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How to use ACA, ACCA, CIMA and AAT

ACA, ACCA, CIMA and AAT – the main differences and how to use them to progress your accounting and finance career


With plenty of qualifications out there to choose from, the frequent question on a lot of aspiring accountants minds is “Which is the right one for me?”.

Whilst there’s no definitive answer, understanding what each qualification offers and how they could support you personally - depending on the sort of role or sector you want to work in – will help you to decide which route to take.

Here’s a simple breakdown of a few of the most popular qualifications on offer:

ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant)

What it is:

  •  Gained through the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, Europe’s largest professional accountancy body
  •  Regarded as the most difficult and well-respected accountancy qualifications in the UK
  • ACA-qualified accountants are in high demand, as it is a clear sign of a candidate’s skill set, which include but are not limited to auditing skills, experience with large data sets, excellent communication skills and a general business awareness
  • Due to demand, candidates with an ACA qualification have been found to have more control when it comes to negotiating salary

How you can use it:

  • Once you are ACA qualified, you will continue to be supported throughout your career by ICAEW, including access to its large network.
  • The qualification will provide you with a great knowledge of both the public and private sector
  • Recognised globally and adaptable to any sector

83% of all FTSE 100 firms have at least one ICAEW Chartered Accountant on the board, which showcases the wealth of opportunities that ACA careers offer”. (Source – ICAEW careers)

ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)

What is it:

  • The world’s leading accountancy qualification for aspiring financial professionals, with over 500,000 members and students in 170 countries
  • Shows employers that you can showcase your skills within all aspects of a business
  • If you have 2 A Levels and 3 GCSEs in 5 separate subjects including English and maths you can begin your ACCA Qualification, which is ranked at Masters’ level

How you can use it:

  • As the qualification is  globally recognised having “ACCA” after your name, shows that you work to the highest professional and ethical standards, meaning international opportunities will also be an option
  • Having this qualification under your belt will not only build out your skills, but will help you to negotiate a higher salary, as your knowledge will be worth more
  • It’s a super flexible qualification – you can work while you study, choose to do either full or part-time, and many employers cover the cost because it’s so highly regarded!

CIMA (The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)

What it is:

  • The world’s largest professional body of management accountants
  • This qualification is recommended for candidates who are looking to work in the management accounting functions of bigger businesses
  • CIMA qualified professionals will usually work in the following fields: Corporate Finance, Financial Reporting, Financial Analysis, Business Analysis, Project Finance, Treasury Management or Risk Management

How you can use it:

  • There are more than 4,500 companies partnered with CIMA worldwide, and 250,000 members in around 180 countries. Networking with other members will provide some great job opportunities
  • With a CIMA qualification, you can expect to be highly respected and in demand amongst employers. Many organisations recognise the skills you develop from this training, including analysis, planning and communication and risk management
  • Becoming CIMA qualified will set you up to work your way up quicker to exec level positions, as it will help you to make more strategic decisions

AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians)

What is it:

  • UK’s leading accounting body for accounting professionals
  • A qualification for candidates wanting to begin a career in accounting with no previous experience
  • Anyone can get an AAT qualification, it teaches candidates the essential skills for an accounting career

How can you use it?

  • An AAT qualification is internationally recognised and highly respected in the financial industry
  • Those studying AAT qualifications can start from foundation levels and work through to advanced AAT qualifications gaining a higher level of knowledge which leads to better job roles and higher salaries throughout the process
  • Advanced AAT qualifications allow candidates to fast track to Chartered Accountancy qualifications

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