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Choosing a professional qualification - Finance

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Recently we carried out some research with finance leaders to gage their advice on how to reach the top (Click here to read all their advice). The research showed that 98% of FD’s and CFO’s have a professional qualification, so I can confidently say that the qualification is important, however, does it really matter if it is CIMA, ACCA or ACA?  

My personal opinion is that it does not necessarily matter whether it is CIMA, ACCA or ACA that you choose to study as all will show future employers that you have the theoretical knowledge to match your practical work experience. In fact, we often find that it is the future employer that discriminates upon which qualification they feel is better - often believing their own has given them a broader experience that the other two.  However, beneath I try and give some insight into the pros and cons of each qualification.

CIMA – Chartered Institute of Management Accountants

CIMA has 14 exams, although some of these may be exempt depending on the degree you have taken. CIMA was traditionally seen as the most commercial of the qualifications as is more focused on management accounting, business strategy and financial strategy. People studying CIMA will often lean towards business partnering, forward thinking and strategy-based roles. The qualification is mainly suited to Commercial Businesses. The research we carried out shows that a growing number of leaders have studied CIMA. This is perhaps because the finance function has moved towards adding more commercial value than just crunching numbers.

ACCA – Association of Chartered Certified Accountants

In comparison with CIMA, ACCA was traditionally focused on financial accounting and the technical practices of accountancy. However, over the past ten to fifteen years they have re-structured parts of the qualification to focus on more commercial aspects of finance. There are also 14 exams, although like CIMA, there can be exemptions depending on the degree taken. It is generally thought that ACCA gives you a stronger grounding in accounting principles than CIMA, but at the cost of some of the management reporting and corporate strategy. Suited for practice, commerce or third sector roles. In our most recent survey around 20% of FD’s and CFO’s have the ACCA qualification.

ACA – Associate Chartered Accountant

Although some commercial businesses can now offer ACA, typically you will study in practice. This qualification is looked upon positively when you move out into commerce, especially if you have first time passes. If you are looking to work in the "Big Four", the ACA is where you need to focus.  There are 15 exams and 450 days of relevant work experience required. In order to study ACA, your employer has to be an approved institute for training. This ‘more traditional’ training is still seen very positively and nearly 40% of FD’s/CFO’s in our recent research had studied ACA.

Whether you choose to study CIMA, ACCA or ACA you will be putting your future finance career in a strong position. These qualifications are studied in well over 150 countries and they will certainly gain you extra credibility when you are moving through your career.

Part-Qualified and Qualified accountants are highly respected among employers, as they recognise the high-calibre of finance professionals who emerge from the bodies training programmes.

As a student, you develop core accounting skills including balance sheet, P&L, analysis, risk management, planning and communication, ensuring you have a broad range of skills.

Each institute has robust assessment methods which mean the real-life skills and competencies employers need are integrated into the syllabus. This is why part-qualified accountants are often on a hiring manager's wish list when recruiting.

To discuss your own career path in more detail, please do call me or one of the other finance recruiters at Wade Macdonald. We will be happy to share our experiences of the market and give advice on your options.


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