A basic guide to Accounting qualifications

In the UK, any Tom, Dick or Harry can technically call themselves an accountant - whether they have a professional qualification or not. This makes the letters after their name incredibly important - they indicate if they're a chartered accountant. Yet unlike doctors or solicitors, there are various institutions with which you can train and thus multiple acronyms which prove you are qualified. 

Here are three key professional qualifications providing routes into the wonderful world of accounting: ACA, ACCA and CIMA. Each are globally-recognised, take three to five years to complete and are normally undertaken in conjunction with your graduate job.

If your head is in a spin with acronyms, let us make life easier by highlighting the key differences between these three qualifications.

ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant)

This is the professional qualification from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW), globally-recognised as a premier business diploma. ICAEW counts 140,000 members and students in 160 countries.

In order to start your ACA qualification, you must enter into a training agreement with an authorised employer. You then have five years in which to complete the course, taking on 450 days of relevant work experience while you study.

Once you've completed your training, you will be a chartered accountant and can pursue a career with any accountancy firm, including those in audit. You could also join a private or public sector organisation, or you could even start your own practice.

Why choose this route: ACA accountants are in the highest demand

ACCA (Associate Chartered Certified Accountant)

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) has 586,000 members and students in 170 countries and is one of the largest and fastest-growing accounting qualification providers in the world.

You can take on this qualification as part of a training agreement or independently, and have up to ten year to pass your exams. You also need to acquire three years of relevant work experience to complete the qualification.

Once you become a chartered certified accountant with ACCA, the world is your oyster. You can work with accountancy firms, private or public sector organisations, or set up your own practice.

Why choose this route: The ACCA qualification isn’t necessarily tied into a training agreement so you can move between employers while training

CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountant)

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountant (CIMA) is a UK-based professional body focused on accounting for business. They offer training and qualifications in management accountancy and related subjects to their 203,000 members and students in 173 countries.

Like ACCA, you can work towards this qualification independently or through a training agreement with your employer. There is no limit on the training period, you just need to ensure you pass your exams and rack up three years of work experience.

As a CIMA management accountant, you are more likely to be employed within a business rather than at a specialised accountancy firm.

Why choose this route: The CIMA qualification is targeted at students who are aiming to become management accountants.

Whichever qualification you choose, qualified accountants are in high demand and whether you choose ACA, ACCA or CIMA - rest assured that you're making a smart choice.