There’s more than one option when it comes to accounting qualifications – and when planning a career in the sector, it’s important to consider which professional qualifications will best pave the way for your chosen route. So, what is the best accounting qualification for you?
The ACCA, ACA, and CIMA qualifications are all prestigious accounting qualifications which can open up a variety of attractive career opportunities – but there are also significant differences between the three options.
What is the ACA (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales)?
In total, the ACA has four elements:
- 15 ACA exams
- Practical work experience – 450 days
- Professional development
- Ethics and professional scepticism training
The ACA qualification is normally completed alongside a 3 year graduate training scheme, an ICAEW certified business. These are often public accounting firms.
This is also widely regarded as the most prestigious of the accounting qualifications.
What is CIMA – Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)?
The CIMA qualification has 4 levels in total. The constituents of these levels are outlined below:
- Certificate Level – CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting.
- Operational Level – CIMA Diploma in Management Accounting.
- Management Level – CIMA Advanced Diploma in Management Accounting.
- Strategic Level – CIMA membership (ACMA/FCMA) and CGMA designation.
Students can start their CIMA qualification from various points. The educational level will determine which entry point is appropriate.
What is the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)?
As with the ACA, the ACCA qualification generally takes three years to complete and contains both practical work experience and examinations.
There are 5 modules in total required to complete the ACCA:
- Applied knowledge
- Applied skills
- Strategic professional
- Ethics and professional skills
- Practical experience requirement (PER) – 36 months supervised experience in certified employment.
ACA v ACCA v CIMA – Which is the best accounting qualification?
All three qualifications are prestigious and represent a method to significantly progress in the accounting industry.
However, these qualifications have subtle differences in that they are designed for those working in specific areas of accounting.
The ACA is the most difficult qualification of the 3 and is therefore the most prestigious. Almost all accountants working in the big 4 are ACA qualified. As such, ACA qualified accountants are more likely to work in public accounting. There are also many ACAs working in areas such as Corporate Finance, Tax and Internal audit.
A CIMA qualified accountant has the same level of accounting and finance knowledge as a ACA or ACCA qualified accountant, but their role is more focused on management accounting. This includes strategy and management, generally within a commercial or industry setting.
Completing the ACCA has many similarities to the ACA qualification, the main factor that sets ACCA training apart from ACA is the diversity of accounting areas covered. The ACCA is suitable for both employment within public practice or in a commercial setting.
So which qualification is right for you?
All 3 qualifications are well-regarded and globally respected paths into an accountancy career.
The right qualification for you depends on which specific area of accounting you want to go into.
If you are interested in working in public practice, the ACA or ACCA are definitely the most suitable options. On the other hand, those looking to work in management accounting should opt for the CIMA qualification.