Accounting Qualifications in the UK - A Comprehensive Guide for 2023
This article will discuss the qualification requirements, exam formats and benefits of the ACCA, CIMA and ACA qualifications.
If you're considering a career in accounting and need help determining where to begin or which qualifications to pursue, look no further. Our comprehensive guide for 2023 covers everything you need to know about an accountancy qualification in the UK.
The three most recognised chartered accountancy qualifications are:
- CIMA, and
This article will discuss the qualification requirements, exam formats and benefits of each. So, let's delve in and equip ourselves with the knowledge required to succeed as an accountant.
ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)
ACCA is a professional accountancy qualification that is recognised globally. With recognition in over 180 countries, achieving the ACCA qualification opens doors to becoming a chartered accountant near and far from home.
ACCA offers candidates a variety of flexible study options, allowing for full-time or part-time study and the freedom to take exams in any order preferred. Additionally, the qualification is accessible through different study methods, such as online, face-to-face, or blended learning.
Members can also take advantage of the organisation's support services, including career development resources, networking opportunities, and access to technical guidance and information. These services are designed to help members achieve their professional goals and grow throughout their careers. 
ACCA Qualification Requirements
- Membership Fees: As a professional body, ACCA charges membership fees for students to be registered and continue their studies. These fees are subject to change and vary depending on the student's location and circumstances.
- English Language Proficiency: As the ACCA qualification is taught in English, students must have a good command of the language. If English is not their first language, they may need to provide proof of their English proficiency by taking an approved language test, like IELTS or TOEFL.
- Academic Qualifications: Students must have a minimum of two A Levels and three GCSEs in five subjects, including English and Maths, or their equivalent. Equivalent qualifications may include the Scottish Higher, International Baccalaureate, or vocational qualifications like BTECs.
- Minimum Work Experience: To become a fully qualified ACCA member, candidates must complete a minimum of 36 months of work experience, which can be gained before, during, or after completing the ACCA exams.
The work experience must be in a relevant accounting or finance role that enables the candidate to develop the necessary technical, ethical, and professional skills required of a qualified accountant. Relevant roles include financial accounting, management accounting, audit, tax, and advisory services.
- Exam Modules: individuals are required to pass a comprehensive set of exams that assess their knowledge and skills in various areas of accounting and finance. These exams are categorised into three levels: Applied Knowledge, Applied Skills, and Strategic Professional. Passing these exams is a key requirement for individuals seeking to attain ACCA membership and advance their careers in the accounting and finance industry.
ACCA Examination Structure and Format
Here is a breakdown of the exam structure for each level:
The Applied Knowledge level comprises three exams:
- Accountant in Business (AB)
- Management Accounting (MA)
- Financial Accounting (FA)
All three exams are computer-based and consist of multiple-choice questions. Each exam is two hours long and is worth 100 marks. The passing mark for each exam is 50%.
The Applied Skills level comprises six exams:
- Corporate and Business Law (LW)
- Performance Management (PM)
- Taxation (TX)
- Financial Reporting (FR)
- Audit and Assurance (AA)
- Financial Management (FM)
All six exams consist of a combination of objective test questions and case-based questions. The exams are three hours long and are worth 100 marks. The passing mark for each exam is 50%.
The Strategic Professional level comprises two modules: Essentials and Options.
- Strategic Business Leader (SBL)
- Strategic Business Reporting (SBR)
Both Strategic Business Leader and Strategic Business Reporting are paper-based exams and are four hours long. They are worth 100 marks each, with the passing mark being 50%.
Students must complete two out of four optional exams:
- Advanced Financial Management (AFM)
- Advanced Performance Management (APM)
- Advanced Taxation (ATX)
- Advanced Audit and Assurance (AAA)
Students are required to choose and complete two of the four options exams to complete the Strategic Professional level.
Benefits of ACCA Qualification
ACCA qualification confers a robust foundation in accounting, finance and broader business and management skills. It provides its members with technical expertise to analyse and interpret financial data, as well as strategic thinking skills to provide valuable insights and recommendations to clients and organisations.
