AAT – ACCA – the path to financial accounting

Many people progress from their AAT qualification to gain further skills and experience by becoming ACCA chartered.

Alternatively, you can start with an ACCA course if you have the relevant academic requirements.

Why become chartered with ACCA?

There are many professional benefits to becoming ACCA chartered. It is an internally recognised qualification, meaning you could work abroad if you chose to. It shows that you have studied and passed exams to a very high standard and that you have skills in finance, organisational management and strategy.

If you have passed AAT Level 4, you will get exemptions from the three papers under Applied Knowledge and start at Applied Learning and will pay no exemption fees. You may start by following either the traditional or apprenticeship routes.

What sort of role does it prepare me for?

In addition to being a chartered accountant, the qualification also opens career doors in banking, audit, law and tax advice. When you are qualified you could specialise as a financial controller, business strategist, forensic accountant, or in the public or financial services sector.

Mike Lloyd, managing partner of Haines Watts Chartered accounts in Swindon, says he chose the AAT-ACCA route because he wasn’t a graduate. He applied for a full time CAT (Certificate of Accounting Technicians) course, gained a Grade A pass, and his first job.

“ACCA  gave me the technical skills and self-belief to join and progress in the profession,” he says. “Now I am managing Partner and my role is to work with my clients and identify opportunities to help them get from where they are to where they want to be. I am an FCCA and this qualification and accreditation allows me to practice as an accountant and auditor. I have had a successful career in the profession for over 35 years. Without AAT that wouldn’t have happened.”

What does the course involve?

The ACCA qualification is the equivalent to studying for a university degree and is composed of a number of different modules which are tested by exam. Most people work in an accountancy firm or in industry while they are studying – either online or by applying to be on a course. It is common to start the course which you are in a relatively junior role and work your way up as you study. If you work and study at the same time, you could complete the course in three to four years, although many students take up to five years.

Emma Skinner, the Audit & Accounts Manager at Haines Watts, says she got her first job when her future employer came to college looking for a trainee to take on.

“My first qualification was AAT and my college tutor recommended me for it. I then went on to ACCA asap to qualify as young as possible. The qualifications help to prepare you technically in order to provide the best service for clients. Strong relationships with clients rely on trust, studies have given me a strong foundation so I can advise and support clients and their business – without this knowledge, clients cannot trust what we do.”

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.

What is the ACCA Qualification?

According to ACCA, there are three stages of exams, plus an Ethics and Professional Skills module and a Professional Experience Requirement.  The exams consist of:

  • Applied Knowledge including accounting techniques
  • Applied Skills – develops strong, broad and practical finance required of future strategic professional accountant in any sector or industry.
  • Strategic Professional – to develop strategic thinking

There are also options to specialise in areas like tax, audit, or financial management. As well as completing exams and the ethics module, you need three years’ practical experience in a relevant role to qualify.

Will Atkins is Audit & Accounts Senior at Haines Watts. He became an accountant after initially training as a chef. “I trained with AAT and it was my first exposure to accounting and accounting techniques. It helped to build my confidence and general knowledge. Then I progressed to ACCA, because I wanted to do advanced level accounting building on AAT. I chose this course because I wanted to make personal and professional progression in my career.”

Key points:

  • You can take the Fast Track option if you are already AAT qualified
  • In order to qualify fully, you will need to have three years of industry work experience
  • You can study flexibly in a way that suits your family commitments and time constraints
  • AAT is a fast track route to chartered accountancy and can be combined with an ACCA qualification

Case study: Steph Rickaby

Sunflower is a Chartered certified Accountancy practice for Wiltshire in south west England.

Why did you take the AAT-ACCA route?

“I started training in 1996 and I signed up for a book keeping course but it ended up being ACCA and six years later I became qualified. I decided to study with ACCA because I loved the way the course equipped me to understand financial accounting on a deeper level.  I was able to do the course as a mature student.”

How has taking this route benefited you?

I didn’t go into the workplace until the third year of my course and I needed that practical experience. My employer also sent me on a one week intensive book keeping course which gave me a great grounding and helped me to start applying the practical skills in real time and real life scenarios.

AAT gives a real grounding in the skills you will need and it is particularly helpful if you don’t have a lot of qualifications from school and you want to start from a basic level. It is a fantastic qualification that can be really encouraging for someone who wants a good grounding.

Then you can progress to ACCA which really deepens your knowledge. The ACCA qualification opens doors all over the world and gives you lots of career options. At Sunflower Accountants we now have four employees and two associates in India working with us who are ACCA qualified, so it truly is a global qualification.”

Advantages of dual AAT-ACCA 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 designated 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

An ACCA qualification is highly respected and can give you the opportunity to work in banking, finance, public and private sector, tax planning, audit and business strategy.

There are real advantages in remaining with AAT or sustaining dual membership.

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.

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