CIMA vs ACA is a comparison often made. Which one is best? What are the differences? How should I choose?
They are the two most popular accounting qualifications in the UK, but they are very different.
I’m an 11 years qualified ACA myself and have worked with hundreds of both ACA and CIMA qualified accountants over the last decade.
The below are some of the major differences:
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CIMA vs ACA Difference #1: Who
CIMA: For those who want to work in finance but for a company in industry.
ACA: For those who want to work in the big 4 or an audit practice.
(Many people who are ACA qualified usually go on to work in industry, but it’s less common for CIMA graduates to go and work in practice)
CIMA vs ACA Difference #2: Focus
CIMA: The CIMA qualification focuses on the strategic internal reporting side of accounting
ACA: The ACA qualification focuses more on the technical financial accounting side
CIMA vs ACA Difference #3: Management Accounting vs Financial Accounting
CIMA: Management Accounting provides information to people within the company and will only cover particular products
ACA: Financial Accounting provides information to people outside the company.
It covers the entire organisation.
CIMA vs ACA Difference #4: Which you prefer
CIMA: If you prefer management accounting than CIMA might be the better choice
ACA: If you prefer financial accounting then ACA might be a better option for you
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CIMA vs ACA Difference #5: Fulfilling Training Requirements
CIMA: You can do CIMA independently of your employer
ACA: You can study the ACA exam modules independently, however you cannot become an ACA fulfilling the practical work experience, professional development, etc, without an approved training employer
CIMA vs ACA Difference #6: Best suited to
CIMA: Best suited to those who want to know the detail of how a finance department works
ACA: Best suited to those who want to own their own business or advise on different situations
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CIMA vs ACA Difference #7: Experience
CIMA: CIMA’s get involved in all aspects of a company’s finance function, from posting invoices to month end.
ACA: ACA trainees get exposed to lots of different companies and external clients
CIMA vs ACA Difference #8: Study Leave
CIMA: CIMA trainees have to work a 40 hour week and then try and study in evenings and weekends
ACA: ACA trainees tend to get lots of time off to study for exams
CIMA vs ACA Difference #9: Pay
CIMA: Pay is better in the first 5 years, but you get very little (if any) study leave
ACA: Pay is not as good in the first 5 years, but you usually get a lot more paid study leave
CIMA vs ACA Difference #10: The Early Years
CIMA: The work is more varied and interesting in the early years as you are closer to business decisions
ACA: A lot of audit based work in early years which can be very monotonous
CIMA vs ACA Difference #11: Ability to work abroad
CIMA: Becoming more internationally recognised but still less so than ACA
ACA: Internationally recognised so easy to get a job abroad
CIMA versus ACA Difference #12: Switching
CIMA: It’s more difficult to go into more financial accounting and audit roles from a CIMA background
ACA: Lots of ACA qualifieds go into more management accounting and strategy type roles
CIMA versus ACA Difference #13: Once you Qualify
CIMA: You will rarely get a hiring manager specifying they will only consider CIMA qualifieds
ACA: After you qualify many hiring managers just want ACA qualifieds
CIMA versus ACA Difference #14: Prospects
CIMA: It can be easier to move into consulting as some consulting grad schemes offer CIMA
(Source: ICAEW member data at January 2015, FTSE 350 data at December 2014)
I must stress that regardless of which of the above qualifications you have, relevant experience will always be more important for a hiring manager.
The above qualifications are only stepping stones to get better jobs in more interesting companies around the world.
Use them as enablers to fill your CV with great experience and achievements, so you can be in prime position to get the best jobs.