What are Public Accounting Specializations?

Different colored sneakers at race starting line

When you are building a public accounting career, it may seem that the only two choices for technical specialization are tax or audit. However, there are many ways that you can add skills, gain certifications and advance your career.

You may notice that other public accountants carry different credentials behind their names besides, or in addition to, the prestigious CPA designation. An effective way to explore the variety of areas that will expand your career opportunities is to network with these individuals. Learn why they pursued these certifications and how.

Often, their firm or their clients needed additional skills or experience in a certain area. The individual had an interest and was encouraged to pursue training, take an exam or obtain a special certification. This may happen to you as your career experience grows.

To help you explore your options, the following are common accounting specializations or areas of focus that public accountants can pursue.

Enrolled Agent

In the U.S., an enrolled agent (EA) is a tax advisor who is federally authorized to represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service. Taxpayer needs may include audits, collections or tax appeals.

An EA is licensed through the U.S. Department of the Treasury and involves a three-part exam and an application process. Search for your state society of enrolled agents chapter to learn more or visit the IRS.

Forensic Accountant

This specialty practice of accounting investigates and analyzes whether businesses or organizations engage in financial reporting misconduct by employees, officers or directors. Contrary to widespread belief, an audit of financials is different from forensic accounting. Audits can only point out “risk factors” in fiscal management. A forensic accountant is often hired if an organization suspects or is concerned about fraudulent activities or financial misconduct.

To pursue forensic accounting, practitioners will often obtain a Certified Fraud Examiner designation (through ACFE) or a Certified in Financial Forensics designation (through AICPA). Visit ACFE or AICPA to learn more.

Cyber Security Accountant

Related to the forensic accountant is the Certified Cyber Security Accountant® credential through the American Board of Forensic Accounting. Accountants pursue forensic accounting and analysis specifically related to cyber security and fraud protection/detection from individuals inside and outside the organization.

Interested professionals must take a forensic accounting review course and take the CCSA-1 Certification Exam (CAR). Visit the ABFA to learn more.

Certified Information Technology Professional

Due to the advancing technology and artificial intelligence within public accounting and business, public accountants can combine their interests in finance with their interests in technology. The Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) designation offered through the AICPA helps organizations understand the alignment of information technology, accounting and finance.

Professionals must hold a CPA license in good standing and pass the CITP exam. This certification gives them knowledge to support information security governance, data management and analysis and IT risks and controls within their firms and for their clients. Visit AICPA for more information.

Valuation Analyst

Public accountants who specialize in valuation are helpful for businesses, estates, financial instruments and individuals because they have the knowledge to place a value on assets for a variety of needs. There are different credentials in this area, such as Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA), Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV) and Certified in Valuation of Financial Instruments (CVFI).

The CVA designation is obtained through the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NACVA) while the other two designations mentioned are obtained through the AICPA. Your choice of certification depends on your goals. If you are interested in valuations for businesses, then a CVA or ABV is applicable. For valuation of derivatives, structured financial products or securitized debt, then the CVFI is applicable. Visit NACVA or AICPA.

Personal Finance Specialist

Tax professionals or CPAs who are interested in helping individuals use the wealth they’ve created and save it for retirement or invest it often pursue an extra credential in personal finance. The AICPA offers a Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) designation while the Certified Financial Planner® certification is offered through the CFP Board for Financial Planning.

Not all finance specialists work in public accounting or hold a CPA license. However, a CPA advisor who also understands personal finance can be a powerful advocate for clients to build and protect wealth for the next generation and give back to their communities. Visit the CFP Board or AICPA.

To help you determine your goals and interests for specialization, talk to your professional mentors, other professionals in the field and your direct supervisors. They can help you chart a path that is manageable and fulfilling. Ask us at LvHJ about other areas of focus that may be of interest to you.

Next: How to Approach Salary Negotiation

Recent Posts


Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Talk to CPA Today