CPA vs CFA: Salary, Difficulty, Cost, Duration, Career Opportunities, etc.

Choosing between CPA and CFA? This decision can shape your career in finance and accounting. Each certification offers distinct paths and opportunities. But which one aligns best with your career goals?

In this guide, we compare CPA and CFA. Understand the requirements, career prospects, and how each fits into the finance and accounting landscape. We’ll explore:

  • CPA: The cornerstone of accounting, leading to roles in auditing, tax, and consultancy.
  • CFA: A gateway to investment and finance careers, ideal for roles in portfolio management and analysis.

Whether you’re a fresh graduate or an experienced professional, our insights aim to clarify your path. Let’s find out which certification is your key to success.

What is CFA?

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) is an esteemed professional designation offered by the CFA Institute. This certification is recognized globally and is highly regarded in the fields of investment management and financial analysis. The CFA program is not just a course; it’s a comprehensive journey into the depths of finance, investment, and ethical practices.

To know more about CFA as a course, read – All About CFA

Eligbility and Completion Requirements

Education Requirements: To enroll in the CFA Program, candidates typically need a bachelor’s degree or equivalent education/work experience. The program is designed to cater to professionals, so it’s possible to study while working.

Examinations: The CFA Program consists of three levels of exams (Level I, II, and III). Each level tests different competencies:

  • Level I focuses on investment tools and ethical and professional standards.
  • Level II delves into asset valuation and application of investment tools.
  • Level III emphasizes portfolio management and wealth planning. Each level requires a significant investment of time and effort, with candidates averaging around 300 hours of study per level.
  • Format: Varies from multiple-choice in Level I to a combination of item sets and essays in Level III.
  • Scheduling: Sequential progression is required, with each level attempted after passing the previous one.

Experience Requirement: To earn the CFA charter, candidates must have 4,000 hours of relevant work experience, which can be acquired before, during, or after participation in the CFA Program.

Ethical Standards: CFA candidates and charterholders are bound by a strict code of ethics and professional standards, which is a cornerstone of the CFA Program. This emphasis on ethics ensures that CFAs uphold the highest standards of integrity and professional excellence.

What is CPA?

Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a prestigious professional designation recognized globally, particularly valued in the field of accounting. The CPA certification is granted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and is highly respected in the industry for its rigorous standards and comprehensive scope.

To know more about CPA as a course, read – All About CPA

Eligbility and Completion Requirements

Educational Requirements: To sit for the CPA Exam, candidates typically need to have completed 150 semester hours of education, which is often equivalent to a master’s degree. The educational background required usually encompasses a significant amount of accounting and business coursework.

The Uniform CPA Examination: The CPA Exam is a comprehensive test that ensures candidates possess the necessary skills and knowledge in accounting. The exam is divided into four sections:

  • Sections: Three core sections:
    • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
    • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
    • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
  • and one of three optional exams:
    • Business Analysis & Reporting (BAR)
    • Information Systems and Controls (ISC)
    • Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP)
  • Format: Multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, and written communication tasks.
  • Duration: 16 hours in total, with 4 hours allocated to each section.
  • Scheduling: Candidates can schedule these sections independently within an 18-month window.

Work Experience: 1-2 years under a licensed CPA.

Ethics: Many states require CPA candidates to pass an ethics exam. This ensures that CPAs adhere to high ethical standards, crucial in maintaining public trust in financial reporting and business practices.

Duration and Flexibility

  • CPA Course Duration: Typically, it takes about 18 months to complete all four sections of the CPA exam, although this can vary based on individual circumstances and state requirements.
  • CPA Flexibility: The CPA exam offers flexibility in scheduling each section independently within the 18-month window, allowing candidates to balance study with work or other commitments.
  • CFA Course Duration: The CFA program generally takes about 2 to 5 years to complete all three levels, depending on the candidate’s schedule and exam success rate.
  • CFA Flexibility: The CFA program allows candidates to progress at their own pace, taking one level at a time with the option to pause between levels if needed.

Salary Prospects

CPA Professionals

The average salary for CPAs in India is around ₹7 lakhs

  • Entry-Level Salary:
    • Amount: Around ₹6 lakhs per annum.
    • Influencing Factors: Industry, location, company size.
  • Senior-Level Salary:
    • Experience Required: 8+ years.
    • Variables: Can vary based on role, location, and employer.

To know more about Salaries, Jobs for CPA Professionals, read – CPA Salaries, Jobs, Scope etc.

CFA Professionals

The average salary for CFAs in India is around ₹8 lakhs

  • Entry-Level Salary:
    • Amount: Typically around ₹6-8 lakhs per annum.
    • Influencing Factors: Firm size, location, and job role.
  • Mid-Level Salary:
    • Experience Range: 3-5 years.
    • Average Salary: Approximately ₹10-12 lakhs per annum.
  • Senior-Level Salary:
    • Experience Required: 5+ years.
    • Average Salary: Can range from ₹15 lakhs to ₹20 lakhs per annum, depending on expertise and role.

To know more about Salaries, Jobs for CFA Professionals, read – CFA Scope, Salaries, Jobs, etc.

