Accounting qualifications

If you want to be an accountant…necessary accounting qualifications are a must. In most countries, accounting qualifications are compulsory as an accountant has a great responsibility to produce true and fair accounts, and hence must show a minimum level of skill and competence.

You will have to decide, first of all, whether what you want is an international qualification or a national one. International qualifications pave the way to accounting jobs around the world. National accounting qualifications enable you to work in your own country, but sometimes accounting organizations will cross-recognise each other, i.e. membership in one organization will be recognized by another accounting organization.

I will only discuss the major international accounting qualifications in this article, as they are the most common and their organizations have the largest memberships.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)(http://www.accaglobal.com)

ACCA started in the UK in 1904 with only 8 members, but it has since grown into the one of the largest professional accounting organization in the world. It now has 147,000 members and 424,000 students in over 170 countries.

There are a few routes to obtaining an ACCA qualification – it is designed to be reasonably flexible.

If you want to start early, as in right after school, you will need to have 2 A Levels and 3 GCSEs (or their equivalent – check the website for specifics), which need to be in 5 separate subjects, including English and maths. Thereafter, you will register yourself as an ACCA student and you will need to complete (and pass) 14 exams, rack up 36 months’ of experience in a relevant (accounting-related) role, and complete a Professional Ethics module.

If you already have a university degree, the route is shorter. You may be eligible for exam exemptions – in fact, up to a total of 9 exam papers may be exempted. You will need to write to ACCA directly to apply for such exemptions, providing the necessary evidence. ACCA DOES award exemptions for accounting qualifications from certain recognised institutions – check their exemption enquiry database.

If you do not have any A Levels/GSCEs as mentioned earlier, you will need to start your studies with one of the qualifications in Foundations in Accountancy. Once you complete the Diploma in Accounting and Business in Foundations in Accountancy, you can then transfer over to the ACCA Qualification. This route will also offer certain exam exemptions.

Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) (http://www.cimaglobal.com/)

CIMA also has its roots in the UK, and prides itself as being not just an accounting qualification, but one which prepares people for a career in business. CIMA’s focus is on strategy, risk management and decision-making. Like the ACCA, it is a global qualification and has 195,000 members and students in 176 countries.

Like the ACCA, CIMA also offers several routes to gaining accounting qualifications.

If you have just left school, you can first do CIMA’s own certificate in business accounting, which stands on its own or is a precursor to the CIMA professional exams.

If you already have a university degree, you may be eligible for exam exemptions – you will need to write to CIMA directly to apply for such exemptions.

The CIMA exams comprise of 9 papers altogether plus a test of professional competence. Thereafter, the CIMA graduate will need to work in the relevant industry for 3 years before achieving full membership of CIMA (and the CIMA qualification).

CPA Australia (www.cpaaustralia.com.au)

CPA Australia is an Australian qualification but it is recognized internationally.

It boasts a network of over 139,000 accounting professionals in more than 114 countries in some of the world's leading economic hubs.

The CPA Program comprises 14 education segments, made up of a foundation level and a professional level, and a fully integrated practical experience requirement. Your entry point into CPA Program will be determined by an individual assessment of your prior education and experience, called a ‘membership pathways entry assessment’.

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) (www.aicpa.org)

AICPA is founded in the US in 1887, and is considered the world’s largest organization representing accounting professionals, with nearly 377,000 members in 128 countries.

To be a member, candidates must first obtain 150 semester hours of education at an accredited college or university, including a bachelor's degree or its equivalent. 150 semester hours is roughly equivalent to 5 years of study. Thereafter, candidates must pass the Uniform CPA Examination (set by the AICPA).

In the US, although the CPA exam is uniform, licensing and certification requirements are imposed separately by individual state laws which vary from state to state. Some US states impose a working experience requirement before a licence is issued. If you intend to work in the US, it would be wise to check the requirements of the US state you intend to work in.

Update: The AICPA and CIMA, in early 2012, launched a new global accounting designation called the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA).   Members of both organizations will be able to add this additional designation to their names; AICPA members will need to pay a fee for this benefit whereas CIMA members are able to enjoy it free.

Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW) (http://www.icaew.com)

ICAEW, as you can tell from its name, has its roots in the UK. It is considered a prestigious qualification and has over 138,000 members around the world.

The route to getting an ICAEW qualification is quite varied. For example, you don’t need to have GSCEs as a minimum requirement.

However, with no GSCEs, or without at least 2 A-Levels (in any subject), the route will be to either take the AAT-ACA Fast Track route or do the Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business. Thereafter, you will need to look for an employer who will sign a training agreement with you – typically 3-5 years long.

If you have at least 2 A-Levels but do not wish to go to university, you will need to look for an employer who will sign a training agreement with you – again, it should be about 3-5 years in length.

If you are a university graduate, you will need to show a result of at least a 2:1 (second class honours). Again, you will need to look for an employer for a training agreement – the period of the agreement should be less than the above 2 groups.

So what’s involved in the ACA training? As you work, you will be receiving technical work experience and professional development. At the same time, you will need to complete study modules and do the relevant exams. You will also receive structured training in ethics.

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