When an accountant, business or finance major is looking to specialize, they will encounter many different accounting certifications. In previous articles, we have discussed the differences between an EA and CPA, the differences between a CPA and a CIA, as well as the difference between an ACCA and a CPA license, among others. In this piece, we will touch on the basic differences between a CPA and CFE certification. We hope that all of these pieces will make the distinctions clearer to you and that they will help you to settle on the certification that best suits you.             

What is a CPA?

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is someone who has passed the NASBA Uniform CPA exam in one of the US states and jurisdictions and subsequently received CPA licensure. This license allows them to practice public accountancy in the issuing state or jurisdiction.

The license itself is issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA.) Although the prerequisites differ from state to state, there are certain basic requirements for licensure, such as receiving at least 75% for each of the four sections of the Uniform CPA exam within an 18-month window, meeting the 150 College Credit requirement and fulfilling some sort of work experience requirement. 

What is a CFE?

A Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) is someone who has passed the Association of Certified Fraud Examiner’s (ACFE) CE exam. It is an internationally recognized designation that is focused on forensic accounting. It is more than a desk job, as it entails interviewing suspects and witnesses, in addition to acquiring and investigating financial documentation. It is considered to be much easier to achieve than the CPA exam but is also a much narrower designation in terms of the job opportunities that it affords. Many CFAs go on to work for the FBI, but there are many other fields where their skills are useful such as in other government departments, insurance companies, financial institutions and healthcare industries, for instance.

4-part exam4-part exam
US licensureGlobal certification
Available in EnglishAvailable in English
Requirements vary from state to stateA bachelor’s degree or higher in any field 2 years of professional experience Be of good moral character Agree to comply with the bylaws and Code of Professional Ethics of the ACFE
Broader topicsFocused specialty
Exam available in 15 countriesExam available at any Prometric center in the world
Each exam part takes 4 hours (240 minutes)Each exam part takes 2 hours to complete, although they can be completed within 30 days
As of November 2021, there were 696,000 CPAs globally. 669,130 of these were based in the USAs of November 2021, there were over 90,000 CFEs globally
The exam parts have a 46.37% – 61.76% pass rate (75% requirement to pass)The exam had a 75.8% pass rate in Canada in September 2020
The average exam cost is $4,400 (varies per state)The exam application fee is $450.00.
Average annual salary of $72,149.00Average annual salary of $86,000.00
Exams are available throughout the yearExams are available throughout the year
Usually works out to at least 40 CPE per yearAt least 20 CPE per year