If you wish to study accountancy, you may be finding it difficult to choose between the different accountancy qualifications. In the UK and Ireland, you can choose between 6 main qualifications, the ACCA, CIMA, CIPFA, ICAI, ACA or ICAS. In truth, no one qualification is "better" than the other. A prospective employer should not see a candidate with an ACCA qualification as being superior to a ACA candidate. Your choice of accountancy qualification should depend on the area of the industry that you want to specialise in - financial or management accounting.
Working in the area of financial accounting will see you preparing financial statements for stakeholders of a business such as the banks, suppliers, investors and other parties. You will be responsible for reporting results from Profit and Loss accounts and Balance Sheets. These results should accurately describe the financial position of the business to public members. You will analyse business transactions and compile a report, usually annually, for people who are not directly involved with the day-to-day management of the company.
To specialise in financial accounting, you must pursue an ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accounts) qualification or a CIPFA (The Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accounting) qualification. The ACCA requires you to sit three separate stages of examinations, while also completing a minimum of three years supervised practical work experience in financial accounting. It takes about three years to obtain the qualification, but you can pursue it over a longer period of time if you wish.
The CIPFA qualification not only certifies you to become a financial accountant, but is the only qualification which trains accountants to work specifically in the public sector. Like the ACCA, there are three sets of modules which are studied and examined over a 3 year period. If you are based in England or Wales, you can pursue the ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant) qualification which requires 3 years of training and 2 stages of modules and examinations.
In Scotland and Wales, you can pursue the ICAS (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland) qualification. Similarly in Ireland, you can pursue the ICAI (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ireland) exams. All of these exams lead to similar qualifications in financial accounting.
As a management accountant, you will be required to analyse financial information and provide forecasts and recommendations for managers or those responsible for running the company on a day-to-day basis. The reports that you prepare will usually be for the eyes of the managers only and will not be made public. Management accountants provide financial information which help managers to make better decisions. Some of the tasks involved may include helping a manager of an organisation to determine product profitability or to help devise an annual market budget.
To become a management accountant, you must pursue either the CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) qualification or that of an equivalent awarding body. There are two grades of CIMA membership - "Associate" and "Fellow". The "Associate" qualification requires three years of documented work experience in the field, which is to be signed off by witnesses. You will also have to pass all 15 exams and be both proposed and seconded for CIMA membership by two people who have had direct contact with your work experience. To obtain the "Fellow" accreditation, you must have significant senior level experience in management accounting.