UK-Based Accountancy Qualifications - Which Is The One For You?
It’s a commonly known fact that not all accountants are the same, and therefore the qualifications that sit behind them aren’t the same either. There are multiple differences between the skills required to be a listed-company CFO compared to a privately owned company accountant. Similarly, but very differently, preparing internal management information is a different skillset to preparing external financial accounts. The trouble is, if you ask ten accountants which qualification is best, you’ll get three main responses, but ten different reasons!
Which is right for you?
The main qualifications that get the most attention in the UK (although they’re all globally recognised) are ACA, CIMA and ACCA. Whilst each has its’ own merits, there are certain key considerations that will lead you to determine which is right for you. These considerations will include your desired career path and availability of a training contract (each has a degree of on the job learning required, so a workplace element is vital) as well as personal reasons, such as a gut-feeling obtained when you read up on each qualification body.
Favoured option of the Big 4
The ACA qualification, issued by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, gives the right to call yourself a chartered accountant and is the qualification, along with its Scottish equivalent, the CA, and is the favoured option of the Big 4 accountancy companies, as well as a number of other top 10 companies. The qualification gives a broad accountancy qualification which brings in both financial and management accounting, as well as tax, business strategy and leadership-based skills.
Business facing skills
The CIMA qualification, whilst also containing elements of leadership and people skills, is more focused on bridging the gap between basic finance skills and the workplace. In this context, CIMA has a higher analytical component with real life business skills being core to the competence-based evidence required to pass the qualification. CIMA is heavily focused on technical, management accounting related aspects of business finance, enabling practitioners to display a wide array of business facing skills, albeit at the expense of certain aspects of financial reporting used in preparing information for external consumption.
A practical introduction to finance
Finally, the ACCA qualification is broad in its remit, similar to the ACA, but with more practical application. Covering many of the same areas, including basic accounting, tax, auditing, treasury and more, it is a practical introduction to finance, whereas the ACA is significantly more principles based. The ACCA looks at how the various aspects of the qualification apply in real world scenarios, whilst the ACA teaches principles that its users need to problem-solve, albeit at the expense of real-world application guidance.
Focus on specifics
As can be seen, there are positives associated with each qualification, and these aren’t the only ones. Others, such as the AAT, or CTA focus on specifics, such as bookkeeping or tax respectively, and may be more relevant in certain scenarios. Additionally, there are those accountants who do not have any qualifications, and are therefore qualified by experience, which comes with yet another unique set of experiences and skills gained from learning while doing.
A personal choice
The answer as to which is ‘best’ is going to be a personal one. Those aspiring to be a FTSE-level CFO are more likely to come from a Big 4 background, which means an ACA qualification, though it’s hard to say whether it’s the qualification or the training provider who put them there. Those looking to specialise in broad practice-accounting roles are more likely to be ACCA qualified with the breadth of practical application that it provides, whilst increasingly businesses are looking to CIMA practitioners to provide them with insight and confidence in analysing rapidly changing scenarios.
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