Published on: 16 Mar 2016

When it comes to accountancy qualifications, there’s very little doubt that they are one of the first things employers look for to demonstrate that a candidate has an increased depth of technical knowledge, and a greater understanding of how the sector works.

When it comes to choosing which qualification to do however, there’s a lot of deliberation over which route is best to go down. There are three main professional qualifications, and they are ACA, ACCA and CIMA.

ACA has 15 modular exams, which are split over three sections - certificate, professional and advanced level.

The exams often focus on how students are able to demonstrate and communicate their understanding of a topic, rather than simple learning and retention, with the aim of creating knowledgeable, flexible accountants.

The qualification requires students to gain suitable work experience with an authorised training employer; these are typically within accountancy firms rather than commercial business.

ACCA has 14 modular exams, plus professional ethics module and practical experience requirement, split into two main sections – fundamentals and professional. All nine fundamental papers must be sat, plus the first three professional papers; two final papers from the second stage of professional can be chosen.

The qualification covers a range of accounting, audit, taxation, and ethics topics, providing students with a broad understanding of both professional services and commercial accounting knowledge.

CIMA is for those who do not bring exemptions from university studies nor hold the AAT, study is preceded by the certificate in business accounting stage (five exams).

The qualification itself comprises of twelve exams split across three levels – operational, management, and strategic – with each level consisting of three computer-based objective tests and one human-marked case study. The objective tests are designed to assess knowledge, while the case studies test understanding and application in a commercial setting.

Because of the above, CIMA is largely studied by those in commercial business, though some in outsourcing divisions of accountancy practice will choose this option.

Here’s what three accountancy experts from REED had to say about the above qualifications:

Rajeev Tozar, Head of Commercial Finance:
“There’s quite a relevant debate at the moment about whether a qualified by experience person can do the same role as a fully qualified accountant. “I find that less-skilled roles within accountancy can be filled by those who are not qualified, but I think as you get into a managerial role, you have to be able to piece things together, and that’s where the qualifications come into play. “I generally find that people who are studying CIMA, or who have studied CIMA were more commercially focused.”

Julian D’Oyley, Head of Financial Accounts:
“My team ask me what qualification to take – CIMA or ACCA - and I always say you can do either. “If you have aspirations to be a financial director, then as many are CIMA qualified as there are ACCA qualified. For this kind of role you need to be in charge of both the commercial and reporting aspect of accountancy.”  

Lee Richards, Finance Director:
The choice you make about which qualification you’re going to take does have a bearing on the way that employers will ultimately view you, and the types of roles that they will perceive that you are most suitable for.
An ACA route would generally tend to lead you down more of a technical accounting type role, and CIMA would lend itself more towards business partnering. “If you find yourself in one role, and want to be in the other, then I generally think you’re going to have to work quite hard to move from the technical side towards the commercial, or vice versa.”

Search and apply for your next ACA, ACCA or CIMA qualified role now