CIMA versus ACCA: which is a better qualification to get a job?

It's a commonly asked question by aspiring chartered accountants: which is "better" from a career point of view, CIMA or ACCA? Here we unpack this question and some of the assumptions underlying it.

If you are an accounting professional or are aspiring to become one, getting a professional certification is a great way to expand your career opportunities and earning potential. Advanced certifications in the accounting industry improve your credibility and give you an advantage over competing professionals. Employers place great value on a professional accounting qualification when seeking top talent for their company.  

Two of the most prestigious organisations that offer advanced certifications in the accounting profession are the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).

Both offer highly respected certifications that employers seek out and are designed to define the standards by which a professional should operate. Their goals, however, are really quite different. 

1. What is CIMA?

Based in London, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, or CIMA, is the largest professional accounting association in the world. Established in 1919, CIMA takes a comprehensive approach to developing competent accounting professionals and equipping them with the relevant tools that they need to manage change and drive sustainable success throughout the business organisation.  

Extending beyond principle-based accounting, the CIMA qualification prepares the professional for constant change in the accounting and finance industry, equipping them with the necessary skills to help them lead strategically when the business landscape is evolving.

Taking a three-pillar approach to its certification process, CIMA focuses on the interrelationships and strategies within the enterprise, performance, and financial disciplines. A CIMA holder gains the tools they need to establish themselves as a strategic business partner, capable of delivering a responsive outcome amid a constantly changing corporate environment.   

For a comprehensive guide to all you need to know about CIMA, click here

2. What can you do with CIMA?

A CIMA certification is designed for accountants who plan to pursue a role in industry. Using accounting knowledge as its springboard, CIMA expands your skillset beyond just numbers. With this qualification, you are trained in related disciplines that drive strategic, project, operational, risk, and financial decisions.

CIMA’s ultimate goal is to produce a well-rounded professional that can contribute to the sustainability of a company’s success.      

The CIMA qualification is a good fit for positions that require strategy and analysis. Career options for CIMA-qualified accountants include financial analysts, commercial analysts, and financial controllers. With ample experience, a candidate with a CIMA professional qualification may be on track to become a Chief Financial Officer or a Financial Director.

3. Studying toward a CIMA job

Pursuing a CIMA qualification requires a significant investment of time and money toward your professional future. There are two CIMA-recognized membership levels, which include:

Associate – To become an associate, you must pass or receive exemptions from 15 theoretical examinations and three case study examinations. Also, an Associate must have a minimum of three years of qualifying work experience. This requires documentation and must include evidence of experience in the areas of technical, business, people, and leadership skills. For experience to qualify as relevant, a portion must be at a level considered to be intermediate, advanced, or expert level.

Fellow – By aspiring to the Fellow level, you join a select group of professionals that have demonstrated their effectiveness in a strategic, operational, or technical leadership role. Typically, a Fellow has board-level experience or reports directly to directors in that capacity.  

Both an Associate and Fellow member is considered a Chartered Global Management Accountant and are permitted to use the suffix “CGMA” after their name.

For 6 tips on how to pass CIMA fast, click here.

4. What is the average salary for a CIMA qualification holder?

In 2016, qualified CIMA holders earned an average of £64,011. Those employed in banking had an average wage of £85,334, whereas those in the legal profession took home an average of £42,603.

5. What is ACCA?

Formed in 1904, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, or ACCA, was designed to ensure the continuation of high-quality and ethical practice throughout the accounting profession. ACCA exams include Business & Technology, Management Accounting and Financial Accounting. 

It is a broad qualification centred on maintaining and improving high-quality accounting practices and financial reporting. It offers greater flexibility than CIMA because it is more principles-based, allowing it to cross over multiple industries and disciplines. 


6. What can you do with an ACCA qualification?

An ACCA-qualified accountant typically works in a tax, audit, or advisory role. They may be employed as financial or cost accountants in large or small organisations across multiple industries. The ACCA qualification is a good fit for positions that test compliance, perform accounting or auditing services, and report financial results to outside parties. Through an ACCA qualification, professionals demonstrate a strong understanding of finances, advanced training in ethics, and the ability to think strategically.

Are you wondering what order is best to do ACCA exams?
Read this article.

7. Studying toward an ACCA job

Similar to CIMA, gaining an ACCA qualification will require a significant investment of time on your part. To become ACCA qualified, you must complete the following:

- Pass a series of 13 tests

- Complete an ethical and professional skills course

- Have three years of relevant experience

8. What is the average salary for an ACCA qualification holder?

In 2016, an accountant for a large company was paid an average salary that ranged between £47,000 and £75,500. Accountants with an ACCA qualification can negotiate a more favourable salary and be typically compensated at the higher end of this range.

9. What’s the difference between CIMA and ACCA?

Before we address the differences, let’s take a look at their similarities. Both accounting qualifications are highly-regarded and recognised in the field of financial management. CIMA and ACCA qualifications require the completion of a series of demanding tests and three years of relevant experience. They also require continuing education to maintain professional standards and stay abreast of changing professional trends.    

While both qualifications are prestigious and share many similarities, they have two very distinct purposes. The ACCA creates the standards by which professionals who perform audit and accounting functions are defined. They are focused on establishing a high level of credibility, work quality, and ethical practices to improve the public’s perception and reliability of their work.

Conversely, CIMA aims to develop and mold leaders into true business partners with a desire to leverage strategy, operations, and enterprise to reach a successful outcome. Essentially, CIMA’s focus is on how a company operates, whereas the ACCA zones in on how a company reports.

10. Which is better for my career - ACCA vs. CIMA?

Deciding which qualification is better for you depends entirely upon the career path that you choose to take.

Employers seek out ACCA candidates for their exceptional financial accounting and reporting skills, high integrity, and versatility to work in multiple industries. These qualities are attractive to public accounting firms and companies that require a vast amount of knowledge for financial reporting.

CIMA is a specialist management accounting qualification and should you choose to pursue a career working within industry, employers place great value on the CIMA certification. With a curriculum designed to help aspiring accountants respond to the fast-changing business environment, employers know that a CIMA-qualified applicant possesses the necessary strategic, operational, managerial, and people skills to help lead a company through turbulent times.  

If you are considering what a professional certification can do for your accounting career, remember that employers actively seek applicants with both qualifications. Having a CIMA or ACCA qualification could be the defining difference between landing a job – or not.

You might also be interested in reading: ACCA vs. AAT - What's the Difference?

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