Where to start?
Before we start, it is important for you to know that mathematics and accounting are different in nature, do not think that because you enjoy maths you will enjoy accounting, a friend of mine who enjoyed maths left accounting as he did not enjoy it, he is now a stock broker studying CFA.
Also accounting is and will continue to be welcoming career to those who have dyscalculia and/or dyslexia, in fact you don’t have to be good at maths to be good at accounting, will it help? Yes, but will it hinder you? No.
Here are the accounting options I’m familiar with including one which should not be here:
- Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT)
- Foundations in Accountancy (FIA/CAT)
- Association of Taxations Technicians (ATT)
- An Accounting degree
- Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA)
- Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
- Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
- Association of Chartered Accountants (ACA held by ICAEW)
- Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA held by CIOT)
- Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
The most difficult one here is CFA, this qualification breaks people; and it is that way by design, but it is NOT an accounting qualification! It is a Financial Market qualification, please don’t get this confused.
This is what you choose if you know nothing about accounting but want to pursue it, in my experience don’t bother with the FIA (ACCA’s competitor) as the AAT have done a tremendous job at beating out the competition and getting this qualification under everyone’s nose. A simple job search on Reed or Indeed and type in FIA (or CAT) and then type in AAT you will see the difference for yourself.
AAT will teach you solid double entry and also give you early stage exposure to Management accountant, Financial performance (think Financial Analyst) and Financial Accounting; later you can choose to learn Cash management (think Treasury), Audit and Taxation.
Negatives: this is a personal view, the AAT has morphed into an ‘apprenticeship’ qualification and has now introduced a: pass, merit and distinction grading system, which is a damn shame, I always liked the fact that a pass was a pass and you all went into the work place you were equals, this grading system could cause divide within the qualification as some future employers may ask for your ‘actual’ grades, but this should not deter you at all, it is just a change I personally don’t like.
I’ll be blunt, I just don’t see the point in doing this, AAT is still king of the entry level field for now and I would tell all to go with that.
In time the ACCA may pull a blinder for those who don’t necessarily want an ‘apprenticeship’ qualification (think NVQ) and more familiarity of ACCA exam style questions but at this point stick with AAT, job search results speak for themselves.
If you want to specialise in tax but don’t know anything about it, this is where you start, I would recommend this over the AAT if tax is your goal. It is solely designed for tax and although it is hardly talked about and quite frankly poorly marketed, the good thing is the people who you need to know about this qualification do i.e. the taxation industry.
If you’re not sure if tax is what you want to do, go for the AAT and take the two optional taxation papers as your final papers, they will give you a good taster for what you’ll be in for.
A degree vs ACCA, CIMA, ACA and CTA.
My personal view: take the degree and do your professional qualification IMMEDIATELY AFTER!
If you are doing a degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), still go with the degree, especially Maths! It is still a highly sought after skill/qualification and a SOLID degree to have, it also opens you up to many different fields/industries if you fancy a career change later on.
If you have an invitation to a top rated university go regardless of subject.
If you’re going purely for a degree in accounting, it won’t harm you at all; plus you will be able to get onto graduate schemes when you finish, particularly at the big 4 accounting firms who tend to hire those fresh from university, just remember you will still have to sit some professional qualification exams but you may get exempt from some, i.e. out of the 14 ACCA exams you might only need to sit six exams.
The only time I would opt not to go via a degree route, is if you are already working in an accounting role, then I would say go full steam ahead with your professional qualification and take the degree option they offer at the end (ACCA and CIMA offer a degree option).
To further your career and become a chartered accountant, you WILL have to do one of the following qualifications, consider the above qualifications as a foot in the door.
Don’t bother, even if you only want to do work for the public sector i.e. not for profit (charities, governments etc), as CIPFA is not usually required to get a position in this sector, you’re better off with the transferable qualifications as they will give you more options in future (do a job search and see for yourself).
In short, most would agree management accounting is the more fun side of accounting, if financial accounting bores you to tears chances are you are most likely a management accountant, CIMA is king here.
Whilst there are not as many CIMA dedicated jobs vs ACCA (do a Reed search) truth be told it does not matter, most employers don’t mind which one you have.
I would be amazed if you struggle to find a good management accounting role with this qualification, this qualification can also lead you towards a financial analyst roles and possibly even commercial finance.
CIMA may not have as larger global footprint as ACCA but if say Hong Kong is your dream, it is widely accepted over there.
I don’t know what it is but CIMA just feels more cutting edge, more modern and frankly more with the times/behaviours of the say under 40’s, having this qualification will not hinder you in the slightest.
Also CIMA has partnered with a number of universities to allow their members of attaining a degree whilst studying CIMA.
This does have a prestige to it, it’s usually the badge of honour you get when you complete your professional qualification via a big 4 accounting firm (EY, KPMG, PWC or Deloite), and it’s great to have.
The qualification does have a slight tilt towards auditing/tax.
The ACA does get slightly tricky if you’re not in a training contract, to become a fully chartered accountant, you have to pass exams and meet work experience targets which need to be signed off by an approved employer; it’s a common requirement for all bodies but where ACA is quite tricky is “you will also need to be in the final year of your training agreement, before you can sit the Case Study exam.” i.e. if you’re a self-study student or are with an employer not registered as an approved trainer, you won’t be able to sit this exam, let alone get your experience signed off.
This has a slant towards financial accounting.
In terms of recognition like the AAT, they have done an outstanding job of getting their qualification under people noses globally. Which means if you fancy travelling for a few years, you will not struggle to get work!
Also, with so many members out there; getting your experience signed off is usually reasonably obtained.
They are not as modern feeling as CIMA and were very slow to get CBE exams across the board unlike CIMA.
It also lacks the ‘cool’ of CIMA and the ‘prestige’ the ACA but where the ACCA shines is not only its open arms approach to all, global reach but also its foresight to help fellow members obtain an MBA, the Oxford Brookes MBA option is quite frankly a stroke of brilliance.
They recognised that a significant amount of their candidates might not have a degree and put this in place, great vision from them, the preparation you will get towards financial accounting will be SOLID, it’s the one I personally chose over CIMA due to its financial accounting quality, Oxford Brookes MBA option and global reach (I will add that CIMA has a degree option).
If you know 100% tax is what you want to do, and you have a solid understanding of the basics, this is your choice.
If you sat one of the other professional qualifications exemptions are available depending on which professional qualification and exams you sat.