ACCA versus AAT: What's the Difference?

If you're considering an accounting qualification you'll likely have heard of both ACCA and AAT. In this article, we explain the difference between the two.

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Firstly, what do these logos mean to the world at large?

ACCA is The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and to quote their strategic aim; they are "...the global body for professional accountants".

Formed in 1904, and for many years before their Charter was granted, they were titled the Association of Certified Accountants.

Within the accounting world, ACCA is a global brand and internationally recognised qualification, allowing its members to work in many countries worldwide.

It has an international membership of 220,000, a student population of half a million and a global network of offices in over 50 countries. 

AAT is The Association of Accounting Technicians and was formed in 1980 by the Institute of Accounting Staff (a subsidiary of ACCA) and the Association of Technicians in Finance and Accounting (a subsidiary of CIPFA). However, the initial sponsoring bodies no longer have any form of control in the governance of AAT.

It is recognised as the world’s leading body for accounting technicians, with members and students in more than one hundred countries.

Its latest Trustee Report shows a figure of 129,502 for the total number of Accounting Technicians and Bookkeepers for 2018/19.

However, it was not possible to identify total student numbers. The report stated that there had been a reduction in full (MAAT) and Fellow Members (FMAAT) over the year to 47,517 in 2019.

AAT, formerly an Associate Member of The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), is now a full member and ACCA has been a full member of IFAC for many years.

Which is More Difficult?

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When comparing ACCA vs. AAT, a question often posed by employers and students relates to the difficulty of the qualifications.

An ACCA qualification is harder to achieve, but the rewards are worth the effort. With higher-level ACCA exams, you can go on to become a chartered certified accountant.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland (except Scotland), there are nine qualification levels from Entry Level followed by levels 1 to 8. 

ACCA and AAT: Foundation level

ACCA Foundation level

There are three main groups of qualifications in the ACCA suite.

- Foundations

- Applied Knowledge and Applied Skills

- Strategic Professional

But for comparison with AAT,  we will focus on the Foundation level of each qualification.

Foundation examinations (for those who don’t have the relevant qualifications to start the ACCA Professional Examinations) comprise:

- ACCA Diploma in Financial and Management Accounting
(RQF Level 2) 

Management Information and Recording Financial Transactions. Plus the Foundations in Professionalism Module.

- ACCA Diploma in Financial and Management Accounting (RQF Level 3) 

Maintaining Financial Records and Managing Costs and Finance. Plus the Foundations in Professionalism Module.

- ACCA Diploma in Accounting and Business (RQF Level 4) 

Accountant in Business, Management Accounting and Financial Accounting plus an online Ethics Module.

Successful completion of this Level 4 Diploma is said to be almost equivalent to a foundation degree and can be the start of the journey for further studies towards the ACCA Professional Accounting Qualification.

It also provides an exemption from the first three papers from the Applied Knowledge Examinations.

Certified Accounting Technician (CAT)

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To qualify as a Certified Accounting Technician and become associated with the ACCA as a professional body, two additional modules have to be studied from the below three options:

- Taxation

- Auditing

- Financial Management

These are in addition to completing the Foundation Qualifications. There is also a requirement of one year of practical experience.

Some qualified Certified Accounting Technicians then embark on the journey towards the ACCA Professional Qualification with exemptions from the first three papers of the Applied Knowledge Examinations.

Many work in responsible positions in practice, the public sector and private sector businesses. Additionally, there are examples of Certified Accounting Technicians being self-employed, but they are only allowed to offer services in bookkeeping and payroll and cannot engage in public practice.

Such self-employed individuals must be registered for anti-money laundering supervision with HMRC or another professional body supervisor.

In addition to the foundation studies outlined earlier, ACCA offers The Accounting Technician Apprenticeship (Level 4 Trailblazer), which is classed as a Higher Apprenticeship. Apprentices study and are examined in the following:

- Accountant in Business

- Financial Accounting

- Management Accounting

There is also an online module: ACCA’s Foundations in Professional Ethics. Apprentices also develop a range of essential skills, including communication, teamwork and ethics.

The scheme is Government funded and fully supported by individual employers as work-based training programs. In addition to the modules listed above, there is an End Point Assessment together with the Training Portfolio and Training Log.

The outcome is the Apprenticeship Award together with the ACCA Diploma in Accounting and Business (RQF Level 4).

At this point, we can draw a comparison of these Foundation Studies with the qualifications offered by AAT.

AAT Foundation Level

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There are four AAT Accounting Qualifications:

- AAT Foundation Certificate in Accounting (RQF Level 2)

This comprises basic accounting skills such as Bookkeeping Transactions, Bookkeeping Controls, Elements of Costing, Accounting Software, and Working Effectively in Finance together with a Synoptic Test – applying the skills across the modules in an integrated manner to simulate the workplace.

- AAT Foundation Diploma in Accounting and Business (Level 2: 16-19 year olds only)

In addition to the modules above, it includes: Business Communication and Personal Skills, Developing Life Learning Skills, Introduction to Business and Company Law and Introduction to Payroll.

- AAT Advanced Diploma in Accounting (RQF Level 3): can also be used to become an AAT Bookkeeping Member (AATQB)

This comprises:

- Advanced Bookkeeping

- Final Accounts Preparation

- Management Accounting Costing

- Indirect Taxation

- Ethics for Accountants

- Spreadsheets for Accounting

- Advanced Diploma Synoptic.


