The Internationalisation and Value of Finance Qualifications
When it comes to preparing for a career in the finance and audit sector, one of the first steps is typically securing the relevant certification for the chosen area of expertise or specialty. “Requirements are stringent on the current job market for finance functions,” says Francisco Rodriguez, Director of Internal Controls at Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories, “Unless you’ve come through Recruitment Consultancy or recommendation, when it comes to assessing potential candidates, companies have specific rules for qualifying factors and certifications are very high on the agenda, you need to pass to get to the next level.” The increase in global regulations is also certainly a factor in the value of finance qualifications amid the current job market as companies operating a medium-large outfit face increasing pressure to comply with the standards set by bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors. The growth in the regulations area is forcing employers to recruit more educated certified personnel to ensure a first class finance or audit function.
Ultimately, the type of qualification you secure is dependent on the company you’re hoping to join. Donal Smyth, VP of Financial Controls Compliance at Liberty Global, asserts that there is somewhat of a hierarchy in the US & UK when it comes to finance qualifications with CPA (Certified Public Accountant), ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant) and ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) leading the way.
If you’re planning to join a company in the US then a CPA qualification is very valuable to have but it is also important to keep it up to date and add experience where necessary to maintain your commercial savvy. The certification alone won’t set an individual apart as an expert in their field; rather it serves as a basic grounding and evidence of knowledge in that area.
Finance qualifications have become a great deal more international as companies have evolved to encompass the wider global business arena that has been made available to them.
Smyth, who launched his career in the UK, states that “When you’re starting out in your career it can be a bit parochial; most of the people graduating college with me were gunning for a financial accounting qualification and aiming for a role with the Big 4, however there is now a much greater appreciation for someone’s experience in standard accounting, in addition to their certification and lettering.”
Accountancy qualifications vary country-by-country in terms of difficulty and length of term. For those aspiring to a finance career in the US, a CPA certification is highly valued, whilst ACA & ACCA qualifications are more valued in the UK & Ireland.
By way of comparison, let us consider a small sample of international finance qualifications: ACCA status is gained further to completing a bachelor’s degree or post graduate programme and by the completion of 14 ACCA professional qualification exams together with 3 years relevant work experience. ACCA status allows the qualified practitioner to work as an accountant in 170 countries worldwide including the UK, USA, Canada, South Africa, Germany, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore. The ACCA qualification and its benefits are increasingly being recognised in the U.S.
The ACA, from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW), is internationally recognised as a leading accounting qualification in more than 160 countries around the world including Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Greece, The Gulf, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Kenya, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Middle East, New Zealand, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and the UK. Completion of the ACA takes between 3-5 years and is combination of knowledge, skills, and experience.
United States of America
In the US, a bachelor’s degree will qualify the student to study for a master’s degree programme in accounting in order to meet the certification requirements to become a CPA followed by 1 year’s general accounting experience under the supervision of a licensed CPA. A uniform CPA and ethics exam is also required in some US states. Mutual recognition agreements (MRA) give authority to US CPAs who wish to practice abroad. Currently these countries include Australia, Canada Mexico, Ireland, New Zealand and Hong Kong.
In Germany, qualifications come in two stages: the Steuerberater (Stb), a Tax Advisor exam, taken after 3 years in tax advice practice with a bachelor’s degree, 2 years with a master degree and the Wirtschaftsprufer (WP), an Auditor exam taken after 4 years in auditing practice with a bachelor’s degree, 3 years with a master’s degree.
In France, to qualify as an Expert-comptable (Professional Accountant), candidates must complete a master’s degree for five years in accountancy studies, the Diplome superieur de compatabilite et de gestion (DGSG) and then three years of work experience as a trainee in an accountancy firm, followed by the final audit exam, the Diploma of Expertise Comptable (DEC). Qualification for a Commissaire aux comptes (Statutory Auditor) has two routes: the main route is by completing the Diploma of Expertise Comptable (DEC) with 2/3 of the 3 years practical training achieved in accounting and audit practice. The specific route qualification is the Certificat d’aptitute aux fonctions de commissaire aux comptes, equivalent to the DSCG, together with 3 years practical training.
In the Netherlands, the NivRA, (Register Accountant) is gained after 5 years practical training (including a 2 years part-time professional post-master’s programme) following a master’s degree. To qualify as an Administratie Consulent (Accountant), a bachelor’s degree is followed by a year and a half’s part time professional post-masters programme) and 3 years practical training.
In Switzerland, to qualify as a Certified Public Accountant, holders of a bachelor’s or master’s degree must obtain a contract of employment with an audit firm and pass several certification exams comprising mandates, audit financial statements and expert financial matters. To become a Licensed Audit Expert, following a bachelor’s degree, it is necessary to undertake between 3 and 12 years practical training (depending on the degree subjects covered). Qualification as a Licensed Auditor, following a bachelor’s degree, requires 1 year’s practical training.
In Luxembourg, a master’s degree together with three years experience in auditing practice is necessary to become a Reviseur d’entreprises (Chartered Accountant), together with a master’s degree followed by nine exams including the final DAP (Diplome d’aptitude professionelle). The Experts-Comptables (Accountant) requires a bachelor’s degree followed by 3 years in professional practice.
In Italy, the Dottori Commercialista (Chartered Accountant), Revisore legale Del Conti (Statutory Auditor) and Esperto contabile (Accountant) are the recognised qualifications; the latter both requiring a bachelor’s degree and 3 years training and passing a State exam. The former requires a master’s degree and 3 years training and passing a State exam.
In Poland, qualifying as a Statutory Auditor (Biegły rewident) requires higher studies or foreign higher studies (both are deemed equivalent) followed by 1 year’s accounting practice and at least a 2 year internship under oversight of a Statutory Auditor. Following this there are 10 written examinations and a final oral diploma exam.
Therefore in summary; with the increased consolidation of finance processes by multinationals at a regional and global level, together with the projected growth of the world’s current leading qualifications i.e. ACCA, ACA and CPA, there is a clear and urgent need for the harmonisation of International and European finance qualifications. This will enable global business to better predict and anticipate significant forthcoming trends and developments.
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