To forge a successful career in finance it isn’t always necessary to have a further qualification but they can be useful in displaying your knowledge of the finance sector and lead to further opportunities both locally and globally. When considering a career in finance or accounting, it can be confusing to know which qualification is the right choice for you with all the different acronyms thrown around. What is truly the difference between ACA and ACCA? How long does each course take to complete on average? Hopefully, this article will answers any questions and illuminate your potential options for your future in finance.
AAT stands for the Association of Accounting Technicians, which is a membership body for accounting staff with over 150,000 members in over 90 countries worldwide (Reed). The AAT is a good way to strengthen your current accounting career or to lay the foundation in becoming a chartered accountant. There are four different levels of an overall AAT Membership but each is a qualification in its own right. The first level is a basic introduction to accounting and the AAT Access is a short course and requires no prior qualifications other than being over the age of 16. AAT Level 2 (Foundation Stage), AAT Level 3 (Intermediate Stage), and AAT Level 4 (Final and Most Advanced Stage), follow the foundation stage. After finishing your AAT Level 4, you become an AAT affiliate member and also may be eligible for exemptions when studying other accounting qualifications (for example the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting). AAT offers four options when studying; classroom-based, online or distance learning, blended learning in class and online, or self-studying through an approved training provider. A good way to check which AAT Accounting Qualification is right for you to start at is to take the skill check 30 minutes quiz on the AAT website (https://www.aatskillcheck.org/home.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1). Once you are a fully qualified AAT member, you can use the letters MAAT after your name.
The ACCA qualification once completed allows you to become a Chartered Certified Accountant using the ACCA letters which stand for Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. It offers a specialist knowledge in finance and is recognised in 170 countries with over 320,000 members (Open Tuition), recognised by member states of the European Union and United Nations. Furthermore, it is treated in these countries as being equivalent to their local qualification and is the equivalent of a university degree. The ACCA has four levels; applied knowledge, applied skills, essentials and options. Students work while they study with exams being twice a year with 13 exams overall, 4 exams for each session and with 10 years to pass all your exams. However, it normally takes 3 years to complete as you need 3 years practical and supervised accountancy experience known the Practical Experience Requirement (PER) (Open Tuition, WikiJob). In order to become a full member of ACCA you must complete the PER. The UK minimum requirements for ACCA are 2 A-Levels between A to E grade (or A-Level equivalent) and three GCSEs or equivalent in 5 different subjects (including English and Mathematics). However, these requirements can very and it is worth checking as ACCA also accepts 4 AS-Levels and 3 GCSEs or Advanced Vocational Certificate of Education Double Award (WikiJob).
Similarly to AAT, and all other qualifications mentioned in this article, studying for the ACCA is very flexible with the options of studying in classroom through an approved institution, online, or self-study with textbooks and other material. Also offered, exemptions from certain exams if you have completed the AAT or if you have completed a degree in a relevant field of study such as BSC Finance from Aston University. A good way to check whether you are eligible for exemptions is to visit the exemptions calculator ACCA website at https://www.accaglobal.com/uk/en/qualifications/accountancy-career/ukschoolleaver/exemptions.html.
The ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant) qualification is rarer than the other qualifications, however while there is not much difference between the ACA and ACCA regarding difficulty and content, there are differences worth noting which may inform your decision (The Progression Playbook). ACA is offered by the Institute of Chartered Accounts in England and Wales (ICAEW) and more associated with the Big 4 Accounting Firms; KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and Deloitte. Therefore, the ACA is more appropriate working in big audit firms whereas the ACCA arguably is better for those working outside of audit. Similar to the ACCA, the ACA also requires 450 days PER which takes place at these firms. In most cases with the ACA, ACCA and CIMA, employers offer to cover some, if not all, of the study costs. The ACA has more exams than ACA with 15 exams, 6 for both the certificate and professional levels, with 3 in the final advanced stage. The ACA is highly advantageous for career prospects and salary with the ICAEW stating that 78 of the FTSE 100 had an ICAEW Chartered Accountant on their board and ICAEW Chartered Accountants earning on average £108,000 in 2018. If you maintain your ICAEW membership, you can work in accountancy firms around the world with more than 147,000 members worldwide.
The CIMA qualification (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) differs from ACCA as ACCA in they are based more in the technical side of financial accounting, whereas a CIMA member also gains strategic and business management skills (Wall Street Mojo). Similarly to the ACCA and ACA, the CIMA also carries practical experience requirements with 36 months experience required across the four knowledge areas in order to become a Chartered Global Management Accountant and carry the CGMA letters. Therefore, it normally around three years to complete CIMA with exemptions offered for particular university degrees or accountancy qualifications in other areas. Qualified CIMA accountants once at entry-level earn around £28,000 according to the Progression Playbook, with £60,000 per year for fully qualified professionals. The CGMA letters are globally recognised, with CIMA students and CGMAs represented in 96% of FTSE top 100 companies in 2016 (CIMA Global), opening up your options for working abroad if you so wish to. As with the other qualifications mentioned, CIMA study is highly flexible and designed around studying and taking exams whilst continuing working.
Clearly, if you are interested in furthering your study or strengthening your current role there are many options out there that offer flexible study at your own pace. While it is not crucial to a successful finance career to have any of these options, it certainly does no harm to have any of these respected qualifications to your name. Hopefully this article has helped you better understand the accountancy qualifications out there and decide which – if any – are right for you.