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A Guide to Accounting Qualifications

Choosing the right Accountancy qualification for you! When deciding on which path to take on your accountancy career, there are different routes to consider, and it all starts at the root; the qualification. So what options are there?


Let’s take a look at the three most common qualifications which can jump-start your career within the world of accounting, and the key differences between each one.

So, after careful thought and consideration, you’ve landed on your chosen career path – accountancy & finance. So, what is one way that you could really set yourself up for a thriving career? You could start by embarking on your journey to gain your professional qualification, which would help you to build a strong foundation into the theory of key accounting principles.

Depending on which qualification you work towards, your route to becoming a qualified accountant is likely to start in different places, whether that be Public Practice (think Big 4, Accounting Practices) or Industry (which can be a much larger pool to swim in).

The three most common qualifications are offered by:

  • the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
  • the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland (ICAS), and
  • the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). 

So, what makes each one different?


ICAS (The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland)

ICAS boasts upwards of 20,000 members worldwide where in most instances, membership is generally obtained by entering a training contract with an accountancy firm, during which the student gains experience and sit a number of exams. ICAS consists of 13 technical subjects covered across 3 levels – TC, TPS & TPE. Gaining this qualification via a training contract can be invaluable as it allows for in-depth, practical experience mixed with studying which can allow for a greater understanding of the key accounting principles taught. The ICAS qualification generally takes up to 3 years to achieve.

Upon completing of the ICAS qualification, you will be awarded with Chartered Accountant (CA) status, with candidates usually pursuing a role within Practice – with one of the Big 4 accountancy firms most sought-after. ICAS is the only UK chartered accountancy body to provide professional education and training, as well as examinations, for all its students.


ACCA (Associate Chartered Certified Accountant)

The ACCA boasts upwards of 586,000 members and students across 170 countries, making it one of the largest and fastest-growing accounting qualification providers globally. One of the key differing factors with ACCA is the ability to undertake this qualification independently in your own time, or via support and/or funding through your employer. ACCA permits up to 10 years to achieve your qualification, alongside up to 3 years’ relevant experience to pass. The ACCA syllabus contains 14 examinations across 2 levels – the “Fundamental” level which comprises of 9 exams (F1 – F9), followed by the “Professional” level, comprising of 5 exams, including P1, P2, and P3 which are compulsory, followed by 2 out of the 4 optional papers P4, P5, P6, and P7.

With a supercharged increase in demand for ACCA qualified Accountants globally across all areas within Industry, the options of companies to work with upon completion of this qualification are endless. It is also worth noting that the ACCA qualification isn’t necessarily tied into a training agreement with your employer, giving you freedom to move jobs to gain broader experienced whilst studying.


CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountant)

CIMA is a UK-based professional body who provide training and qualifications in management accountancy and related subjects across their 203,000 members and students within 173 countries. CIMA is typically aimed at – you guessed it – those wishing to pursue an Accounting career within Management Accounting, and it is more likely that you will work within Industry than Practice. The syllabus is split into three pillars and three levels and comprises 12 exams: nine Objective Tests, and three Case Study exams.

Similar to the ACCA qualification, you can work through this qualification either independently or via funding/support with your employer. Unlike the other two qualification routes, there is no time limitation on completing this qualification however all exams must be passed before becoming CIMA Qualified.

Whatever qualification path you decide on, qualified Accountants are in very high demand, and each qualification is highly regarded within the profession. Rest assured that you will be making strong steps in starting a long-lasting and highly rewarding career within Accountancy, whatever route you take!

Whether you’re looking for a new role or looking for general advice – I’m here to help! I specialise in the recruitment of transactional and part-qualified Accountants within Scotland. For all updates on the accountancy & finance market, you can follow me on my Linkedin page, and please feel free to reach out for a confidential chat on the below details:

T: 07423 751 455