When you are told that someone is a "qualified" accountant, it (hopefully) conjures an impression of technical competence and reliability. Not the most exciting of images, sure, but certainly a safe pair of hands to handle your business. Accounting qualifications come in different flavours, depending on their focus, the way they've been achieved and the level of technical expertise they have covered. So what is the difference between a Chartered Accountant and a Chartered Certified Accountant? How does ACA compare to AAT? What the hell is CIPFA?! We run through the most common categories below:
Chartered Accountants (aka: ACA, ICAEW, ICAS)
Bulldog Accounting is a member practice of the ICAEW i.e. we are chartered accountants. The ICAEW - the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales - awards the ACA - the Association of Chartered Accountants - qualification. Typically associated with audit & practise firms (Deloitte, EY, PWC and my alma mater the National Audit Office), the ACA requires 3 years of relevant work experience and the completion of a series of exams. The qualification is focused on the UK though does cover International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).
Chartered Certified Accountants (aka: ACCA)
Awarded by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, this qualification is very similiar to the ACA but is presented as more forward-thinking and internationally applicable. So if the ACA are the stuffy old school accountants, the ACCA are the bright, up and coming jet-setting accountants. Awarded over a minimum of three years, the majority of ACCA accountants we've encountered study through a front-line finance role i.e. not in practise.
Charted Institute of Management Accountants (aka: CIMA)
CIMA is marketed as a business focused qualification, hence the inclusion of "management" accountants in the title. Whilst technical financial accounting topics are covered, the focus is much more practical and operationally focused, specialising in management accounting. Very similar to the ACCA, this is a qualification often achieved through working in a front-line finance role rather than practise.
Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA)
As the title suggests, CIPFA is the accounting qualification specifically for public sector professionals. There are a number of quirks to central and local government accounting which lend themselves to a specialist qualification. Less common in the commercial world for obvious reasons, if you need to know the difference between DEL and AME they are your guys!
Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT, MAAT)
The AAT qualification can be completed over one year and provides a grounding in practical finance and accounting. Not as deep or technically focused as the CIMA, ACCA or ACA, the AAT is a really useful entry level qualification for finance processing staff. With a couple of years additional study, it can easily be converted into any of the other, more technical qualifications.
There are a number of other nuances and variations and we haven't even touched on tax but hopefully this provides some clarification for you non-accountancy folk. Whilst the qualifications mentioned have different benefits, they are all valuable and achieving them requires a huge amount of hard work and dedication.