Chartered accountant qualifications

Chartered accountant qualifications

8 November 2021

Chartered accounting qualifications are globally recognised and highly respected. The route to becoming a chartered accountant involves in-depth study and practical experience, as well as adhering to strict professional and ethical codes of conduct.

What is a chartered accountant?

Chartered accountants differ from standard accounting in a number of ways. The term "accountant" isn't a protected term. What this means is that anyone can call themselves an accountant. So it is hard to tell the level of experience and knowledge that a standard accountant has at first glance. When it comes to basic accounting services, such as tax returns, it doesn't matter quite so much how qualified your accountant is because the procedures are clear. That's not to say that regular accountants aren't qualified accountants. Many of them will have an AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) that will give them a high level of training and expertise in many areas of accounting.

It becomes a bit more tricky, however, when someone needs more specialist and complex accounting services. And this is where chartered accountants come in. The term "chartered accountant" is protected, which means that no one can call themselves one unless they meet very specific criteria. These criteria include extensive post-graduate education in accounting, three years of relevant work experience, and an understanding and adherence to strict professional and ethical codes of conduct.

Because of their additional education, training, and experience, chartered accountants are able to tackle a wider and more complex range of scenarios. They also tend to have a higher-level knowledge about financial accounting beyond accountancy tasks, including knowledge about business strategy.

Beyond regular accounting, certified chartered accountants can also work with other aspects of business, such as corporate finance and corporate reporting, financial management and business management accounting, forensic accounting, and in-depth financial services.

Chartered accounts tend to work within larger companies. This can include larger not for profit organisations, an accountancy firm that could be one of the Big Four, public sector organisations such as the NHS, government agencies, local councils, or the National Audit Office as well as larger organisations in the private sector in the areas of commerce, industry, and corporate. They tend to be more expensive than regular accountants because of their higher level of financial expertise and qualifications.

Chartered accounting qualifications

Professional accountancy qualifications that lead to chartered status are available from a select few professional bodies. For each of them, there are different routes that can be taken in order to get onto the course. Many accountants choose to complete an accountancy degree before taking professional education at a post-grad level but it is also possible to become qualified enough to start a chartered accountancy course via training on-the-job, for example as an apprenticeship.

ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales)

To become a chartered certified accountant as a member of the ICAEW, you will need to complete training via the ACA qualification. To become ICAEW chartered accountants ACA students need to have completed:

  • 450 days of relevant work experience with an employer approved by the ICAEW
  • 15 exam modules
  • gone through professional development within the ICAEW Professional Development Scheme
  • developed professional scepticism and ethics

The ACA qualification is notoriously rigorous and, with students needing to have so much technical work experience, it is very highly regarded and sought after by employers.

There are three levels to the ACA qualification:

  • Certificate - fundamental principles of accounting
  • Professional - business planning and strategy
  • Advanced - decision-making skills related to corporate reporting and business management

Each of these takes a year of training so the entire course will take most students three years to complete. On successful completion of the Advanced level and the complex case study included within it, a student will become an ICAEW chartered certified accountant and will be able to refer to themselves as an Associate of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

Many students will complete their ACA qualification as part of a three-year training agreement with one of the ICAEW-approved employers. This allows graduates to have stable employment while they train. Other students will apply to start the ACA qualification and then go on to look for employment for their work experience once they have been accepted.

Association of Chartered Certified Accountants

ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)

A professional qualification from ACCA will allow a student to become a chartered accountant and is an internationally recognized qualification. It is a great option for students who want to be flexible with their studies because students can take up to ten years to complete all levels, if they wish, although it can be completed in two to three years.

There are three levels to the ACCA qualification:

Applied Knowledge

This level takes 6-12 months to complete and is focused on the role of accounting within a business environment.

Applied Skills

This level takes 12-18 months and is focused on a broader understanding of accounting within a business environment as well as how to interpret financial information.

Strategic Professional

This level takes 12-18 months and is focused on advanced skills and ethics for accountants at a consultant level.

Students will also need to complete the Ethics and Professional Skills module and undertake three years of practical experience. As with the ICAEW ACA qualification, the ACCA can be undertaken as part of a training contract with companies such as accountancy firms or businesses.

Chartered Institute of Management Accountants

CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)

This qualification has a slightly different focus in that it is specifically developed for business accounting. Its focus is on accounting within a business management setting and students are left with a wide range of business-related skills so that they can be ready to immediately enter that world of work.

There are three main levels to the CIMA qualification, although there is an additional foundation level that many students will need to complete. Each level takes up to a year to complete, so most people will qualify in three to four years.

Alongside the four levels, the qualification can be split into three "pillars", with each focusing on a different important element of becoming a management accountant.

Enterprise Pillar

This pillar focuses on the role of finance within an organisation and how this can be achieved using data and technology. Students will also understand and be able to use business models, management of both people and projects, and how to set and reach organisational goals and strategies.

Performance Pillar

This pillar focuses on the tools and techniques that are used within management accounting. It also looks at how to understand the costs needed to create budgets, decision-making surrounding prices and capital, and how to manage costs and performance.

Financial Pillar

This pillar focuses on financial accounting, financial reporting, and accounting practices. Students will understand their obligations around financial reporting and the regulatory framework under which they need to operate, as well as the external reporting requirements. They will also understand how to construct and analyse complex financial records and statements and how to use these to improve the performance of a company. They will also be able to formulate organisational strategies.

Level 1 - Certificate Level

This is the entry-level CIMA professional qualification. On completion of this level, students will receive a CIMA Certificate in Business Accountancy (CIMA Cert BA).

Level 2 - Operational Level

Completion of this level will award students with a CIMA Diploma in Management Accounting (CIMA Dip MA).

Level 3 - Management Level

Completion of this level awards students with a CIMA Advanced Diploma in Management Accounting (CIMA Adv Dip MA).

Level 4 - Strategic Level

Completion of this level gives students chartered accountant status and awards them a membership to CIMA and the right to use the CGMA (Chartered Global Management Accountant) designation.

Benefits of becoming a chartered accountant

Benefits of becoming a chartered accountant

A chartered certified accountant has gained a high level of qualifications and experience within accounting. They have had to develop skills and knowledge beyond the basic transactional nature of accounting and are often qualified to understand the more complex aspects of business management, financial law, financial reports, and public practice. A chartered accountant qualification means that students have been through rigorous professional exams and have been awarded membership to a well-respected professional body.

Because of this, the average annual salary for a fully-qualified chartered accountant is approximately £52,000 a year, but it can reach a six-figure income once the accountant moves through the ranks. The career path is

Not all chartered accountants have an accounting degree, and it is possible to become a chartered accountant via a training agreement with accountancy firms or businesses. This makes it an ideal opportunity for a lucrative and stable career that can be forged on the basis of professional exams that can be completed while earning a salary at the same time.

The bottom line

Chartered certified accountants are highly-qualified and experienced accountants who have gained membership to a respected accounting professional body via the completion of rigorous accounting courses. They can work anywhere from the public sector to multinational corporations and they are an important financial backbone in every company in which they are employed. Their work often goes beyond accounting and they can become important business strategists and managers. They are also qualified to give complex and highly specific financial advice.

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