A career in Accountancy is really broad so choosing the right professional qualification is important to ensure that it’s aligned to the career path that you want to take. There are five recognised UK Accountancy Qualifications; AAT, ACCA, CIMA, ACA (ICAEW) and CIPFA.
You don’t need any particular A-Level grades or a university degree to start any of them. However, having an Accountancy or Finance-related degree would give you some exemptions from the early stage exams of your professional qualification, allowing you to complete the qualifications quicker.
If you don’t have a finance related university degree or you’re looking to work straight from school or college, AAT is typically the entry level qualification that aspiring Accountants will take. Completing the full AAT course will also give you exemptions from the early stage exams of CIMA, ACCA and ACA.
There are three levels for AAT:
Level 2 – The foundation certificate level that covers the basics of accountancy (double-entry bookkeeping, finance administration and how to use accounting software).
Level 3 – Covers some more complex accounting principles in bookkeeping and management accounting.
Level 4 – The final level of AAT which covers drafting financial statements, budget management and assessing financial performance. Once you’ve completed level 4 and the practical work experience requirements, you can apply for your AAT membership.
The CIMA Qualification is better suited to those who want to pursue a management accounting career in industry. The entry routes to start CIMA are flexible; you could be a school / college leaver, AAT Qualified or a graduate in a finance or non-finance subject. Those who are AAT Qualified will be exempt from the Certificate Level of CIMA. University graduates who have a relevant finance degree can gain as many as 11 exam exemptions. There are four levels in total:
Certificate Level - This is for those who haven’t completed AAT or done a finance related degree. It covers the fundamentals of business economics, management accounting, financial accounting and business ethics. If you’re AAT Qualified or have a finance degree, you’ll be exempt from Certificate Level.
Operational Level - Three exams (managing finance in a digital world, management accounting and financial reporting) followed by the Operational Case Study
Management Level - Three exams (managing performance, advanced management accounting and advanced financial reporting) followed by the Management Case Study
Strategic Level - Three exams (strategic management, risk management and financial strategy) followed by the Strategic Case Study
Once all exams are completed, you will need to get your practical experience signed off which involves completing the assessment of practical experience requirements (PER).
ACA (ICAEW) is typically better suited to those who are looking to start their career in an Accountancy Practice, although some businesses in industry will also support the qualification. The entry routes are also flexible; the course is open to college leavers, graduates from a finance or non-finance degree and those who have done AAT. There are three levels; certificate level, professional level and advanced level with 15 exams in total. The ACA qualification can take up to 5 years to complete, although typically it will be finished in 3 years. You will need to complete 450 days of practical work experience to become fully ACA qualified.
ACCA is a broad qualification that is suited to either practice or industry. The entry requirements are also flexible; you may have completed AAT or could be a graduate from a finance or non-finance degree. There are 14 exams in total, however, those who have done a finance degree can get up to 9 exemptions. The 14 exams are broken down in to three sections:
- 3 Fundamental exams covering accountancy in business, management accounting and financial accounting
- 6 Skills exams covering tax, financial reporting, audit, financial management, performance management and corporate law
- 5 Professional exams. 3 are essential and then you’ll choose 2 further exams from 4 optional modules.
CIPFA is a niche accountancy qualification as it’s the world’s only professional accountancy body that is exclusively dedicated to public sector financial management. CIPFA run an apprenticeship scheme for school levers as well as offering a course that is suitable for graduates with a finance or non-finance degree. There are three levels to CIPFA; professional certificate, professional diploma and strategic stage.
As you’ll have seen, there are so many different routes you can take to become a qualified accountant. Although the entry level requirements are flexible depending on the qualification, employers tend to look for people who can demonstrate they have the following skills:
- Strong academic background, particularly in Maths and English
- Good general IT skills
- Strong Excel skills
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- Commercial awareness
If you have any queries on taking the next step in your Accountancy career, our Accountancy & Finance Team will be happy to speak with you. Get in touch!
Ian Hallam, Senior Finance Consultant
0115 8700 300, Ianh@distinctrecruitment.com