Category: News, Team

Accounting Qualifications – which one’s for you…

Posted: 30th March 2021

Thinking of a career in accounting but don’t know where to start? Emma Shahnavaz shares her Finance recruitment experience below.

Which qualification: ACA, ACCA or CIMA? Let’s take a look at the key qualifications needed to jump-start your career within accounting, and what the main differences in each are.

In terms of course structure and career focus, each qualification holds its own strengths and weaknesses. It is often thought that the most prestigious qualifications are offered by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland (ICAS) and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). So how does each differ?

ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant)

ACA is obtained from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW) and is globally-recognised as a premier business diploma. ICAEW counts 140,000 members and students in 160 countries under its belt. If you are looking to undertake your ACA qualification, it is necessary to enter into a training agreement with an authorised employer. It’s mandatory to complete this qualification within 5 years, undertaking 450 days of relevant work experience whilst studying. The ACA qualification has 15 exams over three levels, designed to fit with the students’ practical experience.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland (ICAS) has over 20,000 members worldwide working in public practice, industry, commerce, the public sector and education. Membership is generally obtained by entering a training contract with an accountancy firm, during which the student gains experience and sits a number of exams.

Once completed, you are deemed as a qualified Chartered Accountant, and are able to pursue a career with any accountancy firm, including within audit. It is also possible to join a private or public sector organisation, as well as starting your own practice. Students who undertake this qualification are often seeking employment at one of the Big Four accountancy firms. ACA Accountants are the most in-demand out of all qualified routes due to the level of training involved in obtaining this qualification. The CA designation is reserved exclusively for their use in the UK. ICAS is the only UK chartered accountancy body to provide professional education and training, as well as examinations, for all its students.

ACCA (Associate Chartered Certified Accountant)

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The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) boasts 586,000 members and students located in 170 countries. It is one of the largest and fastest-growing accounting qualification providers in the world. This qualification can be undertaken either independently or through part of a training agreement with your employer. You are permitted up to 10 years to complete this, alongside up to 3 years’ relevant experience to pass. The ACCA syllabus consists of 14 examinations. The Fundamental level includes 9 examinations (F1 – F9). From the Professional level, you must complete 5 exams prior to receiving your certification. This includes papers P1, P2, and P3, which are compulsory, followed by 2 out of the 4 optional papers P4, P5, P6, and P7.

The global demand for ACCA qualified accountancy professionals spans every sector and industry- therefore the options of companies to work with upon completion of this qualification are endless. The ACCA qualification isn’t necessarily tied into a training agreement so you can move between employers while training.

CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountant)

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The Chartered Institute of Management Accountant (CIMA) is a UK-based professional body focused on accounting for business. They provide training and qualifications in management accountancy and related subjects across their 203,000 members and students in 173 countries. The syllabus is split into three pillars and three levels and comprises 12 exams: nine Objective Tests, and three Case Study exams.

Much like ACCA, you can work through this qualification either independently or via a training route with your employer. Unlike the other two qualification routes, there is no time limitation on completing this qualification. It is simply necessary to pass all set exams.

The CIMA qualification is aimed at students who are looking to become specialised Management Accountants. As a qualified CIMA Management Accountant, it is more likely that you will be employed within a business over a specialised accountancy practice.

Whatever route you choose – qualified Accountants are high in demand, and each qualification is highly regarded within the profession. Rest assured that you will be making strong steps in starting a long-lasting career within Accountancy. 

I specialise in the recruitment of Part-Qualified & Fully Qualified Accountants across Glasgow & The West – if you are looking to discuss current vacancies, or are looking for advice on the market, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on – T: 0141 887 1137/ E: