The different accountancy qualifications explained

Accountancy qualifications can provide a brilliant launchpad into finance, accountancy, tax and bookkeeping careers.

You can study in a range of ways including online from your home or office, or in a classroom-based environment. There are a wide variety of routes to getting your accreditation including apprenticeships, short courses, professional qualifications, and undergraduate or postgraduate degrees.

How to choose an accountancy qualification

Because there are so many different types of accountancy qualifications, study and route options, it can feel quite overwhelming if you are starting to research the various alternatives and considering beginning your journey. Which qualification you choose will depend on where you are at now, what you would like to learn and what career path you want to end up on.

What are the different types of accountancy qualifications?

In the UK, the main qualifications accountants can get are AAT, ACA, ACCA, CIMA and CIPFA. Which one you can or want to do will depend on your education and competency levels, how you want to study and it could also depend on your location.

The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) Qualifications

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

There are three levels of the AAT qualifications:

  • AAT Foundation Certificate in Accounting – Level 2
  • AAT Advanced Diploma in Accounting – Level 3
  • AAT Professional Diploma in Accounting – Level 4

These internationally recognised qualifications are excellent for those who want to start accounting from the ground up, change careers into accounting or have some previous experience working in finance. They will ensure you have the practical skills you need to succeed in accounting and to progress with a career in finance and you can study online or in a classroom environment.

With a Professional Diploma, certified accountants are able to work as a self-employed accountant, set up their own practice, find a role working in a company and study to become a chartered accountant.

  • Qualification achieved with AAT: Qualified Accounting Technician
  • Typical jobs you can go into with AAT qualifications: Accounts Administrator, Payroll Administrator, Purchase/Sales Ledger Clerk, Accounts Payable Clerk, Accounts Payable Clerk, Accounts/Finance Assistant, Bookkeeper, Payroll Supervisor, Finance Officer, Senior Bookkeeper, Accounts Payable/Expenses Supervisor, Commercial Analyst, Senior Finance Officer, VAT Accountant, Payments and Billing Manager, Payroll Manager, Cost Accountant, Fixed Asset Accountant, Indirect Tax Manager.

The different types of chartered accountancy qualifications

AAT can be a great starting point to open you up to other chartered accountancy qualifications. The most recognisable chartered accountancy qualifications in the UK are:

  • The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
  • The Association of Chartered Accountants (ACA)
  • The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
  • The Chartered Institute of Public and Finance Accountancy (CIPFA)
  • The Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales (ICAEW)
  • The Institute of Chartered Accountants Scotland (ICAS)
  • The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT)

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) qualification will prepare you for a career in practice, audit or tax. If you are already AAT qualified, you can use the work experience gained during your AAT qualification to count towards the three years of experience required to become an ACCA member.

  • Qualification achieved: Chartered Certified Accountant
  • How long does it take? Typically 3-5 years
  • Number of exams: Up to 13 (depending on exemptions)
  • Work experience: 3 years
  • Typical roles: Financial Accountant, Auditor, Advisory roles.

CIMA

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) is the world’s largest body of management accountants.

  • Qualification achieved: Chartered Management Accountant (ACMA)
  • How long does it take? Typically 3-5 years
  • Number of exams: 12 exams
  • Work experience: 3 years
  • Typical jobs you can go into with CIMA: Management Accountant, Financial Manager, Finance Controller.

The Chartered Institute of Public and Finance Accountancy (CIPFA)T

The Chartered Institute of Public and Finance Accountancy (CIPFA) is a professional institute for accountants working in public services and in organisations where public money is spent.

  • Qualification achieved: CIPFA Professional Accountancy Qualification and CIPFA is an accredited AAT training provider.
  • Typical jobs you can go into with CIPFA: Public sector finance jobs.

The Association of Chartered Accountants (ACA)

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland (ICAS) are professional membership organisations for chartered accountants.

  • Qualification achieved: Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA)
  • How long does it take? Typically 3-5 years
  • Number of exams: 15 exam modules
  • Work experience: 450 practical work experience days
  • Typical jobs you can go into with ICAEW & ICAS: Financial Accountant, Accountancy and Audit Practitioner, Financial Controller.

The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT)

The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) specialises in qualifications in taxation and offers the highest-level tax qualification in the UK – the Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA).

  • Qualification achieved: Chartered Tax Advisor (CTA)
  • How long does it take? Typically 2-3 years
  • Number of exams: 7 exams
  • Work experience: 3 years
  • Typical jobs you can go into with CIOT: Tax Accountant, Tax Director, Partner, Tax Manager.

In summary

AAT provides practical finance and accounting courses, whatever your experience. Click here to get a free AAT prospectus with information on all the courses.

Further reading

Sophie Cross is the Editor of Freelancer Magazine and a freelance writer and marketer at Thoughtfully.

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