How to choose an accountancy qualification: ACCA vs CIMA

By Robert Half 12th November 2014

ACCA and CIMA are both great qualifications that can give your career prospects a boost. But how do you choose between them? Thiago Kiwi from the London School of Business and Finance Manchester explains the key differences.

You know you want to study for an accountancy qualification. It’s a great move that will open huge numbers of doors and catapult you into an exciting career in any number of industries and locations. But then it comes to choosing which route to go down, and the next tough question emerges: which qualification should I choose?

CIMA and ACCA are both prestigious qualifications that will give your career prospects a massive boost. CIMA and ACCA are both prestigious qualifications that will give your career prospects a massive boost. But they each have different strengths, and you may find one suits your ambitions better than the other. Obviously it’s important to do your research. Here are just a few of the things to consider before you take the plunge.

Specialist vs generalist

The most important question you need to ask yourself before you choose a qualification is what you want from your career. CIMA is a specialist management accounting qualification, which makes it perfect for those who know that they would definitely like to work in the world of business and management. It has a good overlap with business practice, so it’s an excellent starting point for a career in that sphere.

On the other hand, ACCA is a broader qualification that offers a bit more flexibility. You can still specialise in some areas towards the end of the course, but the sheer variety of core accounting skills and knowledge that it provides is great for those who want to work in a range of different industries, or even keep their options open for a while.

Where do you want to work?

Both CIMA and ACCA are widely recognised qualifications. In the UK, you’ll find that both are highly respected and can turn the heads of employers seeking the right professional talent. Around the world, both can also offer a wide variety of opportunities.

CIMA-qualified accountants are entitled to use the designation of Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA), which makes you part of an international network that will earn you recognition wherever you go. At the same time, ACCA is accepted in well over 100 countries worldwide, including a series of partnerships with local accountancy bodies in many locations.

Think about where you would like to work throughout your career, and ensure the qualification you choose is recognised there - the chances are you won’t be disappointed. You may, however, have to think about the types of business that are most common in that region.

Who would you like to work for?

This is probably one of the biggest differences between the two qualifications. Because of CIMA’s focus on management accounting in a business context, it’s ideal for those who know they want to work in the finance or management functions of bigger organisations. It equips you with skills that will enable you to work across functions with the strategic needs of the business in mind, and that’s great for large employers.

However, ACCA’s broader approach to accountancy skills means you can work in a wide range of sectors. It also ensures you have everything you need to work for yourself as a self-employed accountant, or in an accountancy practice where you will work with clients. If you’re not sure that a career in big business is right for you, this could be a better option.

Earlier this year, we interviewed 149 finance and accountancy employers and found out that both CIMA and ACCA qualifications are highly regarded when it comes to entry-level recruitment. While some of the respondents commented that the preference for a specific qualification depends upon the role, CIMA and ACCA’s popularity shows that most firms still prefer candidates to hold the largest and most widely recognised qualifications, even for entry-level accountancy roles.

If you are on your way to becoming CIMA qualified or currently a CIMA member check out these 5 essential points to boost your career. If you are ACCA qualified or working towards your ACCA qualification then these 5 tips will be more interesting for you.

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