Becoming a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) in Canada requires dedication and hard work. If you are passionate about accounting and finance and willing to put in the time and effort needed to succeed, the rewards of this challenging and rewarding career path are well worth the effort.

The CPA designation is a highly respected credential, meaning they are in high demand and are only expected to grow. CPAs earn good salaries and are globally recognized. Thus, they have many opportunities to advance their careers. Plus, they get to play with numbers all day long. What’s not to love?

But becoming a CPA in Canada takes time and effort. A Canadian CPA designation prepares you for a rewarding career with unlimited potential. 

How to become a chartered professional accountant in Canada

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Let’s review what a CPA is and does and the steps you need to take to earn your designation.

What Is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA)?

A Canadian CPA designation identifies you as a highly skilled professional who uses your accounting, auditing, and taxation knowledge to help businesses and individuals make informed financial decisions. 

The designation mandates strict professional standards that guarantee ethical and competent financial practices in businesses and organizations, meaning that they can play an essential role in ensuring the financial health of companies and organizations by thinking beyond the numbers. 

To become a CPA in Canada, individuals must fulfill the education, experience, and examination requirements established by the Chartered Professional Accounts of Canada (CPA Canada), the national organization supporting the unification of the Canadian accounting profession.

What Does a CPA Do?

Accountants offer valuable independent judgment on accounting and auditing matters, financial information, and internal controls that impact the effectiveness of a business’s operations. They can also provide analytical services that help companies assess risks.

Depending on their particular role, a CPA may be involved in one or more aspects of the accounting profession. CPAs often hold positions such as CEO, president, CFO/vice-president of finance, treasurer, controller, consultant, systems developer, or on a board of directors. 

In those capacities, they may find themselves doing any of the following tasks:

  • Prepare and audit financial statements
  • Advise on business decisions and provide consulting services
  • Analyze financial data
  • Develop financial plans and manage budgets
  • Complying with accounting regulations
  • Managing accounting departments
  • Analyze financial records to identify patterns and anomalies to be investigated in fraud and other financial crimes (forensic accounting)
  • Specializing in personal financial planning, taxation, government, real estate development, and investment

Recognizing the importance of fulfilling ongoing education requirements and adhering to ethical standards is crucial for CPAs. It is their responsibility to maintain their professional knowledge and uphold the integrity of their work.

What Is the Difference Between a CPA and a Chartered Accountant (CA)?

Chartered Accountants (CAs) and Chartered Professional Accountants (CPAs) are often used interchangeably in Canada.

The CA designation has a more extended history in Canada, while CPAs are a more recent designation.

The CPA designation occurred when, in 2014, Canada rolled the three previous designations — Chartered Accountant, Certified General Accountant, and Certified Management Accountant — into one. 

The CA designation previously available to Canadians has a long history in Canada and worldwide. CAs were the first accountants to form a professional accounting body almost 200 years ago in Scotland.

5 Steps to Take to Become a CPA

Are you curious about how to become a CPA? Many resources are available to help you learn more about the profession and its requirements. 

As a Canadian CPA, you will be equipped to meet the needs of both Canadian and international markets and provide opportunities for continuous growth. Although the journey ahead may be challenging, it is worth the effort. 

Here are the steps you need to take:

1. Obtain the prerequisite undergraduate degree with a specific subject area coverage

2. Apply for admission to the CPA Professional Education Program (PEP), the graduate-level program for CPA candidates

The components that make up the CPA PEP stage are:

3. Complete the education period (six core modules, two elective modules, and two capstone modules)

4.Gain 30 months of Practical Experience Requirements (PER)

5.Pass the CPA Common Final Examination (CFE), a three-day examination

You can earn the CPA designation once you pass and complete all of the above.

The time it takes to become a CPA varies based on individual circumstances. Typically, becoming a CPA takes two to three years after an accounting or related degree. Many factors influence the duration, including the number of completed courses and exam preparation. After you meet all of the above, you can apply to become a CPA. The application process includes submitting your transcripts, passing a background check, and paying a registration fee.

You can still apply for the CPA PEP program if you’re a mature student without an undergraduate degree. To qualify, you need, among other things, eight years minimum of relevant experience, a comprehensive résumé, three letters of reference, and a personal statement.

What Is a CPA License?

The CPA title is a license awarded by CPA Canada to qualified financial experts who have completed the CPA examinations. 

This designation is a testament to one’s knowledge, skills, and commitment to accounting. The license serves as a legal document that authorizes you to practice public accounting as a CPA in Canada. To keep the license, CPAs must complete a specific number of continuing education hours yearly and pay a renewal fee. 

How Much Money Does a CPA Make?

The salary of a CPA can vary depending on experience, location, and industry. 

CPAs earn some of the highest salaries in accounting. CPAs with more experience working in major cities (Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton) or specific industries (public accounting like mining, oil and gas, and pharmaceutical vs. private sector) can earn more than the average CPA.

While figures show that the national average salary of a CPA is $67,805 per year (significantly more than the national average salary of an accountant, who earns $54,004 per year), the 2019 CPA Member Compensation Survey reports the median compensation in Canada was $112,000, based on voluntary responses from members who self-report their compensation. 

As CPAs gain experience and explore different industries, the median is $130,000. After 25 years, CPAs in Ontario can expect to be among Canada’s top 2% to 5% of earners. 

Is Insurance Mandatory for CPAs in Canada?

CPAs engaged in public accounting services, whether with an accounting firm or independent, are bound by the designation’s regulations and must carry professional liability insurance, also known as errors and omissions (E&O) insurance, to safeguard against lawsuits from negligence or failure to provide services as promised. 

The minimum prescribed amounts of professional liability insurance may be as low as $1 million per claim for a single CPA and up to $2 million for a firm with four or more CPAs.

The CPA or the firm representative is responsible for providing the firm’s insurance information to the CPA organization in their province. Failure to provide proof of coverage will result in the firm’s and its representative’s suspension and can ultimately lead to the firm being deregistered and the firm representative’s membership revoked.

How to Get Accountant Insurance in Canada

There are several ways to get accountant insurance in Canada. One way is to get insurance through your CPA firm. Ask about discounts for group plans or multiple policies with the same company.

Another way is to get insurance through a professional association or trade group, such as a group plan offered by CPA Canada.

You can also get a free quote for accountant insurance through Zensurance by taking a few minutes to fill out our online application.

Our licensed, knowledgeable brokers will shop our partner network of over 50 insurance providers to find the low-cost policy you need and customize it to suit your professional designation’s requirements.

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About the Author: Justin Tisdale

Justin Tisdale is a Team Lead, Professional Lines, at Zensurance.