Navigating The World Of Accountancy Qualifications. Which Path Should You Take?

Are you considering a career in accountancy or looking to further your qualifications in this field? With various accountancy qualifications available, it can be confusing to know which one is right for you.

Updated: 5th February 2024

Our specialist accounting and finance consultants are regularly asked by candidates what route they should go down when it comes to taking accountancy qualifications. This question is often asked by newly qualified AAT studiers, postgraduate students who are AAT exempt, as well as existing accountants who want to pursue their qualifications later on in their career.

The answer to these questions is that there is no one right answer for all. With different qualifications available, each with their own requirements, and some further options down the road, it’s important for candidates to understand which path is best for their own plans. That’s where our experts can help.

The key qualification options
The most recognisable qualifications from both industry and practice employers are those managed by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).

The ACCA qualification is commonly accepted to recognise a wider variety of skills and focuses on the technical financial aspects of accountancy. ACCA studiers will tend to pursue careers within practice, audit and tax, while many Finance Directors and Financial Managers will also complete this qualification.

The CIMA qualification has a specialist management accounting focus, which is primarily aimed at individuals who want to pursue a career within a senior management position. The CIMA qualification therefore concentrates on the strategic side of accounting as opposed to the technical side.

The ACA qualification is only offered to individuals employed by an ACA-approved institute for training, and an accountant who wants to pursue this qualification will look to a career within the world of private practice. An ACA qualification has a lot of similarities to the ACCA qualification, but with more of an external focus. It is considered prestigious within the accountancy world, and is a highly sought after qualification from the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms.

Each also has a slightly different requirement on candidates as well:
13 exams (exemptions may apply to those with relevant University degrees) and 3 years’ work experience    
3-5 years depending on exemptions

12 exams (exemptions may apply to those with relevant University degrees) and 3 years’ work experience    
3-4 years depending on exemptions

15 examinations and 450 days’ practical work experience    
3-5 years

Specialising after qualification
Achieving one of these core qualifications opens a lot of doors for you – and not just for a typical accountancy career path. Once qualified, there are a number of routes you can take in order to specialise in a particular area you enjoy, or that gives you the best opportunities.

Here are some of the more common specialist qualifications you can take once you’re a qualified accountant:

  • The Chartered Institute of Tax (CIOT) – Offers the highest tax qualification level in the UK, and is ideal for those wanting to specialise in taxation work.
  • The Chartered Institute of Public and Finance Accountancy (CIPFA) – A tailored qualification for those wanting to work, or already working, in the public sector where public money is spent on various services.
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA) – The most widely undertaken qualification for accountants in the USA. This may be necessary for those in the UK who are wanting to work in the USA, or those working with American-based clients.
  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) – An internationally recognised qualification for those looking to focus their career on internal audit work.

In summary
Completing a qualification is not just an advantage for career progression, for many senior managerial positions across the industry it will be a mandatory requirement in order for you to be considered for the position. However, as each option follows a slightly different path, it’s essential that you fully assess your career aspirations and specialisms before selecting and undertaking the best qualification that suits you.

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