Hello, and welcome to our guide on our comparison of the financial credentials of CPA vs CIA.

In this article, we will cover the following topics:

What is a CIA?
Differences between a CPA and a CIA
Similarities between a CPA and CIA
Which one should I go for – CPA or CIA?

The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) may sound like similar roles to an outsider to the industry.

They do have certain overlaps that can confuse those interested in securing a finance and accounting-related certification in the future.

However, they represent different roles in the finance industry, as you will find out as you stick it through with us in this article!

What is a CIA?

A Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) is a professional designation for accountants that are licensed to perform internal audits.

The CIA designation is recognized worldwide, and its licensed holders are typically employed in financial institutions, corporations, and government agencies.

An internal audit is the evaluation of a company or organization’s accounting processes and corporate governance, to ensure that they are following the regulations of the specific location where they do business.

Aside from legal compliance, the practice of internal auditing is also being used as a tool to identify problems in the company, whether it’s in the finance department, operations, and the like.

As such, it is a very important role in the world of finance and is a position that demands technical excellence and a strong background in ethics.

The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), headquartered in the state of Florida in the US, is the professional organization that administers the exam and license.

CIA Exam

CIA candidates must pass the three exam parts of the CIA Exam.

The CIA exam structure was actually updated in 2019, creating a change in the syllabus and focus of the questions.

The syllabus, among other helpful documents and resources, is also available for CIA candidates to pursue and study.

Part 1 – Essentials of Internal Auditing

Part 1 consists of 125 multiple choice questions and lasts 150 minutes long.

The Part 1 exam is focused on the IIA’s International Professional Practices Framework (IPPF).

The questions are based on the following topics:

  • Foundations of Internal Auditing (15%)
  • Independence and Objectivity (15%)
  • Proficiency and Due Professional Care (18%)
  • Quality Assurance and Improvement Program (7%)
  • Governance, Risk Management, and Control (35%)
  • Fraud Risks (10%)

Part 2 – Practice of Internal Auditing

Part 2 consists of 100 multiple choice questions and lasts 120 minutes long.

The questions are based on the following topics:

  • Managing the Internal Audit Activity (20%)
  • Planning the Engagement (20%)
  • Performing the engagement (40%)
  • Communicating Engagement Results and Monitoring Progress (20%)

Part 3 – Business Knowledge for Internal Auditing 

Part 3 consists of 100 multiple choice questions and lasts 120 minutes long.

The questions are based on the following topics:

  • Business Acumen (35%)
  • Information Security (25%)
  • Information Technology (20%)
  • Financial Management (20%)

CIA  Eligibility and Qualifications

The CIA’s qualifications are unique in that they freely accommodate a wide array of people with different education and experience backgrounds.

You do not have to be an IIA member in order to be eligible for the CIA program and take the CIA exam, although it is encouraged and fees will be cheaper for members.

A candidate for the CIA program must fulfill just one (1) of the following:

  • Have a Bachelor’s degree or higher (in any concentration), or
  • Have an Internal Audit Practitioner license, or
  • Have five (5) years of cumulative internal auditing experience, or
  • Are an enrolled college senior, or
  • Are students enrolled in an Internal Audit Education Partnership (IAEP) program in your curriculum

If you fulfill even just one of the education or experience requirements above, you are eligible for the CIA program.

You will also need to submit the following requirements:

  • Character references submitted by your supervisor, or a licensed CIA, CGAP, CCSA, CFSA, CRMA, or QIAL
  • Proof of identification, as listed in the certification handbook, matching your information in the online IIA Certification Candidate Management System (CCMS) profile
    • Acceptable proof of identity are the following:
      • Government-issued driver’s license
      • Passport
      • Military ID
      • Alien registration card
      • Government-issued local language ID

After CIA candidates are accepted into the program, they should take and pass the three parts of the exam.

To complete their CIA program and earn the designation, they have Exit Requirements in the form of work experience, given that they did not enter the program with the work experience necessary.

Depending on how you entered the program, you will need a certain number of years of work experience requirements in the following roles is required to secure the CIA program:

  • Internal Audit
  • External Audit
  • Quality Assurance
  • Risk Management
  • Audit, Assessment, Disciplines
  • Compliance
  • Internal Control

If you entered with a Bachelor’s Degree, you will need 2 years of Internal Audit experience or equivalent.

