Professional qualifications in accounting are often required by graduates and others in the field as a way of boosting their CVs for the highly competitive labour market. Among such qualifications are those offered by the CIMA and the ACCA.
Because of their important roles in the field of accounting, a CIMA versus ACCA debate often arises, especially among those that are not very conversant with both bodies.
What is CIMA?
CIMA stands for “Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.” Founded in 1919, CIMA is now the leading and largest professional organisation for management accountants in the world, with a network of more than 696,000 members in over 190 countries.
The CIMA qualification framework consists of two main programmes:
- The Certificate in Business Accounting
- The CIMA CGMA Professional Qualification.
The Certificate in Business Accounting is CIMA’s entry-level accounting qualification. It is a globally recognised qualification designed for students who have little or no knowledge of accounting. The CIMA Certificate Business Accounting syllabus consists of four subjects that students can complete within 12 months.
The Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) qualification is CIMA’s top global designation for management accountants. It is recognised as the most relevant global finance qualification for those pursuing a career in accounting, business, or finance.
The CGMA is the product of a collaboration between CIMA and the AICPA – two of the world’s most prestigious accounting bodies. The designation was created to elevate and build recognition for the profession of management accounting.
The CIMA CGMA syllabus is grouped into three pillars and three levels and is made up of 12 exams: nine objective tests, and three case study exams. Those wishing to become CGMAs must possess a minimum of three years of verified relevant work-based practical experience.
Apart from the two main programmes above, CIMA also offers apprenticeships in England, Islamic finance qualifications, and programmes in Russian.
A degree is not required for a professional qualification. Participants in the above-mentioned apprenticeship programme can progress to the professional qualification by moving from Level 4 (Professional Accounting /Tax Technician) to Level 7 (Professional Accountant) or directly to Level 7 if they are eligible for exemptions, then on to the membership.
A compilation of CIMA-eligible countries can be found within the relevant tier as follows:
- Tier 1: Western Europe, Australia, Singapore, USA, and Canada
- Tier 2: The rest of the world
- Tier 3: Sub-Saharan Africa
Applicants with additional qualifications (such as a graduate with a qualification listed in the CIMA database of accredited programmes, an MBA or a Master’s in Accounting, or being an AAT student or member, etc.) may be exempted from some exams.
What is ACCA?
What is today known as the ACCA (Association of Certified Chartered Accountants) UK dates back to 1904, when a group of eight accountants established a body called the London Association of Accountants. It has since evolved into a highly rated accounting organisation all over the world that prides itself on being the “world’s most forward-thinking professional accountancy body.” The ACCA boasts over 241,000 fully qualified members and 542,000 future members in 178 countries.
The ACCA offers three globally respected accounting programmes:
- Diploma in International Financial Reporting
- The Foundations in Accountancy Qualifications
- The ACCA Qualification
The Diploma in International Financial Reporting (DipIFR) is for finance professionals who are not yet knowledgeable about the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). The syllabus includes topics such as international sources of authority; elements of financial statements; presentation of financial statements and additional disclosures; and preparation of external financial reports for combined entities, associates, and joint arrangements.
The DipIFR is assessed by a single computer-based exam that lasts for three hours, and 15 minutes and is held twice every year (June and December).
The Foundations in Accountancy Qualifications are meant for those who don’t possess the minimum entry requirements for the ACCA Qualification programme. They are broadly equivalent to degree and HND programmes or GCSE levels.
The fundamental level is made up of nine courses. Students without a relevant undergraduate degree or relevant professional qualification will have to pass all 9 courses to be eligible for the ACCA Qualification. The programme can be completed within a minimum of 12 months.
The ACCA Qualification is one of the world’s elite accountancy qualifications. It is designed for applicants with three GCSEs and two A Levels in five separate subjects, including English and maths (or equivalent qualifications). The qualification is a master’s level equivalent programme and a student becomes an ACCA member after completing it.
The syllabus is made up of a maximum of 13 exams, depending on prior experience and qualifications, and an Ethics and Professional Skills module. Students are required to provide evidence of three years of practical work experience within a relevant role.
The ACCA Qualification can be completed within three to four years, on average. Applicants with additional qualifications (such as a relevant graduate or postgraduate degree, an AAT qualification, and others) may be exempted from some exams.
