Both CIMA and ACCA are highly regarded, internationally-recognised accountancy qualifications that can open career doors for you all around the world once you have qualified, but choosing between them can be difficult. Fortunately, one may suit your long-term career ambitions better than the other, so it’s worth exploring the differences between these two renowned qualifications.
If you already know that you want to work in the finance function of a commercial business, CIMA’s management accounting focus would be ideal for you. Larger employers favourably recognise the business practice side of a CIMA qualification, as it affords you a thorough business strategy and management education.
ACCA, on the other hand, is a broader qualification encompassing all core accounting skills, but is more suited for those who know that they want to go into practice, with its thorough grounding in financial assessment and compliance. While there is the option to specialize if you have a certain career path in mind, ACCA covers a wider range of skills and offers you more flexibility if you’re still unsure of which route to take.
With either body, you could later switch and further qualify in the other body, should your career take any unexpected turn.
There is no fast-track option as both professional bodies require three years practical experience requirements (PER) as part of the qualification, so typically PQ accountants will take around three years to fully qualify, in tandem with relevant roles.
On average, CIMA students complete its 12 exams over four years, taking two or three at a time, though they can be completed slower or faster. ACCA has 14 exams to complete, depending on exemptions.
There are a number of relevant degree courses as well as accountancy qualifications from other recognised bodies that negate the need to study certain elements twice, and so both CIMA and ACCA offer exemption options. In addition, if you began your studies with AAT, then there are a number of exemptions when coming in from that route, should you want to enhance your AAT qualification to become chartered.
As mentioned above, there is no need to race against the clock and complete your exams in the shortest time possible – prospective employers will only see you as over-qualified for the relatively junior role you may be in.
The PER for both CIMA and ACCA are detailed and require that you be in relevant accounting or finance-related roles in order to log 36 months of working experience. This time, and related objectives, also needs to be reviewed, logged and signed off by a qualified supervisor, whether you are at a large or small firm, full or part time.
Staying in the same role for three years will also not suffice, as the PER is not purely about hours, it’s about gaining experience. It is important that you gain access to as many relevant tasks and areas as you can through achieving job promotions, taking secondments and engaging in training. Both qualifying bodies offer framework advice for you to carefully plan these early stages of your career to assist your qualification.
In addition, if you would like advice on PQ or NQ roles, please do not hesitate to contact us.