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Multiple Certifications, Groups, Conferences!

Jun 10th 2010
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I belong to three main groups – and have certifications from each of them. I belong to the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants and am a CPA, the Institute of Internal Auditors through which I am a CGAP, and the Association of Government Accountants who grants my CGFM. But I am just scratching the surface of certification possibilities.

Right now, I am on my way to the IIA’s International Conference in Atlanta where my CGAP holds some weight. I will probably blog about the conference later.
What a cultural difference each of these groups exhibit. And although all have auditors as their members, the auditor’s makeup/perspective/profile is quite different between each group.
First the CPAs. CPAs can and do provide a wide variety of services. A typical CPA firm will do taxes, audits, bookkeeping, consulting, business valuation, estate planning, etc. etc. CPAs show up as Chief Financial Officers or budget officers in corporations and governments. In order to pass the CPA exam, you have to learn about all of those facets of work – and I believe it broadens your perspective. I know how taxes work – but don’t do my own because it takes a herculean effort to keep up with tax law. I know what keeping a general ledger entails but hire a bookkeeper to do my billings. Just because you know how it works, doesn’t mean you want to do it!
And for the portion of members who do audits – they can specialize in different industries and government types.   CPA auditors at CPA firms follow the AICPA’s SASs (Statements on Auditing Standards) in conducting their work – which is primarily focused on financial statements and compliance. The AICPA’s SASs are the most complex and detailed auditing standards in existence (as far as I know!). Some auditors that audit public corporations must follow the PCAOB standards – which layer on top of the AICPA SASs. 
CPAs are usually savvy businessmen and women at their core. They have a CPA firm to make money – and that shapes many of their decisions. In general, a CPA tries to spend as little time as possible on an audit project – because the faster they can do a project, the more money they make and it allows them to move on to other projects.
I am a CPA and started out with a public accounting firm. I then moved on to the Texas State Auditor’s Office where I worked on financial and compliance audits. However, it was my work as a ‘performance auditor’ at the Texas State Auditor’s Office that I liked the best. I felt it was more meaningful work and a lot more creative. 
I have been plenty of AICPA sponsored conferences. I wouldn’t call them fun – nor the activities at night fun.
Internal Auditors are an entirely different crowd. They may have come from management and many never studied accounting. I joke that they wouldn’t know a financial statement if it came up and hugged them. Internal auditors are focused on making their employer’s operation more efficient, effective, and economical. They may also get involved in management committees and special projects. Their objectives usually sound like “Is HR complying with state hiring laws?” “Is the shipping department following corporate policies and procedures?” “Are employee benefit plans competitive in the industry?” They can, and do, look at anything and everything. Internal auditors are required by their standards to do an entity-wide risk assessment and audit plan so that they use their audit resources to make the biggest positive difference to their organization. 
Internal auditors aren’t in competition with each other – as the CPA firms are – so they like to share and help each other get better at their jobs. The IIA’s motto is “Progress through sharing.” And, because of their unique position in the organization – they often have a lot of flexibility and can spend as much time on a project as they like – although good ones will spread their resources over as many risks as they can.
The standards that the internal auditors follow are loose and flexible also. Out of the three standards that I know and love – the AICPA SAS’s, the GAO’s Yellow Book, and the IIA’s red book – the IIA standards are the softest. The IIA says this is because they are working with an international community and trying to bring everyone up to a higher standard is difficult. HM. The work these folks CAN choose to do (not that they always do choose to do it) do is cool and important.   The IIA is very strong with research – and although they do not issue this research as standards, it is still very helpful to their members.
I recently passed the CGAP (Certified Government Audit Professional) which I passed without studying.   I did buy the CGAP study manual – but thought I pulled from so many different sources, and contained so many bullet lists – it really didn’t sink in. The manual also says that you should refer to other documents living outside the manual – which I didn’t do. The exam was all over the place and was overly focused on internal auditing at the local government level – mainly municipalities. I don’t even know how you could effectively study for it.   If you have any background in government, and you want another certification on your business card, I recommend it. 
The CGAP was the IIA’s way to acknowledge their government auditor constituency – but it is a small part of their membership. The IIA members are primarily corporate internal auditors.
The IIA’s International Conference in Houston was a B.L.A.S.T.! The food was great (filet minion, shrimp, crab), the venue was high class, and the party at night was rocking. The Atlanta conference wasn’t as suave or as fun… but fun none the same. At least it was better than the AICPA’s conferences because CPAs are too tight for all of that. Chicken, anyone?
The Association of Government Accountants offers the CGFM and gives the government accountant a place to hobnob. The Austin Chapter of this group is quite robust – but comprised of a diverse crowd. Most of them are not auditors – but accountants who work for the state or the city. They might be budget analysts, controllers, or consultants. Some are auditors and monitors. 
I speak for the local chapter every year – and they draw quite a few auditors to the meeting. But I feel like this group suffers an identity crisis of sorts. They are such a broad umbrella, that anyone in government who is in finance, accounting, or auditing can fit in. I have never been to one of their conferences, although I understand they are HUGE and fun. I understand you can’t get an accounting or finance job in the federal government in Washington or surrounding towns without a CGFM. It holds a lot of weight up there. Not so much in other states. The AGA does not follow any standard – especially any auditing standard – because they aren’t all auditors.
Last month, I attended the ALGA (Association of Local Government Auditors) annual conference in San Antonio. I enjoyed seeing old friends and clients and I sponsored a booth for the first time. I don’t think that was a good use of my marketing budget… but with marketing it is hard to tell. ALGA does not offer any certifications. Most of the members are either CIAs (certified internal auditors), CGAPs, or CPAs. My favorite session at the conference was contrasting IIA and GAO standards. I am such a standard’s nerd!
I am considering joining the GFOA – Government Finance Officers Association. They shared the convention center in Atlanta with the IIA this week – but they didn’t have near the number of participants nor the international presence. I have spoken to that group a few times and have some affinity for them. However, for every certification – you have to pay annual dues… so I should probably experience an increase in earnings first. 
Other popular certifications for this crowd is the CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) and CISA (Certified Information System Auditor). Very nice to have under your belt - although the CFE folks worry me a bit. They don’t have any standards – although they did help write SAS 99 (the Fraud SAS). Their conferences are astronomically expensive, but I understand they are great. 
You can also find organizations that cater to university auditors (ACUA), pension auditors, lottery auditors, state auditors, women (ASWA), Hispanics, etc., etc. You have a personal professional demographic? There is probably a group out there full of people much like you!
That would cost a fortune to be a member of all of the groups I mentioned. I did meet a man at the Houston IIA conference a few years back who had 10 certifications! His business card was so full, it was humorous. But, as you can imagine, he wasn’t a humorous guy. He was a very earnest and serious college professor. All his business card said to me is that he is very good at taking tests. Not necessarily that he knew what he was talking about. 
The closing speaker at the IIA’s conference Mark Sandborne, said that a professional is someone who worries more about you than you do. I like that definition quite a bit. Professionals endeavor to bring you to the next level and have your back. All groups strive to make their members more professional. You’d benefit from exploring all of the above possibilities. If you have a group you particularly like, please let me know.

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