CIMA vs ACA: Which Accounting Qualification to do? [Infographic]

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 a 9 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:

CIMA vs ACA Infographic 1
CIMA vs ACA Infographic 3
CIMA vs ACA Infographic 3

To read about the career paths of 11 qualified accountants, check out my book ‘1000 Years of Career Advice’.

It interviews 100 graduates 10 years out of University about their career paths and their advice for a younger generation.

You can get the free ebook version here

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

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

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

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

ACA: Approx 83% of FTSE 100 companies have ACA qualified people on their boards

(Source: ICAEW member data at January 2015, FTSE 350 data at December 2014)

Important (!)

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.

For more info:

You will find lots more info on the CIMA and ACA Websites

If you found the above advice helpful and want more, check out the advice of 100 graduates 10 years out of university in my book ‘1000 Years of Career Advice’.

You can get the free ebook version here.

2 thoughts on “CIMA vs ACA: Which Accounting Qualification to do? [Infographic]”

  1. That’s a nice point to point difference, advantages, and disadvantages of both papers. I was looking for more paper-& exam oriented difference. But this is also useful for students looking for future perspective of the exam.

  2. Thanks for the specifications!
    both the exams are quite similar with a quite different exam technique. In my opinion anyone can clear such type of exams with the perfect guidance.

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Hi, I’m Paul. I’m a Finance Director with 14 years experience working for big multinational companies.

I interviewed 100 graduates about their career paths and advice for a young generation.

This blog aims to help young people figure out their career paths.

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