Cost Analysis


  • Program Enrolment Fee: ₹27,000.
  • Exam Registration Fee: ₹69,000 – ₹92,000.
  • Optional Study Material Costs: Range from ₹3,850 to over ₹77,000.
  • Approximate Minimum Total Cost: Around ₹2,31,000 for all exam fees and basic study materials.


  • CPA Training Fee: ₹1,05,000 to ₹1,20,000.
  • Evaluation Fee: ₹20,000 to ₹30,000.
  • Exam Fee and International Testing Fee: ₹2,00,000.
  • Application Fee: ₹15,000.
  • Total Average Cost: The overall cost ranges from approximately ₹3.5 to ₹4 lakhs.

Global Demand


  • Demand: High in the USA and countries with US-based businesses.
  • Industries: Preferred in auditing, tax, and financial reporting sectors.
  • Region Focus: Particularly valued in North America.

To know more about the Salaries, Scope and Opportunities for CFA Professionals Globally, read – CPA Salaries Internationally


  • Demand: Globally recognized, sought after worldwide.
  • Industries: Investment banking, portfolio management, financial analysis.
  • Region Focus: Broad international appeal across various financial sectors.

Globally, both CPA and CFA certifications are highly sought after, but their demand varies by industry and region. The CPA is particularly valued in the USA and in fields related to accounting and auditing, while the CFA is globally recognized and demanded in investment banking and financial analysis sectors.

The choice between CPA and CFA ultimately depends on the individual’s career goals and the specific sector they wish to excel in.

Difficulty Level


  • Scope: Covers a wide range of accounting, tax, and regulatory knowledge.
  • Focus: Strong emphasis on U.S. GAAP, tax laws, and business concepts.
  • Exam Sections: Four sections, each with its own complexity.


  • Scope: Extensive focus on financial analysis, investment management.
  • Depth: Known for depth in investment-related topics and economics.
  • Exam Levels: Three levels, each increasing in complexity and detail.

To get a student’s perspective about the difficulty level of CFA exams, read – Is CFA Difficult?

Determining which exam, CPA or CFA, is more difficult can be subjective and depends on the individual’s background and strengths. CPA exams cover a broad range of accounting, tax, and regulatory knowledge, requiring proficiency in U.S. GAAP and tax laws.

CFA exams delve deeply into financial analysis and investment management, demanding strong analytical skills in finance and economics. Both are challenging in their respective fields. The final verdict on which is more difficult would depend on one’s aptitude and professional focus.

Future Prospects Comparison


  • Prospects: Essential in accounting, auditing, and corporate finance.
  • Market: Strong hold in the USA, expanding globally.
  • Growth Areas: Increasing demand in international accounting standards and compliance.


  • Prospects: Key in investment banking, asset management, financial analysis.
  • Market: Globally recognized, with consistent demand across financial sectors.
  • Growth Areas: Opportunities in emerging investment trends and financial technologies.

Each has a promising future in its respective field, with CPA leading in accounting and CFA in finance and investment.

Comparison Table

Eligibility CriteriaBachelor’s degree, 150 semester hours of educationBachelor’s degree or equivalent work experience
Completion RequirementsPass 4 exam sections, 1-2 years work experience, ethics exam (in some states)Pass 3 exam levels, 4,000 hours of relevant work experience, adherence to ethical standards
Cost₹3.5 to ₹4 lakh approximate minimum₹2.25 lakh approximate minimum
DurationTypically 18 months to complete exams2-5 years to complete all levels
SalaryEntry-level: ₹6-7 lakhs/annum, Senior: ₹20-30 lakhs/annumEntry-level: ₹6-8 lakhs/annum, Senior: ₹20-25 lakhs/annum
Global DemandHigh in the USA and countries with US businessesGlobally recognized, especially in finance and investment
DifficultyExtensive accounting, regulatory, and tax knowledgeDeep financial analysis and investment management focus

Tips for Choosing the Right Certification

  • Career Goals:
    • CPA: Choose if interested in accounting, auditing, and financial reporting.
    • CFA: Opt for investment banking, asset management, financial analysis.
  • Industry Preference:
    • CPA: Ideal for accounting roles in the USA and globally.
    • CFA: Suited for global finance and investment sectors.
  • Time and Financial Commitment:
    • Assess the time and financial investment required for each.
  • Long-Term Objectives:
    • Align the certification with your long-term career aspirations.


Choosing between CPA and CFA depends on where your passion and career aspirations lie. CPA is your gateway to a prestigious career in accounting, especially in the USA, offering roles in auditing, tax, and financial reporting. CFA, on the other hand, opens doors to the dynamic world of finance and investment, globally.

Remember, both paths require dedication and align with different professional landscapes. Weigh your interests, career goals, and the commitment required before making this significant decision. Your choice between CPA and CFA will pave the way for your future in the vast universe of finance and accounting.

Frequently Asked Questions

What roles can I get with a CFA certification?

Investment banking, portfolio management, financial analysis.

What are the work experience requirements for CFA?

4,000 hours of relevant experience.

Is CPA globally recognized?

CPA is well recognized, especially in the USA.

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