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What are the different types of accountancy qualifications?

We take a look at the different types of accountancy qualifications in the UK and why it’s vital to consider them before hiring an accountant. 

Summary

  • There are several different types of accounting qualifications in the UK, and they each have different requirements.

  • The most common accountant qualifications are AAT, CIMA, ICAS, ACCA, and ACA.

  • Understanding the difference between these qualifications makes it easier to choose the right accountant for your needs.

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What are the different types of accountant qualifications?

You do not need an accounting qualification to call yourself an accountant in the UK, but this doesn’t mean that professional qualifications aren’t important.

While the various qualifications mean different things, they are reliable indicators that someone has the knowledge and experience to do the work they say they can do. 

The most common different types of accounting qualifications in the UK include:

  • Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT)

  • Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)

  • The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)

  • Associate Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) 

  • Associate Chartered Accountants (ACA)

All these qualifications are recognised around the world. 

We’ll now explore the key differences between these accountancy qualifications.

The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT)

The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) is the world’s premier professional body of accountancy technicians.

There are three AAT accounting qualification levels, including:

  • AAT foundation certificate in accounting – level 2

  • AAT advanced diploma in accounting – level 3

  • AAT professional diploma in accounting – level 4

These qualifications each take between six and 18 months to complete.

Those who pursue a professional diploma to become a certified accountant can build their own company, work as a self-employed accountant or for a company, and study to qualify as a chartered accountant.

Some jobs that AAT-qualified accounting technicians do include accounts or payroll administrator, account/finance assistant, senior bookkeeper, commercial analyst, or fixed-asset accountant.

Is this a good qualification to consider when looking for an accountant?

An AAT qualification indicates that an accountant has a solid foundation of knowledge and skills.

However, it’s important to remember that an AAT accounting qualification is a starting point for qualifications that carry more weight.

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)

A professional body based in the UK, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) focuses on business and management accountancy.

It offers training and accountancy qualifications, which students can work towards independently or through an employer-sponsored training agreement. 

There’s no time limit on the CIMA training period, but students need to gain three years of work experience and pass their exams to qualify.

After qualifying, CIMA management accountants are usually employed within a business. They don’t often work at specialised accountancy firms.

In addition to assisting with management accounting, CIMA accountants can also work as financial controllers and financial managers.

Is this a good qualification to consider when looking for an accountant?

A CIMA qualification is a good one to consider when looking for an accountant, as there is a high demand for professionals with a CIMA qualification.

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The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)

The world’s first professional body of accountants, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) offers a prestigious chartered accountant qualification highly respected by top employers.

The course offers one of the highest accountancy and business training levels, covering everything from accounting and finance to broader business skills.

To be eligible for the course, prospective students must secure a training agreement with an authorised training employer.

Students must rack up 450 days of practical experience and pass three stages of exams, gaining expertise in accounting, finance, management, communication, analysis, ethics, and presentation.

This broad range of skills means ICAS chartered accountants can be employed in areas such as corporate finance, auditing, private accountancy, tax accountancy, forensic accountancy, and business management. 

Is this a good qualification to consider when looking for an accountant?

A chartered accountant qualification from ICAS is one of the most prestigious accountancy qualifications.

More than 80% of FTSE 100 organisations employ ICAS chartered accountants.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is one of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing accounting qualification providers.

Students can study for this qualification independently or under an employer-sponsored training agreement.

They have up to 10 years to pass their exams and must gain three years of relevant work experience to qualify.

That said, many people who take the ACCA route qualify in three to five years.

After qualifying with ACCA, a chartered certified accountant can start their own practice or work with public sector or private organisations and accountancy firms. 

Is this a good qualification to consider when looking for an accountant?

The ACCA accountancy qualification is a sign of experience and expertise.

Professionals with this qualification often work as financial advisers, accountants, and auditors.

Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA)

The Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA) qualification is the professional qualification from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).

Students must enter a training agreement with an authorised employer, complete the course in five years, and gain 450 days of relevant work experience.

The first year of the course is the certificate level, which covers accounting and assurance, tax and law, management information, and business and finance.

The second year is the professional level, which includes financial accounts and reporting, audit and assurance, tax, compliance, business planning tax, strategy, and financial management.

The third year is the advanced stage, which includes corporate reporting, strategic business management, and a case study.

After gaining this accounting qualification, a person can start their own practice, work with an accountancy firm (even those in audit), or work for a public sector or private organisation. 

Is this a good qualification to consider when looking for an accountant?

The ACA qualification is one of the most prestigious.

Professionals with ACA accountancy qualifications are often in high demand.

What is the most popular accountant qualification with consumers? 

Although some people are happy to work with accountants who have an AAT qualification, this is not the most popular out of the different types of accounting qualifications. 

ACCA, ACA, CIMA, and ICAS accountant qualifications are more popular, as the courses are broader in scope and have more stringent requirements.

Professionals with ACCA, ACA, ICAS, and CIMA accountant qualifications usually offer a wider variety of services.

Want help with your finances?

As you can see, the accountancy qualifications issued by various bodies differ in many ways in terms of study, the range of services that are taught, and work experience.

To learn more about how to improve your finances and for expert tax advice, let Unbiased match you with a qualified accountant in the UK.

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About the author
Our team of writers, who have decades of experience writing about personal finance, including investing, retirement and pensions, are here to help you find out what you must know about life’s biggest financial decisions.