What is the Difference: CIA vs. CFE Certification?

Both Certified Internal Auditors and Certified Fraud Examiners analyze financial documents.
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The Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Fraud Examiner certifications are two widely recognized certifications for accountants, auditors and financial investigators. Both of these certifications cover some of the same areas, but put emphasis on different duties and techniques that are aimed at somewhat different audiences. Which certification you'll need depends on your career goals, though you can always earn both certifications to show employers your commitment to auditing and financial investigation.

Education and Professional Requirements

    How much education and professional experience you need is very similar for both the CIA and CFE certifications. The Institute of Internal Auditors requires you to have a bachelor's degree in any subject and two years of experience. This certification is mainly for people in an internal auditing position. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners also usually requires candidates to have a bachelor's degree and two years of experience. ACFE uses a points system based on education, experience and other certifications to qualify you, so you have more flexibility when trying to meet requirements. The CIA certification requires you to agree to a professional code of ethics and both require you to submit character references or professional recommendations.

Certification Exams

    You need to take exams for both certifications. The CIA exam is a bit more traditional. You need to go to a testing center and take the exam with a proctor's supervision and guidance. The CIA exam has four parts. Each part has 90 multiple-choice questions that you'll have two hours and 25 minutes to answer. You take the CFE exam at home through an online exam or computer program. This exam also has four sections. Each section in this exam has 125 questions that you'll have 2.6 hours to answer, with a maximum of 75 seconds for each question.

Relevant Industries and Jobs

    The CIA certification is one of the most common certifications for accountants and auditors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. People in other industries also have something to gain from CIA certification. The IIA allows these individuals who use internal auditing techniques to get certified. These professions include external auditors and quality assurance, regulatory compliance and internal control professionals. The ACFE lets all people in fraud-related professions earn their CFE. To the ACFE, fraud-related professions include accounting and auditing, criminology, sociology, fraud investigation, loss prevention and law professions. If you don't see your profession in this list but think you have a fraud-related profession, you can still submit an application with a description of your job for the ACFE to review.

Scope and Approaches to Fraud

    The main difference between these certifications is the scope of the knowledge they cover and their approaches to fraud. The CFE certification focuses almost exclusively on fraud. The four parts of the exam cover fraud prevention and deterrence, financial transactions and fraud schemes, investigation and law. In the CIA exam, only one section of one part covers fraud. This section covers fraud risks and controls. This means that someone with a CIA certification is not necessarily qualified to investigate fraud cases. The rest of the exam covers auditing, business analysis, information technology and business management skills.

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