AAT – ACA – the path to practice accounting

Becoming a chartered accountant is an important career goal for many accountants. Having such a well-respected qualification shows clients and employers than you have the highest level of ethical and professional commitment.

It also enhances the options in your career and gives you the flexibility to pursue a number of different paths and roles. So what is the route from your initial qualification with AAT to becoming chartered with ACA?

Why become chartered with ACA?

AAT is a fast-track route to chartered accountancy. You can use your AAT qualification as a basis to continue your studies with another chartered accountancy body.

If you choose this route, you’ll receive exemptions from the UK’s chartered accountancy bodies and a fast-track route to chartered status, so you could achieve it more quickly than by following the university path. You can also receive a discount on your AAT full or fellow membership fee while you study. 

Making the most of the Fast Track option

The AAT-ACA Fast Track builds on the fundamental knowledge gained through the AAT qualification, and gives you the opportunity to qualify as an ICAEW Chartered Accountant in as little as two years. There are up to five exam credits available for AAT-ACA Fast Track students (depending on which AAT units you have completed).

If you are working for an ICAEW authorised training employer or principal, you may be eligible to apply for credit for prior work experience. This means you may be able to claim up to 12 months of the practical work experience you have gained while working towards your AAT Level 4 Diploma in Accounting.

Don’t forget: If you go on to study for chartered accountancy as a full or fellow member, you can apply for a reduced annual subscription and receive a discount on your AAT membership fees while you study. As an AAT full or fellow member, you’ll also receive generous exemptions.

Key points:

  • Becoming chartered is a way to enhance your professional knowledge and make yourself more marketable to employers and clients.
  • It opens the door to a range of exciting and well-paid roles in practice and industry.
  • There are real advantages in remaining with AAT and/or sustaining dual membership.
  • Your AAT qualification is the gateway to Power up your accountancy career, especially if you choose the Fast Track option for AAT-ACA students.

Case study: Carl Reader

Carl left school at 15 but thanks to AAT and his own hard work and dedication he has built a hugely successful career and business in accountancy. He is chair of D&T Chartered Accountants in Swindon, having been the firm’s owner and manager until last year, and is a business expert, qualified accountant and the founder of the #BeYourOwnBoss movement.

“I began in accountancy and did AAT because although I had returned to school to do GCSEs, I didn’t have any A levels. At that time, I left school to start a job, but now the option is an apprenticeship through AAT.

“I studied via evening classes and my initial AAT qualification took a couple of years. Then when I was qualified, I changed jobs and started training business owners on computerising their own accounts. Sage was up and coming and I helped people understand how to use it in their business. Then I picked up my studies again a few years later and gained the ACCA qualification which took a couple of years.”

Why did you take the AAT-ACA route?

“I chose ACA/ICAEW rather than CIMA or CIFPA as the former was for management accounting and the latter was public finance and I wanted to progress my career in practice accounting. It was important to get the qualification for practice accounting and it gave me the option of a number of different career paths. It was a good grounding and gave me a lot of skills which I still use every day.”

At this time, Carl had been working at Dennis & Turnbull, a firm where he would become a partner in 2010 and then buy-out and rename as D&T Chartered Accountants in 2014.

What did the qualification entail?

“This involved preparation of a case study and accumulating evidence. One of the motivations to do this was that when I bought out D&T, over 50 per cent of the company had to be chartered accountants rather than certified. My certification was not sufficient to keep that designation, so I had to get the qualification under ICAEW firm regulation rules.”

While he still owns the firm and acts as joint chairman and sits in board meetings, Carl has branched out to be a business expert and keynote speaker. He is also the author of two books on business.

“My accountancy qualification has underpinned everything I have done since, from the basis of AAT, which gives a real vision of how a business works, to my further qualifications. I came to understand that if a business has not got its finances in order then it won’t work – you can’t pay the mortgage on promises.”

How has taking this route benefited you?

He says his AAT and ICAEW certifications have given him credibility in terms of accountancy and general business advice.

“The theory gave me a really powerful base of knowledge and I was able to hone this when I worked with businesses and developed my commercial awareness.”

He says the changes that are coming to accountancy mean it is a great career that has many opportunities.

Employers of the future will be looking to what you can bring to the table from a personality point of view. “A lot of the maths is done by software now and employers are much more looking for personality, drive and attitude. It can still be a job for life and it is now a vibrant career to go into. It has given me the platform to pursue my passions rather than being told what to do.”

Advantages of dual AAT-ACA membership

If you go on to study towards chartered accountancy, there are important advantages to maintaining your AAT full or fellow member status.

  • Keep using your internationally recognised designatory letters, which recognise MAATs as accountants.
  • You can apply for a reduced rate subscription on your AAT membership while you study.
  • Retain access to exclusive user-friendly AAT technical resources and support services.
  • If you hold MAAT status, dual membership also means you can continue to work towards gaining your FMAAT status, the mark of senior technical knowledge and skill.

In summary

Further study can open up your options to a wide range of careers both in and outside of accountancy. There are flexible ways to study, including the Fast Track option, and ACA is a great option if you’re looking to specialise in practice accounting. Click on the links below to read more on other options.

Further reading:

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

Related articles