Hello and welcome to our guide covering a comparison of the CPA license and the ACCA designation.
By the end of this article (CPA vs ACCA), you will know the similarities and differences between the two and have sufficient background to understand what is the best next step for your career!
We will go through the following topics:
In essence, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the United States is roughly the equivalent of a Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA) in the United Kingdom, which is recognized globally.
Stick with us to the end of this article to know the ins and outs of these two comparable credentials!
What is an ACCA?
The Chartered Certified Accountant is a globally recognized qualification offered by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).
The ACCA (the association) is headquartered in London and is the official professional accounting body that certifies those practicing as chartered accountants.
The association has a global network that is focused on sharpening the standards of the accounting profession.
One must be an ACCA (the certification) member and pass a rigorous program in order to become an ACCA member and earn the right to call themselves a Chartered Certified Accountant.
ACCA candidates have 15 different ACCA exams or papers – 9 levels are for Fundamental Level Exams while the other 6 are for Professional Level Exams.
A typical candidate must take all 9 Fundamental Level papers and 4 of the 6 Professional Level papers.
The exams consist of different question types, including multiple-choice, multiple responses, matching multiple responses, and number entry.
The candidate also has to complete an Ethics and Professional Skills Module.
The 9 Fundamental Papers are as follows:
- Business and Technology (BT)
- Financial Accounting (FA)
- Management Accounting (MA)
- Corporate and Business Law (LW)
- Taxation (TX)
- Financial Reporting (FR)
- Performance Management (PM)
- Financial Management (FM)
- Audit and Assurance (AA)
The 2 Strategic Professional Essentials are:
- Strategic Business Reporting (SBR)
- Strategic Business Leader (SBL)
The 4 Strategic Professional Options are:
- Advanced Financial Management (AFM)
- Advanced Audit and Assurance (AAA)
- Advanced Taxation (ATX)
- Advanced Performance Management (APM)
Candidates have the option to waive some or all of the 9 Fundamental papers if they have the necessary credentials and proven knowledge in the subject area of the papers.
In order to be eligible for the ACCA application process, you will need the following:
- Two (2) A-Levels and three (3) GCSEs in five different subjects (should include Engish and Math)
From there, you will need to pass or be exempt from 13 ACCA exams and pass them.
You also have the additional work experience requirement after passing the exam: you need three years’ worth of relevant work experience evaluated and approved by a professional.
ACCA applicants must pay the following fees for their registration (the following prices are for US citizens and listed as GBP):
- Initial registration: £89
- Re-registration: £89
- Annual subscription (to keep student status active): £116
Because of the exemptions model, the cost for the ACCA license is different for all applicants.
Each exam is paid separately, whereas the Applied Knowledge exams are on-demand computer-based exams.
Applied Skills exams are priced according to the time of entry:
- Early entry: £119
- Standard entry: £126
- Late entry: £323
Strategic Professional Essentials exams are priced according to the time of entry:
- Early entry: £216
- Standard entry: £229
- Late entry: £369
Strategic Professional Options exams are priced according to the time of entry:
- Early entry: £155
- Standard entry: £164
- Late entry: £369
The Ethics and Professional Skills Module is a separate £72.
Candidates who complete the program and become Chartered Certified Accountants.
This makes them eligible for a wide variety of roles in the world of finance and accounting.
On the ACCA Global website job board, they post the following roles – the listed are arranged from the most common postings.
- Financial Analyst
- Tax Accountant
- Business Analyst
- Chief Financial Officer
- Financial Planning and Analysis
- Finance Manager
- Financial Accountant
- Accounts Assistant
- Management Accountant
- Financial controller
- Accounts Payable/ Accounts Receivable
- Forensic Accountant
- Finance Director
- Fund Accountant
- Credit Control
- Finance Business Partner
- Internal Auditor
- Trainee Accountant
- Assistant accountant
- Head of Finance
- Assistant Management Accountant
- Group Accountant
- Chief Accountant
- NED/ Trustee
- Tutor/ Lecturer/ Trainer
As you can see, there are lots of roles that an ACCA can fill up, from entry-level roles to the highest finance role of a company.
Differences between CPA and ACCA
“CPA” and “ACCA” are distinguished post-nominals in the world of accounting.
They are also recognized by the wider public, due to their importance to business, corporations, and finance.
However, there are certainly significant differences that can help narrow down your search for the best accounting credential.
