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What's the difference between CIMA/ACCA/ACA? and which would work for you?

​You know you want to become an accountant, you may already have a degree under your belt or are already working in a finance department but are wondering – what qualification do you need to be an accountant?

With ACA, ACCA and CIMA to choose from it might not be immediately obvious which you should take. All three are prestigious in their own right and will qualify you as an accountant able to sign off accounts.

Though there are fewer differences between ACA and ACCA than between those and CIMA, which to take is likely to come down to where you want to work and what type of accounting you’re more interested in.

What type of role do you want?

There are two main strands to accountancy – financial accounting (including audit and tax) and management accounting. Broadly speaking financial accounting relates to financial information that has already happened or is happening (cashflow, profit and loss, balance sheets, etc.) whereas management accounting uses information to make financial decisions for the future.

What’s the difference between ACCA and CIMA?

CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) is, as its name suggests, tailored for those wanting to work in management accounts rather than financial accounting or auditing. Those who choose this option will likely be looking to work within the finance industry and have an interest in business and strategy; management accounting incorporates a lot of analysis and forecasting.

ACA and ACCA are designed primarily for financial accounting and additional elements such as tax, audit and so on, suitable for both practice and industry.

ACA is typically the qualification afforded greater recognition and prestige within practice roles in the UK, particularly the Big 4 (and similar), whereas ACCA is suitable for industry as well as practice. ACA has a greater focus on audit, but ACCA is a globally recognised qualification.

What do I need in order to take these qualifications, and what does the assessment comprise?

The route in to all three is either from a (typically relevant) degree, or other accounting qualification (see below).


CIMA takes upwards of three years and consists of practical work experience (three years) and 12 exams.


ACA also requires three years practical work experience plus 15 exams plus an ethics module.


This route to can be more flexible than the ACA, with full and part-time options. It takes a minimum of two years, including work experience and 13 exams and an ethics module.

Full list of accountancy qualifications available in the UK

Studying ACCA, ACA or CIMA is necessary to become a fully-qualified accountant in the UK. This is often through taking a degree first, however some take an entry-level accounting qualification first, such as:

  • AAT – Association of Accounting Technicians

  • CFAB – The Certificate of Finance, Business and Accounting

  • CIPFA – The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy

These can be undertaken prior to employment are more often undertaken while working in a related capacity.

Related qualifications include:

CFA – Chartered Financial Analyst

This is for Financial Analysts specifically

Edward Mann can assist you in finding the right job move where you can fully utilise your skills and plan for personal growth to ensure a bright future. Our consultants will help you at every step of the way, offering application support, and interview advice so you make the right impression.

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