In addition, the qualification is highly valued by employers, serving as a gateway to career advancement and allowing access to a wide range of roles, including accounting and finance, business management, and consulting.
And lastly, with over 208,000 members and 503,000 students across 179 countries, the ACCA certification enjoys global recognition and respect, presenting ACCA members with diverse career opportunities in various industries and countries.
CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)
CIMA is a professional organisation founded in 1919. The institute offers a highly respected global qualification in management accounting that requires candidates to pass a series of exams and fulfill practical experience requirements.
The course curriculum encompasses various topics such as financial accounting, management accounting, taxation, corporate finance, and business strategy.
Apart from the qualification, CIMA also offers multiple professional development opportunities to its members, including access to networking and training events, along with CPD resources to ensure they remain up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in business accounting.
Moreover, CIMA prioritises ethical standards and best practices in the management accounting profession. Its members are obligated to follow the institute's code of ethics, and CIMA collaborates with regulators and other professional bodies to maintain the highest standards of integrity and professionalism in the field. 
CIMA Qualification Requirements
To earn the CIMA qualification, candidates must meet certain requirements demonstrating their academic and practical skills.
- Entry Requirements: There are no formal entry requirements for the CIMA accountancy qualification. However, candidates must have a good understanding of English and basic mathematics skills.
- Practical Experience: The PER requires candidates to complete a minimum of three years of relevant practical experience, which can be gained before, during, or after completing the CIMA exams. The experience must be gained in a role that applies management accounting skills and knowledge. This can include roles such as financial analyst, management accountant, financial controller, or finance manager.
During the PER, candidates must demonstrate their ability to apply the knowledge and skills gained through the qualification in a real-world setting. This includes demonstrating their ability to analyze financial data, prepare financial reports, develop budgets, and make strategic financial decisions.
- Exam Modules: Candidates need to pass a series of exams. The qualification has three levels, and candidates must pass all the exams at each level to progress to the next. The exams cover various topics, including financial accounting, taxation, corporate finance, and business strategy.
- Ethics Module: This covers ethical principles, values, and behavior relevant to accounting professionals.
CIMA Examination Structure and Format
The CIMA qualification comprises three learning pillars and three levels. You must pass a series of 12 exams: 9 Objective tests and 3 Case Study exams.
Candidates with an MBA or a master's degree in accounting can take the CIMA Masters Gateway test, which offers a quicker route to qualification. If they pass this test, they can skip the first two levels and proceed directly to the Strategic level.
At this level, candidates will learn about the duties of a junior accountant, which includes implementing strategies and providing relevant reports.
E1: Managing Finance in a Digital World
P1: Management Accounting
F1: Financial Reporting
OCS (Operational Case Study)
This pertains to the role of managers as intermediaries between senior management and the workforce and bridging the gap between strategy and execution. Their primary responsibilities include overseeing and reporting on operations.
Candidates at this level will acquire expertise in establishing group accounts, selecting prices and products, and handling relationships and projects. They will also learn how to manage and lead teams effectively, ensuring company objectives are met.
E2: Managing Performance
P2: Advanced Management Accounting
F2: Advanced Financial Reporting
MCS (Management Case Study)
At this level, the curriculum revolves around senior management, specifically on how to make strategic decisions and provide a framework for their implementation. Candidates will develop expertise in formulating financial strategies, managing strategic partnerships, and identifying and managing risks.
Moreover, they will learn how to effectively lead teams and drive organizational performance, ensuring the company achieves its long-term objectives.
E3: Strategic Management
P3: Risk Management
F3: Financial Strategy
SCS (Strategic Case Study)
Benefits of the CIMA Qualification
Firstly, it showcases a remarkable level of expertise and knowledge in the accounting field, leading to better job prospects and increased earning potential. Moreover, the qualification is internationally recognized, allowing individuals to work in diverse countries and organisations worldwide.
Related: What is CIMA and is it Worth it?
