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To ensure a successful career in accountancy, you need the right professional qualifications. While a university degree certainly shows that you have the knowledge and understanding to secure employment in the industry, adding some in-demand credentials to your CV showcases your ability to apply those insights in the real world.  

As the accounting profession fragments into increasingly specialised niches, your choice of accreditation can equip you with specific technical skills that make you a more valuable candidate for certain positions and roles. Accountants that hold professional certifications enjoy 22% higher salaries, and 29% better overall compensation compared to their peers. Of course, actually obtaining a certification requires a significant investment of time, money and effort; so before you decide to take the plunge you should be aware of the options available on the market.

ACCA

The ACCA certification is governed by the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants, a UK-based body that provides accreditations for prospective accountants throughout the world. According to industry professionals, the ACCA certification provides a strong foundation in technical accounting skills, applied financial accounting and the overall principles of governance that regulate these functions.

Professionals that seek out an ACCA qualification may find it more difficult to secure front office positions at banks or other financial intermediaries, but they will find themselves highly sought after in finance and audit departments across a variety of industries.

The ACCA exam process consists of 9 fundamental papers, and 5 professional examinations. After these papers have been cleared, candidates must complete a further 3 years of professional training to qualify for full membership to the organization.

ACA

The ACA qualification is governed by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), it is widely considered as one of the most advanced professional learning programs available. Individuals that enroll in the ACA program are generally looking to move onto positions at any of the Big 4 Accounting firms (PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and KPMG).

Rather than bookkeepers or specialised accountants, the ACA seeks to create business leaders through its programs. According to Gavin Aspden, director of qualifications at the ICAEW, 83% of businesspeople sitting on the boards of leading FTSE companies are ACA qualified.

While you don’t need to have an accounting and finance background to enroll into the ACA program, you must work for an ACA-approved employer. To complete your ACA you must complete 15 examinations, and 450 days of work experience in a relevant role.

CIMA

Governed by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, the CIMA qualification is focused on providing strategic level competencies to aspiring financial managers and CFOs. This focus on management reporting and corporate governance comes at the expense of a more solid foundation in technical accounting and finance skills.

The CIMA program is split into 3 levels: An operational level, a management level, and a strategic level with 14 exams overall, including case study exams at each stage.

AAT

Governed by the Association of Taxation Technicians, the AAT is the leading accounting body for tax compliance specialists in the UK. The body hopes to equip accounting professionals with the necessary skills to tax preparation and administration in accordance with all incumbent regulations within the region.

To become a member of the association candidates must complete 5 examinations and a further two years of professional experience in a related field. Through the syllabus, candidates can gain an in-depth understanding of personal taxation, business taxation, accounting principles, tax laws and professional responsibilities for tax accountants.