If you entered with a Master’s Degree, you will need 1 year of Internal Audit experience or equivalent.

If you entered with an IAP designation, you will need 5 years of Internal Audit experience or equivalent.

In order to maintain your CIA credential, you need to fulfill some continuing education requirements.

Two CPE credits must also be dedicated to ethics, such as IIA’s own courses on Ethical Behavior, Ethical Scenarios for Technology, and Ethical Scenarios for Financial Service Auditors.

Other ways to earn CPEs are to write a book or a research paper, and various activities verified by the CPE Policy in place.

CIA Fees

The CIA program has different costs for members and non-members, as well as for members of the academia (students and professors).

You need to pay an application fee, registration for exam fees, and when applicable, rescheduling fees.

CIA FeesIIA Members(US$ 255 Membership Fee)Non-membersStudents and Teachers
Application FeeUS$ 115US$ 230US$ 65
Exam 1 Registration FeeUS$ 280US$ 395US$ 230
Exam 2 Registration FeeUS$ 230US$ 345US$ 180
Exam 3 Registration FeeUS$ 230US$ 345US$ 180
Rescheduling FeeUS$ 75US$ 75US$ 75

For IIA Members, the total cost of CIA certification, minus educational requirements, is US$ 855.

If we add the IIA Membership Fee, it will amount to US$ 1,110, plus you have the additional benefits of the membership that could help out your career and expand your network.

For non-members, the total will be US$ 1,315.

For students and members of the academia, it will amount to US$ 655.

It is definitely more cost-effective to enter into the program as a member or as a student.

Note that these costs do not include the fees for a CIA review course either.

CIA Career

What are the career options available for a CIA?

The most obvious path is a career in internal auditing – as a CIA, you will find that you will fill highly-valued positions in corporations and organizations.

The ladder for the auditing field may look something like this:

  • Entry-level Internal Auditor
  • Internal Auditor Manager or Supervisor
  • Chief Audit Executive

As you can see, it’s a straightforward path for internal auditors as they have a very specific role in the company.

Differences Between a CPA and a CIA

There are actually very significant differences between the two certifications upon closer inspection.

Professionals looking to find a certification that fits them should take the following differences into account when choosing which program to invest in for their future careers.

Licensing Authority and Recognition

Perhaps the most important difference between the two credentials, CPAs and CIAs operate in different territories or jurisdictions.

CPAs are recognized in the United States, and they need to be licensed in the states where they would like to practice.

CIA’s, on the other hand, are recognized and licensed to work globally.

If you are interested in working in other companies abroad, the CIA program should definitely pique your interest.

Another factor to consider is popularity.

CPA certification has entered the minds of popular culture, and many people understand the prestige of such licensure.

The CPA title has been around since 1896 and has been the standard for excellent and ethical accounting practice ever since.

CIA certification is still a bit under the radar, due to not having that many people taking the role or license.

The first exam that qualifies CIAs was held in 1974, and the population of these exclusive auditors has been growing ever since. 

It may be the 78 years of history in between the two certifications, and the generalist versus specialist mindset, but the reality is fewer people know what a CIA is compared to a CPA.

People may even know Chartered Financial Analysts (from the CFA institute) and Certified Management Accountants (CMA) before CIAs!

Cost of Certification

Certifications, especially ones that have to do with important business and finance roles, can be quite expensive.

This is not just true of acquiring the actual license, but it can be expensive to maintain, given re-registration fees and continuing education requirements.

Depending on your membership status, you can pay a range of US$ 655 to US$ 1,315 to get into the CIA program and secure it through hard work in the years after the investment.

For a CPA, costs may vary from state to state, thus it is difficult to pin down the cost of becoming a CPA – however, the costs are observed to range anywhere from US$ 900 to US$ 1,500 due to many factors.

The ranges of the costs of certifications vary greatly, so this difference in costs should be something to consider when choosing an accounting certification.

Jobs and Roles

Both CIAs and CPAs have great auditing skills that will be very relevant to corporations.

CPAs may find themselves in generalist finance and accounting roles.

Here are some of the typical roles CPAs will find themselves employed in:

  • Public accountant
  • Accounting managers
  • Tax preparation
  • External or internal audit work
  • Financial analyst
  • Treasury and Cash management
  • Forensic accountant
  • Financial advisor
  • Consultants
  • Various roles at accounting firms

As you can see, CPAs may also work in auditing roles as CIAs will.

