Whats the difference between the ACA, ACCA and CIMA qualifications?

There are three key professional qualifications that provide routes into the accounting world: the ACA, the ACCA and CIMA. There's no "right" or "wrong" qualification to choose, but making a smart choice that suits you best from the options available to graduates can be key to long-term success.

All three qualifications typically take three to five years to complete, are normally undertaken as part of a graduate role combining periods of work experience and study, and are recognised globally. There are, however, some important differences between them, which we've summarised for you.

ACA

Qualification obtained

Chartered accountant

Awarding body

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

Number of members and locations

140,000 members plus students in 160 countries

Common career paths

  • Employment at accountancy firm including audit work
  • Employment in private or public sector organisation
  • Starting own business

Method of training

Normally through a training agreement with an authorised employer

Work experience requirement

450 days of relevant work experience

Time limit on training period?

Yes - five years to complete work experience requirement

Graduate entry requirements

Two A2 levels and three GCSE passes, (or their equivalents). Most employers offering ACA training agreements will also expect a good degree.

What's special about this route?

Most ACA trainees enter into a training agreement with an employer who provides paid tuition, study leave and mentoring.

ACCA

Qualification obtained

Chartered certified accountant

Awarding body

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

Number of members and locations

586,000 members and students in 170 countries

Common career paths

  • Employment at accountancy firm including audit work
  • Employment in private or public sector organisation
  • Starting own business

Method of training

Training agreement or independently

Work experience requirement

Three years of relevant work experience

Time limit on training period?

Yes - ten years to pass exams

Graduate entry requirements

Two A-levels and three GCSEs (or their equivalents) including English and maths. Most employers offering ACCA training will also expect a good degree.

What's special about this route?

ACCA qualification isn't tied into a training agreement, so you can move between employers while training.

CIMA

Qualification obtained

Management accountants, who are employed within a business rather than at a specialised accountancy firm.

Awarding body

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)

Number of members and locations

203,000 members and students in 173 countries

Common career paths

  • Employment in private or public sector organisation
  • Starting own business
  • Employment at accountancy firm but NOT including audit work

Method of training

Training agreement or independently

Work experience requirement

Three years of relevant work experience

Time limit on training period?

No time limits

Graduate entry requirements

No entry requirements, but most employers offering CIMA training will also expect a good degree.

What's special about this route?

The CIMA qualification is targeted at students who are aiming to become management accountants.

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