ACA v ACCA – which is best?
A friend once told me that when he went for his first job as a trainee accountant he was asked “which professional accountancy qualification do you want to pursue, Chartered (ACA) or Certified (ACCA)?” to which he replied “I’m not sure what the difference is?” The answer came back with a boom “Chartered is best!” said the interviewer who was of course a Chartered Accountant himself!
30 years ago this was probably a common opinion but is this still true?
There’s more than one way to become an accountant so its important to consider which professional qualifications will best pave the way for your chosen route when planning your career. Both ACA and ACCA are prestigious accounting qualifications which can open up a variety of attractive career opportunities, but there are also significant differences between the two.
So how do they compare?
ACCA is delivered by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants based in London.
Founded by eight accountants in 1904 as the London Association of Accountants, ACCA introduced its first examinations the following year and opened its first overseas branch in 1913. By the 1950s, ACCA was opening branches in locations including Hong Kong, Trinidad and Malawi – and in 1974 it was granted a UK Royal Charter.
Today, ACCA has over 208,000 fully qualified members, as well as 503,000 students around the world.
ACA is delivered respectively by ICAEW (the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) also based in London at Chartered Accountants which was opened in 1893.
ICAEW’s history is even longer. Formed by the amalgamation of five different accountancy associations, ICAEW was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1880. Some of ICAEW’s early presidents, such as William Welch Deloitte, went on to found firms that were the predecessors of today’s big four accounting firms.
ICAEW currently has offices in Beijing, Brussels, Dubai, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Singapore and Vietnam. The organisation has over 150,000 members and 27,000 students globally.
How do the qualifications compare?
With only one letter to separate them, the ACCA and ACA qualifications may sound almost interchangeable – and there are certainly many similarities between the two. That said, there are also some significant differences.
The ACCA Qualification
Globally recognised, the ACCA Qualification enables members to use the letters ACCA after their names. The ACCA qualification is also seen as the broader and more international of the two. Providing a strong grounding in accounting principles, the qualification opens the door to a wide range of career paths across different countries and industry sectors, as well as the ability to work in practice.
The ACCA Qualification has three different components: students are required to complete three stages of exams and an Ethics and Professional Skills module, as well as obtaining the necessary practical experience.
In order to obtain the ACCA Qualification, candidates also need three years’ practical experience in a relevant role. The Practical Experience Requirement (PER) can be gained before, during and after the other components of the qualification and candidates need to update their PER record regularly.
The ICAEW Chartered Account qualification (ACA).
The ACA qualification enables successful candidates to use the title ‘ICAEW Chartered Accountant’. The course is generally seen as tougher than the ACCA and the earning potential is high: ICAEW states that globally, ICAEW Chartered Accountants earned £108,000 on average in 2018.
The ACA is often seen as a route to a career in practice, although potential career paths include corporate finance, the charity sector, forensic accounting, insolvency, public sector and tax. According to ICAEW, 78 of the FTSE 100 had an ICAEW Chartered Accountant on their board as of December 2016.
In order to obtain the ACA qualification, candidates must also secure a training agreement with an ICAEW authorised training employer, of which there are over 5,000.
The qualification comprises four elements:
Practical work experience – candidates must complete 450 days of relevant experience in an area such as accounting, audit and assurance, tax, financial management, insolvency or information technology. Work experience must be completed with an ICAEW authorised training employer or authorised training principal. This typically takes between three and five years to achieve.
Exam modules – candidates must study and pass 15 exam modules across three levels and a broad range of topics.
Professional development – students must apply professional development to real-life scenarios and demonstrate improvement across seven areas of professional skills such as adding value, communication, decision making, ethics and professionalism, problem solving, teamwork, technical competence.
Ethics and professional scepticism – ACA students are also required to demonstrate knowledge of the ICAEW Code of Ethics, practical application of ethical conduct and decision making, and transparency and honesty in all business relationships.
Both the ACA and ACCA are prestigious qualifications which provide attractive career opportunities and are highly valued by employers. That said, it’s important for students to understand the differences between the two in order to identify the option that will enable them to fulfil their career aspirations. From understanding the structure of the course to considering whether they are working towards a future career in business or in practice, candidates will need to do their homework to make the route they choose is the one best suited to their goals.