CIA’s will, of course, can exclusively fill in the internal auditing roles, which are critical to large companies.

They can fill a ladder within the position, from entry-level internal auditors to managers, to internal audit executives that could lead the direction of the entire company.

Salary Expectations

One thing that is common throughout industries is a general preference to pay more for specialists rather than generalists.

After all, getting the advice of someone who was solely focused on one specific industry or practice is more credible than receiving feedback from someone who might not be as experienced.

Experts are almost always the more favorable option to hire, especially if it involves such a critical process as internal auditing.

That said, CIAs are often observed to earn more than CPAs, given that their jobs are so specialized and rare that people are willing to hire experts for the role.

Let’s take a look at the typical salary ranges of the two certifications:

According to PayScale, the average salary of a CIA is $90,000 per year, and the average salary of a CPA is $69,000 per year.

It looks like such a stark difference, but there are many factors at play that can explain this divide.

One factor that is important to look at is the prevalence of the certifications.

According to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, there are over 669,000 active licensed CPAs in the Accountancy Licensee Database, across the United States.

At the end of 2019, the global headcount of active CIAs is over 173,000.

As you can see, there is an abundance of CPAs as compared to CIAs – and the figure for CPAs is in the United States alone, while the figure for CIAs accounts for all the countries that have active IIA chapters.

Due to this relative rarity of CIAs, more prominent companies and corporations may be more interested in paying big bucks for credible internal auditors with this challenging certification.

Smaller businesses with less complicated accountancy needs may prefer to hire CPAs, who have a similar level of prestige and trust among the public.

Similarities Between a CPA and a CIA

Despite the differences, the path and effort that it takes to become certified are similar in both designations.

CPA and CIA candidates may be able to find themselves meeting in similar employment situations, despite their different focuses.


Since there is an overlap of the skills and abilities of CPAs and CIAs, it would follow that similar corporations and organizations will seek to employ either or both of the designations.

Small businesses are likely to outsource their finance, accounting, and in some cases. auditing needs external financial services.

Large corporations, especially multinational companies and organizations dealing with many complex transactions and balance sheets must have a strong internal finance department.

Sometimes, they may even choose between a CPA or a CIA for specific roles.

Both employees with CPA and CIA are also likely to deal in work with financial statements, information systems, and financial reporting.

Since each certification has its own strengths, the company will have to choose according to its requirements and capabilities.

CPAs and CIAs are likely to bump into each other at these kinds of companies.


According to the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors, the pass rate across the three parts came in at 43%.

Less than half the people who go in for a CIA exam pass it, however, you are given three years to accomplish passing all of them.

These three years can coincide with collecting years of experience in order to properly graduate from the program, so you will be in an excellent position to keep studying and be serious about this certification.

On the other hand, the CPA is also a tough exam for its candidates.

According to the AICPA, the cumulative results for the year 2021 are as follows:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD): 46.98%
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC): 61.94%
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR): 44.54%
  • Regulation (REG): 59.88%

While there are harder exams and easier exams, there is a general passing rate of 44-55% across the exams.

You are also given the extra time pressure to complete all parts of the exam within 18 months or 1.5 years.

There are a lot of factors that go into the difficulty of the respective tests, but they have a balanced difficulty based on their passing rates and time constraints.

Which One Should You Go For – CPA or CIA?

Are you thinking about going for one of these highly valued credentials?

It may be difficult to decide between the two, but at the end of the day, your interest in internal auditing should determine your interest in going for one or the other.

The CIA and the CPA can actually go for similar roles, especially in the internal auditing positions, but having a CIA will win over those with CPAs.

Getting a CPA is very useful for those serious about their careers in accountancy, but those who really want to stand out and push for a lucrative focused career in internal auditing should strongly consider going for a CIA instead.


While the CIA and the CPA license have their similarities especially when it comes to employment, they have a distinct difference that could be an advantage for internal audit specialists.

If you want to have a more flexible certification in the world of finance and accountancy – and are sure to want to practice in the United States – the CPA license is a great option.

However, if you have your heart set on a career in internal auditing and want to have global recognition to work almost anywhere in the world, then a CIA license is an excellent designation to carry throughout your career path.  



The Institute of Internal Auditors


Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy

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