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

What is a CPA?

CPA stands for ‘Certified Public Accountant.’  They are accountants who are legally authorized to perform tasks that other accountants are not authorized in. This includes representing businesses for IRS audits, auditing and approving financial documents of businesses, compiling financial statements and preparing and authorizing tax returns, among other tasks. These functions are what is referred to as ‘public accountancy.’

It is a US-based license that is issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) upon the license holder’s successfully completing the four-part uniform CPA exam and then applying for licensure. The AICPA is the largest accounting body in the world. Although the AICPA acts as a centralized body for the CPA, each state has slightly different rules and requirements for the exam

What is a CIA?

CIA stands for ‘Certified Internal Auditor.’ It is the only globally recognized internal audit designation that is given to accountants who have passed an exam that authorizes them to perform internal audits. Both the exam and license are issued by the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA.) In 2019, they expanded the number of languages that it is available in to provide more accessibility. These languages include English, Arabic, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), German, French, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Thai and Turkish. The full requirements can be found here.

How else does a CPA differ from a CIA?

4-part exam3-part exam
US certificationGlobal certification
Available in EnglishAvailable in 14 languages
Requirements vary from state to stateExperience requirement is dependent on the applicant’s level of education
Broader topicsFocused specialty
Exam available in 15 countriesExam available in over 180 countries
Each exam part takes 4 hours (240 minutes)Part 1 takes 150 minutes, Part 2 takes 120 minutes and Part 3 takes 120 minutes
As of November 2021, there were 696,000 CPAs globally. 669,130 of these were based in the USOver 171,130 CIAs globally as of 2020
The exam parts have a 46.37% – 61.76% pass rate (75% requirement to pass)The exams have a 39% – 42% pass rate (75% requirement to pass)
The average exam cost is $4,400 (varies per state)The average exam cost is $1,315, although this is less for IIA members and students
Average annual salary of $72,149.00Average annual salary of $77,383.00