License Domain and Location
The US Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential is managed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and is focused on approving accountants with representation rights in their state of practice.
On the other hand, the UK Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA) is headquartered in London but is recognized worldwide.
It is not only commonwealth countries like the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and the like who recognize the ACCA, but many other countries like Japan, Singapore, the UAE, and even the European Union.
If you already have some idea about where you want to work and settle, keep this in mind when you are applying for certification.
Program Educational Support
There are a lot of CPA review courses on the market, and their costs could rival those of the exam and membership to the AICPA itself.
There are no official CPA review materials, and you may find yourself self-studying on material that has been developed by a third party for commercial purposes.
CPA review courses can be very expensive, but many offer case studies and simulations that can be your key to passing the CPA as efficiently as possible.
The ACCA application is akin to an educational program – registration to the program makes you eligible for the official review materials provided by the association.
They also provide connections to their approved learning partners, who are sure to teach you the exact material that will be covered by the exam.
Length of Course/Application
The amount of time it takes to get certified as an ACCA is almost double the time it takes to get certified as a CPA – why is that?
The US CPA, exams are split into four different parts:
- Auditing and Attestation (AUD),
- Business Environment and Concepts (BEC),
- Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and
- Regulation (REG)
All four tests should be completed within 18 months to be eligible for the license.
This means that starting from the day that applicants pass their first exam, they have one and a half years to take and pass the other three sections.
It is also up to the candidate how they would like to pace their CPA exams.
Some maximize the 18 months on relatively lax study strategies, and some confidently take all four exams in less than 6 months.
Due to the nature of the ACCA being able to waive up to 9 Fundamental papers, the complete schedule of the ACCA can vary from one applicant to another.
However, it’s been observed that it takes a minimum of 3 years, and an average of 3 to 5 years to complete the papers for the qualification.
All the applicable tests should be completed within seven years to be eligible for the qualification.
The limits on the amount of time it takes to complete the credential not only keep the applicants focused on completing the entire process in a timely manner but also ensures that all of the information from the review and items in the exam is relevant and up-to-date with the current state and standards of the accounting industry.
When you compare the maximum of 1.5 years for the CPA and the minimum of 3 years for the ACCA, it might seem like the ACCA is a bit long drawn out.
However, it can be said that three years of working experience in the ACCA is warranted to build chartered accountants that abide by the high standards of the association.
Either way, wherever you are in your career journey – if you have lots of relevant experience, and if you don’t mind studying for up to 3 years – may be able to point you in the right direction.
The CPA exam is managed by the AICPA, but the CPA license is issued by the state board included in the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).
Because of this, the requirements to be eligible and take the CPA exam can vary from state to state – there are no uniform guidelines throughout the whole country.
This complication makes the process and the payments as strenuous as the exam itself.
On the other hand, the ACCA exam syllabus is uniform for applicants from all countries around the world.
Applying for the ACCA is much easier and accessible for a wider variety of applicants.
ACCA also entertains a lot of exemptions and waivers because of the partnerships and agreements they have made with other accounting bodies.
In fact, the ACCA entertains many waivers for licensed CPAs.
Unfortunately, the reverse isn’t true for ACCAs who want to become CPAs – you will need that bachelor’s degree and one year of supervised work experience.
From the two, the CPA requires more rigorous educational requirements.
The CPA requires the following from its applicants:
- A four-year bachelor’s degree, concentrating on finance and accounting
- At least 150 semester credit hours, and those credit hours focus on business, finance, and accounting subjects
Even more frustrating is the fact that the educational requirements can also vary from state to state, making it harder to comply perfectly with some jurisdictions.
The ACCA, on the other hand, is a bit more lax, even for international applicants.
The ACCA requires the following from its applicants:
- Two (2) A-Levels and three (3) GCSEs in five different subjects (should include Engish and Math), equivalent to a high school diploma in other countries
As you can see, this opens the doors to a larger audience.
On the flip side, while CPA’s educational requirement is much more strict, the opposite is true for the experience requirement.
In order to be eligible for the CPA license, you need at least one year of practical experience while being supervised by a CPA professional with an active license.
For the ACCA, you are required to have 36 months or 3 years of relevant work experience, which needs to be approved by a practical experience supervisor.
During this professional experience for the ACCA, you are also expected to complete 9 performance objectives that can help determine your eligibility to become part of the ranks of the association.
