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Why Become a Certified Government Financial Manager?

Working for a federal, state, or local level government agency of the U.S. as a financial manager is similar to working for a private business or non-profit except that these agencies work with public funds and must therefore be held to high-level standards of conduct. You may work for the federal government, the military, public schools, or even for law enforcement or a city-level agency. These agencies and others need their funds to be carefully managed so that they are able to purchase needed equipment and pay their employees. Working for the government also means that you’ll work within a well-defined job role, following clear expectations from your supervisors in order to achieve effective government action.

As a federal government employee, you’ll be able to choose from a huge number of agencies and job opportunities in financial accounting, auditing, and financial reporting such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), among others. The United States military (all branches) also needs professionals in accounting and finance to help them manage their various financial matters and ensure public accountability.

As a certified government financial manager, you’ll hold a reqpected credential with complex requirements, a code of ethics, and special knowledge that allows you to gain professional-level experience, oversee employees and other financial professionals, prepare financial records, review reporting systems, analyze finance reports, maintain internal controls and perhaps reporting internal issues, monitor payroll, and answer questions from elected officials on technical subjects.

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What is a Government Financial Manager?

Someone working in or candidates for government financial management must be a finance specialist or accountant with specialized abilities and a working knowledge of the government sector or professional experience in government. In your role, you may specialize in auditing or financial reporting, among other things.

To become a financial manager at any of the levels of government, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. And, once you’ve graduated, you need to study for the Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) exam.

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What Does a Government Financial Manager Do?

Your responsibilities will be many in this position. You’ll analyze financial data as you track the financial health of your agency. You’ll also create financial reports, strategies, and plans for the long-term financial health of your government agency.

You’ll prepare financial forecasts and business activity reports for your supervisor and oversee the employees tasked with budgeting and financial reporting, including their training if necessary. You’ll monitor all financial details in reporting to ensure that you meet and satisfy all legal requirements. You’ll also carry out tasks that are specific to your organization or industry within the government. This may include healthcare finance for organizations involved with healthcare, such as a military hospital. Or you may deal with cash or credit managers, controllers, insurance managers, risk managers, accounting systems or technology auditors, or treasurers or finance officers for your department. This also means you need to be familiar with current regulations and tax laws affecting your industry.

While a professional credential isn’t mandatory, you may still want to obtain this recognition. It will serve to denote an extra level of competence in your job role and provide the impetus to gain continuing professional education (CPE). You’ll also need to have other business skills in order to be successful at the professional level: communication, analytical, and organizational. You should also be detailed-oriented.

Requirements to Become a Certified Government Financial Manager

  • Degree Necessary
    To be considered eligible to take any Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) examinations, the educational requirements are that you must hold a bachelor’s degree (any discipline) from an accredited college or university. This institution need not be located in the US. However, if your degree is from a foreign university, you are required to submit a report that says your degree is equivalent to either a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

    Request your official transcript from your accredited university before you take a certified government financial manager exam. The transcript must contain your name, your university or college’s name, all courses taken, confirmation that a degree with the designation bachelor’s or master’s was conferred, and the date you received it.

  • Subject Focus
    The financial manager examination content is spread across three exams: governmental environment, governmental accounting, financial reporting and budgeting; governmental financial management and control. The Association of Government Accountants works to keep all three exams current and up to date, so they will cover the most recent developments in the accounting field.

    Governmental Environment: Material on this test covers topics on local, state, and federal government and how each interacts with the other. Much of the exam requires an understanding of the three branches of government, its components, and how each level of government operates.

    Governmental Accounting, Financial Reporting, and Budgeting: This exam delves into governmental financial accounting, managerial cost accounting, and fee establishment.

    Governmental Financial Management and Control: The material on this test covers financial management functions, financial and managerial analysis techniques, internal control, performance measurement/metrics/service efforts and accomplishments, and auditing.

  • Exams
    Now that you know what each of the three exams covers, you need to know how long you’ll be sitting for each one. The Association of Government Accountants (AGA) gives three exams that require governmental accountants to learn the materials and the standards to which they will be working.

    AGA administers each exam at separate times year-round via more than 200 VUE testing centers in the US. The exams are offered three times each year at Pearson VUE testing centers. With more than 200 testing centers, you’ll easily be able to find a center where it’s convenient for you to sit for your exam.

    Each exam contains 115 questions. The exams are scheduled to last for 2 hours and 15 minutes.

How is the Certified Government Financial Manager Exam Scored?

After you complete each of your exams, you’ll be given your results right away. You’ll only learn whether you passed or failed, based on a printout that will be given to you. Or you may see the pass/fail on a computer screen.

If you didn’t pass your exam, you’ll receive a document that shows your scaled score. Using your Pearson VUE account, you’ll be able to get access to a detailed score report which tells you how you performed in each area.

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The test scores are scaled and linked to raw scores. Exams for CGFMs use a scale of 200 to 700; 500 is the passing score. The most recent score you earned is the only one that is accessible through your account – it may also be a good idea to print out the score report you’re concerned about before you retake an exam.