CIMA's emphasis on strategic management and business skills prepares qualification holders to take on leadership positions and make informed business decisions. The qualification also offers continuous learning and professional growth opportunities through CIMA's continuous training and networking programs.
ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant)
The ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant) qualification is among the most advanced learning and professional development programs available. It is offered by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), a globally recognised UK-based professional body. This qualification is taken by many graduates who want to get into chartered accountancy and can also be taken by experienced professionals who wish to develop their skills further.
Once you have completed the qualification, you will gain membership to ICAEW, which provides access to various benefits. This includes networking opportunities with other members, access to technical resources, and guidance on professional standards. You will also be able to use the letters ACA after your name. 
ACA Qualification Requirements
To be eligible for the ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant) qualification, individuals must meet certain requirements set by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). These requirements include:
- ICAEW Membership: Candidates must register with the ICAEW and pay the necessary fees. They must also complete the required assessments and training modules.
- Work Experience: Candidates must be employed in a suitable role for 450 days under a training agreement with an ICAEW-authorised employer. The work experience should provide the necessary exposure to accounting and finance concepts and principles.
- Exam Modules: Candidates must pass all 15 modules, which are assessed through a combination of exams, work-based skills assessments, and professional development. The exams are rigorous and challenging, and candidates must demonstrate a high level of knowledge and competence to pass.
- Language Proficiency: Candidates must have proficiency in the English language, as the qualification is taught and examined in English.
- Aptitude Test: Candidates may also be required to take an online aptitude test to demonstrate their suitability for the qualification.
It is important to note that the eligibility requirements for the qualification may vary depending on individual circumstances and qualifications. Candidates should consult the ICAEW’s website or speak to a qualified advisor for further information on the specific requirements.
ACA Examination Structure and Format
The ACA qualification is divided into three levels: Certificate, Professional, and Advanced.
The Certificate level is the first level of the qualification and consists of six modules. These modules cover the following:
- Accounting (40 questions)
- Assurance (50 questions)
- Business and finance (50 questions)
- Law (50 questions)
- Management information (40 questions)
- Principles of taxation (50 questions).
Each module has its own exam, which is computer-based multiple-choice questions. Candidates must pass all six modules to progress to the Professional level.
The Professional level is the second level of the ACA qualification and comprises six modules. These modules cover the following:
- Business planning: taxation
- Business strategy
- Audit and assurance
- Financial accounting and reporting (3 hours)
- Financial management
- Tax compliance
The Professional level exams are designed to test candidates' theoretical knowledge and understanding of real-life situations, and both are case study-based. The exams are held over five days, with one exam per day. Candidates must pass all six modules to progress to the Advanced level.
The Advanced level is the final level of the ACA qualification and consists of three modules. These modules cover the following:
- Corporate reporting
- Strategic business management
- Case study.
The professional-level exams of the ACA qualification are rigorous and challenging. Each module has a three-and-a-half-hour examination, which requires candidates to demonstrate a deep understanding of the subject matter. The case study examination is particularly demanding, lasting four hours and testing candidates' practical skills and ability to apply their technical knowledge to real-life scenarios.
Benefits of ACA qualification
The ACA qualification is highly sought after by employers due to its rigorous standards and comprehensive training program. Individuals who hold this designation are highly respected and often sought out for leadership roles within organisations. The ACA qualification also benefits those seeking to advance their career or transition into a new field.
With the knowledge gained from this qualification, individuals can understand financial reporting, taxation, auditing, corporate governance, risk management, and more. This makes them well-rounded professionals who can contribute significantly to any organization they work for.
To sum up, accountancy qualifications in the UK offer a wide array of opportunities for those who want to become chartered certified accountants. Whether you are a newbie or an experienced professional, we hope that our comprehensive guide for 2023 has equipped you with all the necessary details to make an informed decision on the most suitable qualification for you.
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1 - https://www.accaglobal.com/gb/en.html
2 - https://www.cimaglobal.com/