Similarities Between CPA and ACCA
Both being focused on finance and accounting, there are also other things that are similar between the two certifications that could affect your decision-making process.
At the end of the day, ACCA vs CPA is comparing two very qualified accounting experts.
While they may have some differences, primarily due to location – as CPA is guided heavily by the US GAAP – they take on similar principles of the accounting practice.
Both also have strict importance on ethics and making sure all licensed professionals know their responsibility as part of the ACCA or AICPA community.
CPAs find themselves in jobs like:
- Public accountant
- Accounting managers
- External or internal audit
- Financial analyst
- Treasury and Cash management
- Forensic accountant
- Financial advisor
- Various roles at accounting firms
These roles are comparable to the job postings from ACCA Global, as stated in the “ACCA Career” Section of this article.
Both qualifications can become successful at these roles due to the intense training and discipline their credentials took to complete.
While the barrier to entry for both is quite different, both credentials are no walk-in-the-park.
According to the AICPA, the cumulative results for the year 2021 are as follows:
- Auditing and Attestation (AUD): 46.98%
- Business Environment and Concepts (BEC): 61.94%
- Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR): 44.54%
- Regulation (REG): 59.88%
According to the ACCA, the pass rate for the September 2021 exam are as follows:
- Business and Technology (BT): 83%
- Financial Accounting (FA): 70%
- Management Accounting (MA): 66%
- Corporate and Business Law (LW): 85%
- Taxation (TX): 52%
- Financial Reporting (FR): 48%
- Performance Management (PM): 37%
- Financial Management (FM): 52%
- Audit and Assurance (AA): 39%
- Strategic Business Leader (SBL): 51%
- Strategic Business Reporting (SBR): 48%
- Advanced Financial Management (AFM): 37%
- Advanced Audit and Assurance (AAA): 34%
- Advanced Taxation (ATX): 36%
- Advanced Performance Management (APM): 30%
As you can see, the passing rates vary per topic but the data tells us that both exams are difficult ones that require a lot of preparation.
What Should You Go For – CPA or ACCA?
Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself when you are thinking about whether a CPA or an ACCA is best for your career.
Where do you plan to practice accounting?
Where in the world would you like to be employed?
If you are interested in working in the USA or at American companies and firms, the CPA is definitely the way to go.
It is a highly regarded credential in popular culture, and even those who don’t understand the world of accounting know the importance of the CPA certification.
On the other hand, if you are a wandering soul who wants to experience different places to work, the ACCA could be a great option for you.
The ACCA is recognized worldwide and has created networks all over the globe to become a more accessible voice for maintaining high standards of accounting principles.
What are your career goals?
Have you decided to dedicate your career to the accounting profession?
If you have, that might be able to guide you to which accounting qualification you prefer.
If you’ve ruled out CFA, CMA, and CIMA on your list, going through a CPA course is a fine choice that will open a lot of employment opportunities.
You don’t have to just work at accounting firms – you could potentially be working with large consulting firms, MNCs, and other glamorous jobs,
On the other hand, the ACCA is an accessible program that will help you study these critical concepts in finance and accounting.
The flexibility of the certification can provide some comfort to people who are still not sure about what they want out of their careers but would still like a world-class professional status to go alongside their name.
Because ACCA has built itself as a global brand, they have created partnerships all around the world that can benefit your career.
Thanks to the work of the organization in staying true to the high standards of the profession, the number of ACCAs is growing rapidly, alongside their demand from employers.
Do you want to study for a long time?
While both the CPA and the ACCA offer strong credentials that will help you in your future career, they also require candidates to not only go through a rigorous examination process but pursue continuing education units at approved learning providers.
However, the ACCA takes a significantly long time – potentially more than three times longer than a CPA in some situations!
Studying for the ACCA is like having a master’s degree due to the amount of learning that candidates will be doing throughout their application process.
For people who enjoy studying and learning new things in order to level up in their career, ACCA could be a fine choice to create a great knowledge base and connect with a great network of finance professionals.
However, those who are more impatient or don’t do terribly well in an educational scenario might like the faster pace of the CPA.
The CPA and ACCA certifications are different in that they serve different jurisdictions, and thus they have to focus on different regulations.
However, in terms of generally accepted accounting standards, they have a similar educational and career paths.
Both have high regard for accounting standards and expect their members to represent the group to the best of their abilities.
Whichever license you choose, you are sure to have a bright and stable career and network ahead of you.