Study Resources and Preparation for the Certified Government Financial Manager Exam

As you get ready to begin studying for your CGFM exam, you should familiarize yourself with several effective study tips. Giving yourself every opportunity to learn and familiarize yourself with exam material means you have a better chance of passing each exam.

  • Read all you can find about the CGFM certification via the AGA website
  • Ask yourself why you chose incorrect answers, don’t just check which ones are right
  • Understand that the study guides are a resource in helping you to study for your exam - They aren’t intended to give you answers to individual questions
  • As you study, figure out if you need deeper preparation so you can study as effectively as possible

Practice exam tips:

  • Keep track of how long it takes you to complete all 115 questions of practice questions. You have no more than 2 hours and 15 minutes for the real exam
  • Print out the results of your practice exams and study the references for the questions you missed

During your exam:

  • Work slowly and read each question completely; look for specific wording to help you figure out the right answer

If you need to retake the exam:

  • Take your instant report home so you can use it to help you study effectively
  • Contact Pearson VUE so you can schedule a new exam date – you should do this within one week of taking your exam
  • Return to the content outline of the exam - Highlight each area where you struggled and focus on them
  • You may not discuss exam questions with anyone - This includes AGA staff
  • Remember, other successful CGFMs have had issues with at least one of the exams and they eventually passed all three, so keep working at it.

CGFM Certification:

  • Difficulty

    The CGFM exam is like many other certifications of its type. There is plenty to remember and you are studying, not as a student but as a professional with work, family, and other responsibilities to maintain. Mental preparation is a large part of approaching each one of your exams. As long as you understand the ask in front of you and spend enough time applying yourself to the task of studying as the exam date gets closer, you, like many before you, should be able to pass the test without too much trouble.

    Along with learning the material, you also need to learn some skills or refine them. These include communication, marketing, and sales skills.

  • Cost

    Once you have been accepted into the CGFM program, it’s time to schedule your testing date with Pearson VUE. Then, you pay for your exam fee, which is $125, using a credit card, when you schedule the date for your exam. You can also pay by check, but you should check with the site to verify exactly how to do that, as the rules may change from state to state.

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    Before you choose the examination appointment you want (testing center or online exam), read the testing policies and procedures so you understand everything that pertains to your ability to take and pass the exam. Once you have read each policy, then you can schedule your exam appointment without worrying that you’re missing something.

Career & Salary

  • Where Might You Work

    Once you’ve graduated and passed your certification exams, where will you work? You can, of course, expect to work for a government agency; this may be local, state, or federal.

    For instance, you may work for the General Services Administration (GSA), the FBI, US Department of the Treasury, IRS, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), or the General Accounting Office).

    You may also work for a state or local government, managing local revenues. performing compliance and federal audits of either state or local government entities, or carrying out white-collar crime investigations.

  • Career Outlook

    The employment picture for government financial managers looks good. Between 2018 and 2028, the estimate is that employment will increase by 16%, much faster than normal for most positions. After economic downturns and recessions, individuals, retirees, companies, and governments need the services that financial planners and financial managers provide.

    Any time there is a crisis and government coffers are depleted, they need to make wise investments to refill them again—schools, health departments, environmental offices, and other agencies need to make sure they have the money to run their vital operations.

    Financial managers plan where to buy, sell, or invest and then direct those investments so they earn the highest returns. If you are specializing in one form of financial management, such as risk management or cash management, you’ll be in high demand. The financial management industry has noted a stronger emphasis on risk management in recent years. Government financial managers who make decisions based on stability rather than risk are more likely to assist their employers in rebuilding funds, rather than losing money. It is these specialists who are likely to see a higher demand for their services.

    States with an industry that is vulnerable to recessions particularly need the services of government financial managers. If oil prices, for instance, drop suddenly, that means the state loses. A knowledgeable financial manager can help soften these types of blows.

  • Jobs
    • Financial Manager: In this position, you provide recommendations and guidance to higher-level managers on situations that affect financial management standards.
      Average annual salary: $130,000 up to $170,000
    • Controller: This position often requires you to hold your CPA. In your work, you’ll make sure that the agency you’re employed with complies with all government reporting requirements: local, state, and federal.
      Average annual salary: $86,000 up to $110,000
    • Payroll Supervisor: In this position, you’ll have oversight and management of local treasury functions and be required to maintain accurate payroll records with local banks and government authorities.
      Average annual salary: $56,000 up to $74,000
    • Director of Finance: In this position, you’ll handle legal, technical, public relations, and financial problems that focus on the management of financial services programs. You’ll also often coordinate the implementation of financial changes.
      Average annual salary: $98,000 up to $140,000
    • Financial Manager: This position exists within many governmental departments, including branches of the military. You’ll need to have experience in the development, coordination, and organization of a fully integrated system of financial services. This includes budgeting, accounting, and financial analysis.
      Average annual salary: $91,000 up to $120,000

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