
To become CFA chartered, you must provide two or three reference letters from professional contacts who can comment on your work skills and professional ethics.
All CIA applicants must submit a character reference signed by a CIA, CGAP, CCSA, CFSA, CRMA, or another supervisor. You could also have your certification revoked if the IIA determines you don’t “exhibit high moral and professional character.”
Before deciding between the CIA and CFA or even going for a CFA-CIA combination, you must also consider the costs.
Basically, the costs to pursue any credential includes the following:
The CFA fees depend, in part, on the timing of your registration. Plus, the CFA exam fees changed in 2023. (We are posting the 2022 CFA program fees for reference.)
2022 CFA program fees:
2023 CFA program fees:
CFA review costs vary depending on whether you’re just looking for CFA books or full-length CFA courses. Total CFA preparation costs range from a few hundred dollars to over $3,000. Our top-rated CFA exam review course is Kaplan Schweser, which has premium courses for around $1,299+. Kaplan Schweser gives you everything you need to tackle the CFA exam, including on-demand video lessons, live online classes, a 3-day review workshop, mock exams, a performace tracker, SchweserNote (like CFA books), a large bank of sample CFA questions, and lots more.
But other less expensive options are available, too. For example, AnalystPrep offers quality yet affordable CFA review, CFA practice questions, and CFA mock exams. You can purchase study materials for the entire exam or only individual parts as needed. As an example, you could start with the Level 1 AnalystPrep CFA Learn + Practice Package. Besides, it only costs $249 a year. And it comes with videos, performance tools, and lots of personal support. Of course, you’ll also receive the following:
Check out my review of the best CFA study materials to pass your exams on the first try.
The CIA fees include optional IIA membership fees, CIA application fees, and exam fees.
The IIA membership fee is optional and ranges from free to $270, depending on your status as a professional, government employee, student, or educator. However, membership can save an applicant at lot in CIA application and exam fees.
Therefore, the total CIA fees (including IIA membership, CIA application fee, plus exam fees) range from $740 to $1,445.
The cost of CIA review courses varies from $375 to over $1,000. At the lower-priced end, you’ll find certified internal auditor courses that come with books and CIA exam test banks. (Also known as a CIA exam question bank). At the higher end, you’ll find audio and video lectures and help from test counselors and accounting experts.
It doesn’t matter if you pursue the CFA or the CIA: both require a major investment of your time. After all, between the work, education, and exam requirements, your total timeline will probably be several years long. (That’s why it’s important to remember the CIA and CFA benefits to keep you moving toward the finish line!)
Obtaining CFA certification takes at least 2 ½ years, with an average of four years to complete the program. Why so long? Well, candidates spend six months (or more) preparing for each test. Of course, there’s also the requirement to complete 4,000 hours of work in the investment field.
How much time will you devote to the CFA during those four years? The recommended amount of study time is 300 hours. However, some candidates report studying even longer to beat the low CFA pass rates.
Your timeline depends on how much CFA work experience you already have. Plus, the amount of time you can study each week also plays a role. You’ll also need to plan around the CFA exam dates for all three exams. And with CFA exam pass rates so low, retaking tests complicate your CFA certification timeline. Therefore, plan a three- or four-year process. Yet, in the end, the exact details could be outside your control.
You have three years from applying to pass the CIA exam and meet all requirements. (You can also request a one-time one-year extension for $275.)
What about study time? To pass the exam, you should study for at least 30-50 hours for each test. However, plan to study more (55-95 hours per test) if you lack pre-existing CIA knowledge. Furthermore, experts recommend studying one to two hours daily for the best results.
CIA applicants typically need three to seven months to pass all the parts of the test. Your CIA certification timeline will depend on the education or work you need to complete. And of course, your availability for study time affects your timeline, too. As a result, some CIA review courses have tools to plan your schedule.
However, remember that the entire CFA exam schedule includes many more deadlines for registering and scheduling your exams.
The CIA exam has continuous testing, so you don’t have to wait for specific testing windows. Still, you should understand the CIA exam dates and deadlines for registering, making your testing appointment, and rescheduling.
Since the CIA pass rate is so low, many candidates must retake one or more sections. But don’t worry – you can retake the CIA exam as often as needed. However, you must wait at least 60 days before signing up to retake your failed section.
There’s really only one way to prepare for the CIA exam: Study. When you sign up for the CIA program, you’ll receive some CIA exam study materials from IIA. Read through them, but most candidates use a CIA review course, too. Ensure your course has a good CIA exam question bank, and then take at least one CIA practice exam.
Yes—you can reschedule a CIA exam appointment. However, you must contact Pearson VUE at least 48 hours before your scheduled exam date and time.
I’ve reviewed the best CIA exam prep materials for you! However, my #1 rated CIA course is Gleim. After all, Gleim has been in business for over 40 years and has repeatedly proved itself via the CIA exam pass rates of its users.
No—the CFA is a certification awarded by the CFA Institute. Therefore, unlike the CPA, the CFA is not a license. (That’s the biggest difference between the CFA vs CPA—the CFA is a certification, and the CPA is a license awarded by a state board of accounting.)
The best CFA study materials depend on your needs and study habits. However, I’ve reviewed the best CFA courses, and Kaplan Schweser is my #1 rated course. First of all, Kaplan Schweser gives you the best study materials, everything from CFA Level 1 books to CFA sample questions and several CFA practice exams. Second, Kaplan Schweser is also affordable, especially when you use my exclusive discounts.
After you take your exam, you’ll have to wait several weeks or even months for your CFA results:
Both the CFA and CIA share certain benefits. First, each is widely recognized and respected internationally in the field. Second, each qualifies you for a range of well-paying jobs. And third, each can be an alternative to an MBA for those who don’t want to stop working full-time to attend school.
When it comes to salary and exclusivity, CFA has a slight edge. After all, some of the highest-paying jobs in finance require a CFA. As a result, when it comes to salaries for a CFA vs CIA, the average CFA is slightly higher.
Nevertheless, the CFA exam is known as the hardest exam in finance. In fact, it’s one of the hardest in the world. However, the CFA is the qualification to get if you’re certain you want a career in finance or investment. Plus, the CFA will give you a long-term plan to maximize your lifetime earning potential.
When it comes to ease of attainment, the CIA has a definite edge. Besides, it can be completed in less than a year instead of multiple years. What’s more, the total costs and study time are much less. This fact also gives the CIA an advantage in flexibility. Since the number of resources you’re sinking into it isn’t enormous, the CIA is more reasonable to pursue.
Is the CIA or CFA right for you? Since the jobs these qualifications prepare you for are largely different, one issue to consider is what job you want. Are you looking for something in the field of internal auditing? Or are investment banking and research more interesting to you? If you’re early in your career and can’t decide, talk to professionals in both career tracks before deciding.