ACA, ACCA or CIMA: Which Fits Your Ambitions?

Here we help you navigate the crucial decision of which of the top three accountancy qualifications is right for you.

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It’s confusing, isn't it? The field of accountancy offers many professional qualifications, making it challenging for aspiring accountants to make the right choice. LinkedIn decided to conduct a survey on the top senior accountancy qualifications and found that the top three qualifications are ACCA, CIMA and ACA ( in that order).

Great! But where does that leave you? If you’re looking for a resource outlining the key differences between these three, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll help you navigate this crucial decision and choose the right accounting qualification for you. 

Overview of the Qualifications

Before diving into the details, let's get acquainted with the primary qualifications: ACA, ACCA, and CIMA.

ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant)

Offered by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).  It is widely regarded as a challenging and respected accountancy qualification.

ACA-qualified professionals are in high demand, as it signifies proficiency in auditing, data analysis, communication, and business acumen.

ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)

The ACCA qualification is the world's leading accountancy qualification because students demonstrate expertise across all aspects of the accounting industry. This professional qualification offers flexibility for students with varying levels of education

CIMA (The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)

The CIMA qualification is certified by the largest professional body for management accountants worldwide. Ideal for those interested in management accounting functions in larger corporations. This technical qualification opens doors to careers in corporate finance, financial reporting, and more.

Now that we have a brief overview, let's delve deeper into the decision-making process.

Entry Routes and Flexibility

Each qualification offers multiple entry routes to cater to diverse educational backgrounds and set your accountancy career on the right path:

  • ACA acknowledges past learning experiences, including A levels, GCSEs, degrees, and the AAT qualification, providing various entry points.
  • ACCA provides entry points for degree holders, A-level and GCSE holders, and those without formal qualifications.
  • CIMA allows candidates to start at the foundational certificate level but also offers the flexibility to bypass certain exams based on prior qualifications on your way to becoming a management accountant.

These qualifications appreciate your prior achievements, potentially saving you both time and money.

Charting Your Career Path

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Your career aspirations in the finance industry should play a crucial role in your decision:

  • ACA - develop a career in tax auditing, risk management, forensic accounting, or as a financial planner,  to name a few
  • ACCA -  work as a chartered accountant, financial analyst, tax consultant, financial controller, or forensic accountant
  • CIMA - CIMA focuses on preparing you for career paths in cost accounting, business analysis, treasury analysis, advanced audit and financial management.  

ACA is known for its technical focus on financial accounting, while CIMA leans more towards management accounting, and ACCA offers a blend of both.

Course Duration

Understanding the time commitment required for each qualification is vital:

  • ACA provides up to five years, with flexibility in completing exams. Many students complete this qualification while working. 
  • ACCA typically takes three to four years to complete, but you have seven years to pass all exams. You must also have completed a minimum of three years of relevant work experience
  • Each CIMA exam generally takes three to five years to complete. Each level can take 12-18 months and there is a 3-year working experience requirement. 


These qualifications try to be flexible in acknowledging your previous educational pursuits. The certification bodies provide a number of exemptions for previous certificates, degrees and diplomas. 

  • ACA provides you with credits for prior learning, which can be made by applying to the ICAEW. CPL applications cost £80 per module at the Certificate Level and £112 for each Professional Level module.
  • ACCA provided for a maximum of nine exemptions. They are available for the Applied Knowledge and Applied Skills level of the qualification. There are no exemptions awarded for the Strategic Professional level. 
  • CIMA allows you to apply for exemption for previous certifications, degrees and working experience. For example, if you hold a CFO position, you will only write the gateway exam. This qualification gives the most recognition to previous academic and career achievements.  

Cost Analysis

Financial considerations are significant:

  • ACA costs include an annual student fee of £185, and exam fees from £80-£195, depending on the level. You will also pay £272 to write the case study. 
  • ACCA initial registration is £89, with an annual subscription of £122 and exam fees of £154 - £204, depending on the level. 
  • CIMA fees include £95 for initial registration, a £130 annual subscription, and around £2 127 for 9 objective tests and 3 case studies

Remember to budget for books, tuition fees, and any additional costs such as accommodation or travel for exams.

Study Methods and Exams

Balancing work and study will be a big consideration in making this decision:

All three bodies offer online learning options, making it accessible for working professionals. The structure of the exams is such that you can write the exams at different times in the year and these exams can be written online or at a testing center. All these qualifications are geared towards working professionals who want to achieve a qualification.

Find a good learning provider to help you with your studies and that knows how to get you through your exams. The support from experienced tutors and other students will be invaluable to your journey. 

Highlight of each qualification

  • ACA - Excellent choice for those desiring a career with the Big 4 accounting firms.
  • ACCA - Gives you the most scope in terms of a globally recognized career. The qualification is sought after in over 180 countries.
  • CIMA - This will give you the best education for entering the world of management accounting at large corporations. It is also the most flexible qualification with respect to exemptions. 


In conclusion, ACA, ACCA, and CIMA all offer respectable paths to a successful career in accounting and finance. The choice that you make will rely heavily on the time investment as well as your desired career path.  

We hope this overview of the top three accountancy qualifications has been helpful to you. We support ACCA and CIMA students worldwide with our online tuition material, on-demand video lectures and experienced tutors and we invite you to join us in your studies. 

Whether you're interested in pursuing the ACCA or CIMA route, VIVA has you covered. VIVA is an award-winning online tuition provider, delivering premium accountancy tuition at a fraction of the cost of traditional providers.

Explore our unique, total study solutions for ACCA here and for CIMA here.

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