There are several accounting designations in Canada that are available to accounting professionals. Jim McAvoy, Accountant and CGA, will explain the many things you need to know about being a Certified General Accountant.

What is a CGA?

First, we feel that an outright definition is in order. Quite simply, CGA stands for Certified General Accountant.

Jim McAvoy, Accountant and CGA, explains that a Certified General Accountant is a designation given by members of the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada who are also members of a territorial, provincial or overseas CGA association.

For example, to be a Certified General Accountant in Victoria, you would need to be a member of both the CGA-Canada and the Certified General Accountants Association of British Columbia.


What does it take to be a CGA?

Is a CGA simply just a designation? Another title that you could add to your name for the sake of adding it?

Not so, says Jim McAvoy, accountant and CGA. McAvoy explains that being a CGA means that you are an accounting professional who has taken the requisite examinations and who holds the necessary education as well as the required experience that is expected of a CGA. These qualifications are set forth by CGA-Canada.

In short, a CGA acts like a professional certification of sorts for accounting professionals. It certifies your education, experience and education.

How does a CGA differ from other accounting-related designations such as the CA or the CMA?

Jim McAvoy, accountant, says that the CGA is not the only accounting designation in Canada.

First, there is the Certified Management Accountants, or CMA, which is given out by the Society of Management Accountants. This is especially for those who work in cost accounting or management accounting. Accountants who are into finance, sales, marketing, strategic planning, human resources and information technology may also aim for a CMA.

For public accountants, you can get a chartered accountant, or CA designation. But you have to be a member of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.

However, the best thing about the CGA designation is that it allows you to get your designation while still working full time. You have access to learning materials 24/7, allowing you to study when you can and when you want. What’s more, the work experience and educational background you need to get your CGA is very broad. This means that you can work in an area of accounting that you love and still get a CGA designation.

By contrast, you need to have an accounting undergraduate degree, you must have graduated from a CA-approved institution, and you must complete very stringent requirements in order to get a CA designation.

Note, however, that even if you are not required to have an undergraduate degree in accounting to become a CGA, it is an exit requirement. So if you have plans of being a CA, then you can start to study accounting earlier.

How to get a CGA?

To obtain your CGA designation, you would need to have an undergraduate degree. Any undergraduate degree for that matter. That means you do not have to get an accounting-related college course to become a CGA. “In fact, I had an arts degree,” Jim McAvoy, an accountant and senior partner at McAvoy Rule and Co., relates.

“That alone would have meant that I would not be eligible for a CA, unless I go back to school. At that time, that was not an option.”

You would, however, need to have two to three years’ work experience. As mentioned before, this can be very broad. You could get work experience as an accounting professional in taxation, business strategy, management, auditing, and finance, among others.

Additionally, you would need to take the required number of CGA courses. Two years’ worth of courses will be sent to you through correspondence.

McAvoy explains that this formal program has 19 courses, professional qualification exams, and five different levels. Foundation studies comprise the first three levels, then advanced studies for level 4 and then the certification level, which they call PACE, is the final one.

CGA-Canada opted for a competency-based education program for CGA. This means that you would need to demonstrate skills and do tasks that you would be expected to perform at work. You must be able to demonstrate competencies in leadership, professionalism and, of course, knowledge of and in your work.

Why be a CGA?

In recent years, the overall job market in Canada has drastically tightened. There are simply more people who are qualified for a job than there are available positions.

This is also true in the field of accounting. More and more accountants are competing for the same positions, so it really pays to have an edge. There are already around 75,000 professionals who hold a CGA.

With all things kept equal, a CGA would be more attractive for an employer. It can easily signify that:

  1. You have the experience that you say you do.
  2. You have the skills and knowledge that you say you do.
  3. You have been updating your knowledge over the years.
  4. You have passed the exams and requirements set forth by CGA-Canada.

Between a person who can prove all these and another person who could not, who do you think would an employer hire?

Not only that, the Certified General Accountants of Canada as well as their provincial, territorial and offshore counterparts, keep a database of members that employers can pay to get access to. What this means is that you may get the chance to be contacted for an opportunity that is first available only to CGAs. That means that you get more career opportunities where you have lesser competition.

Further, CGA associations also hold members-only seminars, workshops and professional development trainings. You do not have to go far to learn more about how to do your job and how to be better at it.

Lastly, if you are going into business, a CGA would be just perfect for you. A CGA designation would prove to be a great boost when it comes to your credibility, which you will need to attract new clients. Moreover, if you are planning to work abroad, a CGA designation is recognized in 170 countries!

Jim McAvoy is an accountant and a CGA. He is a co-founder of McAvoy Rule and Co. Since 1981, McAvoy has been involved in the daily operations of the firm.