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CIMA vs. ACCA – Which Qualification is Right for You?

The finance field is excellent for graduates. Find out whether a CIMA or ACCA qualification would suit your career aspirations.

which path to choose

A finance profession is a great option for graduates. Find out whether a CIMA or ACCA qualification would suit your career aspirations best.

There are stereotypes when it comes to becoming an accountant, but accounting bodies have made significant improvements to their qualifications so accountants can help organisations thrive.

So, if you’ve decided to take the step to become an accountant, the most popular choice is generally between CIMA and ACCA.

Both qualifications are highly respected worldwide, with hundreds of thousands of students currently pursuing one or the other.

Let us take you through the differences between the two to allow you to make the right decision for your career.

Choosing CIMA or ACCA

The decision to choose CIMA or ACCA likely comes down to your own long-term career ambitions. Each qualification gives you an option to specialise in different areas of accounting.

But they are professional exams, so there’s no major difference between the difficulty or the time they take to complete.

CIMA Careers

Girl with laptop

CIMA is generally associated with a more business-focused career that will help prepare for future leadership and strategic roles.

CIMA involves passing 14 exams, although you could be exempt from some depending on your degree. It covers management accounting, business strategy and financial strategy.

You should expect a CIMA qualification to open doors to a broader range of roles within an organisation involving strategy and key financial decisions.

Typically CIMA graduates go into a chartered management accountant role initially. This role varies depending on the company, but examples of responsibilities include:

  • Prepare financial statements, which include budgets, P&L accounts, cash flows and variance analysis
  • Monitor spending to keep it in line with budget
  • Inform key strategic decisions and formulate business strategies
  • Advise on business decision and their financial implications
  • Analyse financial performance and contribute to medium and long-term business forecasts
  • Negotiate on major projects, loans and grants
  • Implement corporate governance procedures, risk management and internal controls.

The sky’s the limit for roles with good qualifications, and many CEOs are CIMA qualified to prove that it is not just limited to the finance area.

ACCA Careers

Girl window colorful stik notes reminder

In contrast, ACCA’s qualifications traditionally placed emphasis on auditing and compliance.

Like CIMA, there are 14 exams, and exemptions depend on your degree. It’s generally thought that ACCA gives you a stronger grounding in accounting principles than CIMA, but at the cost of management reporting and corporate strategy.

ACCA affiliates are sought-after in every sector by the big 4 accounting & auditing firms, including KPMG, PwC, Ernst and Young, Deloitte and multinationals like Citicorp, Nestle, JP Morgan, and Microsoft, Siemens, and Accenture, amongst others.

ACCA members tend to join the private practice as consultants or move into areas involving financial assessments, planning and management. They are also sought in the public sector, banking, financial services, or the corporate sector.

Roles suited to an ACCA graduate include:

  • Management Accountant
  • Finance Manager
  • Financial or Business Analyst
  • Financial Consultant
  • Management Consultant
  • Financial Planner

In addition, recent syllabus changes to ACCA have expanded skillsets to offer pathways into companies that are not necessarily finance-based.

An ACCA qualification mirrors the workplace and provides you with real-world challenges allowing you to demonstrate a blend of technical, practical and professional skills.

ACCA & CIMA Salaries

An ACCA graduate in the UK can earn an average of £42,500, while in Australia, it ranges from AU\$43,000 to AU\$77,000. In the U.S., graduates with an ACCA qualification can earn from \$54,512.

For CIMA, in the UK, the starting annual salary for recent graduates in the UK, on average, ranges between £28,000 and £55,000, depending on job title and position.

On a global scale, New Zealand CIMA graduates can earn between NZ\$40,000 to 46,000 while Hong Kong counterparts make between HK\$180,000 to 230,000.

Which accounting qualification is suitable for you?

Man choosing a path

Now you understand the two qualifications, how do you choose the right one for you?

You might want to base part of that decision on any benefit you get from your existing qualifications.

Both professional bodies will give a certain amount of exemptions based on the credit they give to your previous education. One or both may give significant exemptions that shorten the time and expense of completing all of the remaining exams.

Another consideration is the time it might take. This is driven by exemptions and whether you will be a full-time or part-time student.

Depending on the level of exemptions, they could take 3 to 4 years to complete, and both require 3 years of relevant work experience along with the completion of all the required exams.

Finally, you need to consider your future career and which qualification might be more likely to get you there. One way is to identify the ideal job and look at the skills you think are required to reach that level.

Then consider which qualification you believe gives you the best path to getting there.

Conor Motyer
4 min read
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