On successful completion, a candidate can apply for Associate Bookkeeping Membership and achieve Professional AATQB Status.

- AAT Professional Diploma in Accounting (RQF Level 4)‍

The AAT Professional Diploma includes:

- Management Accounting: Budgeting

- Management Accounting: Decision Making and Control

- Financial Statements of Limited Companies

- Accounting Systems and Controls together with the Professional Diploma Synoptic Assessment.

Optional units (2 to be studied) include:

- Business Tax

- Personal Tax

- External Auditing

- Cash and Treasury Management

- Credit Management.

This, together with work experience, can lead to Professional MAAT Status.

AAT also offers short 6-12 week bookkeeping qualifications at Levels 1, 2 and 3 towards AATQB status, but these are outside the scope of this comparison.

What’s the next step after doing Level 1-4 with AAT?

With a completed AAT qualification, you can then embark upon studies as a chartered accountant with one of the senior UK Accountancy Bodies such as ACCA, CIMA, CIPFA, ICAEW and AIA.

AAT’s relationship over several years with some of these institutions has led them to allow limited exemptions from their qualifications to Accounting Technicians. For example, you will be eligible for ACCA exam exemptions once AAT qualified. 

AAT now refers to those with professional MAAT status as having achieved "Professional AAT Accountant Status".

This has been questioned by many in the profession as to how a Level 4 qualified person can be designated a Professional Accountant.

However, it must be recognised that some qualified Accounting Technicians may hold the position of an accountant in an SME.

Source: Pexels

Self Employment

There are 4,250 Licensed AAT Accountants providing accountancy, taxation and other services to the public.

Research suggests that this includes personal and business tax and preparation of financial statements for micro-entities and small limited companies subject to the UK GAAP FRS 105 and FRS 102 Section 1A.

This is interesting to note as such qualified Accounting Technicians will have studied IFRS and IAS Standards at Level 4 rather than the UK GAAP.

The latest UK GAAP was however influenced in part by the IASB’s Standard for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises.

Compared with ACCA and its control of Certified Accounting Technicians, the AAT allows much more freedom for their Licensed AAT Accountants to engage in public practice.

Many other qualified MAAT and FMAAT Members of the Association work in responsible senior roles in the public and private sectors and in accounting practices.

As with ACCA, AAT has a suite of apprenticeships embedded in its training programmes at three levels.

- Intermediate Apprenticeship (Level 2)

- Assistant Accountant Apprenticeship (Level 3)

- Professional Accounting Technician Apprenticeship (Level 4)

At each level, in addition to the Apprenticeship Award, the following are studied as part of the programme.

- Foundation Certificate in Accounting – Intermediate Apprenticeship.

- Advanced Diploma in Accounting – Assistant Accountant Apprenticeship.

- Professional Diploma in Accounting – Professional Accounting Technician Apprenticeship.

As mentioned earlier, these are government-funded, employer-supported, and work-based training programmes.

ACCA Higher Levels

Thus far, the detail and comparisons have focused on Levels 2 to 4 for both ACCA and AAT. In addition to this like-with-like analysis, the following summary relates to ACCA Applied Knowledge and Applied Skills (Levels 5 and 6) and Strategic Professional (Level 7).

There are nine subjects in the Applied Knowledge (3) and Applied Skills (6) groups.

ACCA has a close relationship with many Universities in the UK. For example, students, after registering with Oxford Brookes University and completing all the Applied Knowledge and Applied Skills modules with passes in Financial Reporting and Audit and Assurance, can submit a Research and Analysis Project for assessment by the University. If successful, they are awarded a BSc (Hons) in Applied Accounting.

The 6 Applied Skills Modules are benchmarked as Level 6, as are all University first degrees.

Students completing the 9 subjects in the group are awarded the ACCA Advanced Diploma in Accounting and Business, subject to two papers being sat and passed. Those who obtain complete exemption do not receive the award.

ACCA Strategic Professional (Level 7)

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A Level 7 ACCA qualification is equivalent to a Masters' Degree.

The group of modules comprises: 

- Strategic Business Leader

- Strategic Business Reporting, and two options from: 

- Advanced Financial Management

- Advanced Performance Management

- Advanced Taxation and Advanced Audit and Assurance

Students are also required to complete the Ethics and Professional Skills Module. On completion of this level, students are awarded a Strategic Professional Certificate.

ACCA has worked in partnership over several years with Oxford Brookes University on a Global MBA. There are also a number of Universities that link the ACCA Scheme with study at the Masters Level.

With the provision of a wide range of learning materials from leading learning providers and the high-quality services they offer, together with the opportunity for Advanced Apprenticeships and part-time study, this route has become a more viable option to University for many students.

ACCA is clearly a global influence in the training of professional accountants in the 21st Century.


Dr. Philip E Dunn was an Educational Consultant and was involved with the training of accountants, accounting technicians,and university students for five decades. He was the author of over a thousand publications in journals worldwide and has produced learning and assessment materials for a number of leading private sector learning providers. In recent years he contributed significantly to PQ Magazine. He was a strong advocate for the development and the global use of International Financial Reporting Standards IAS/IFRS.

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