Difference Between CIMA and ACCA
The most notable difference between the two revered bodies is that the CIMA is an organisation for management accountants, while the ACCA is an organisation for chartered accountants.
Unlike the CIMA, the ACCA does not focus mainly on management training with respect to accountancy. Instead, it focuses more on accounting principles and technical areas, including taxation and auditing.
ACCA usually holds more appeal to those that are skilled in mathematics and compliance. An employer looking to hire a tax accountant will find ACCA qualifications more useful.
Being most relevant to management accounting, CIMA holders are best suited to finance accounting roles in corporate organisations. The skills you learn through CIMA give you a greater comprehension of leadership, management, and strategic approaches in accounting, making it more useful for large organisations.
However, the ACCA qualification offers greater flexibility, including a better capacity to work as a self-employed accountant. ACCA qualifications should be more appealing for smaller businesses.
From a global perspective, the CIMA and ACCA qualifications also offer different benefits to candidates. For instance, a CIMA qualification means that you’ll enjoy the globally recognised title of “Chartered Global Management Accountant” and become affiliated with a valuable global network of management accountants all over the world.
An ACCA qualification means recognition and employability in more than 100 countries, including the opportunity to team up with local accountancy organisations in those countries.
CIMA and ACCA Costs
CIMA Exam Fees
Tier 1 countries
Certificate in Business Accounting
2023 objective tests per exam: GBP110
CIMA CGMA Professional Qualification
2023 Objective tests for the operational, management, and strategic levels: GBP 1298
Tier 2 countries
Certificate in Business Accounting
2023 objective tests per exam: GPB100
CIMA CGMA Professional Qualification: GBP1201
Tier 3 countries
Certificate in Business Accounting
2023 objective tests per exam: GBP 80
CIMA CGMA Professional Qualification
2023 objective tests for the operational, management, and strategic levels: GBP 971
ACCA Exam Fees (For UK Participants)
ACCA Qualification students
Applied skills (June 2023; charged per term): GBP 143
Strategic Business Leader (June 2023): GBP 243
Strategic Business Reporting (June 2023): GBP 190
Strategic Professional (options): GBP 190
Foundations in Accountancy Students
ACCA Diploma in Financial and Management Accounting (RQF Level 2), ACCA Diploma in Financial and Management Accounting (RQF Level 3), ACCA Diploma in Accounting and Business (RQF Level 4), Certified Accounting Technician (CAT) Qualification: GPB 114
(CAT exam fees are charged per term)
Diploma in International Financial Reporting Students
Dip IFR (Global, June 2023) per term: GBP 143
Some Pros and Cons of CIMA and ACCA Qualifications
- The title “Chartered Global Management Accountant” is recognised globally
- Increased focus on management and strategy in addition to basic accountancy training
- Best for larger businesses
- Most ideal for financial sector businesses.
- Not best for self-employed accountancy practices or smaller businesses
- No in-depth focus on tax and audit training
- Not every business requires high-level management training
- Enrolment costs more than ACCA enrolment
- ACCA qualifications are recognised in more than 170 countries
- Participants have greater tax and auditing knowledge and skills;
- Participants can work on a self-employed basis
- Enrolment is less pricey than CIMA enrolment
- Not quite as globally recognised as CIMA
- Participants lack the same depth of management or strategic training offered in CIMA
- Not best for corporate businesses
- Not the most ideal for financial sector businesses
Who Earns More: CIMA or ACCA?
Within the UK, CIMA-qualified candidates earn an average salary of GBP 43,000 per annum, while the average salary of an ACCA-qualified accountant is about GBP 39,000 per annum (according to Payscale.com).
Do the big 4 Hire CIMA or ACCA Holders?
Yes, the Big 4 (Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers) hire both CIMA and ACCA holders. But ACCA holders may stand a better chance or have a higher probability of being employed by the Big 4 because they are mainly auditing firms.
Can You Study CIMA and ACCA online?
Yes, qualifications from both organisations are available as online professional courses. This will allow you the needed flexibility to develop your career at your own pace and time and from any location in the world.
Other Accountancy Qualifications in the UK
Apart from the CIMA and the ACCA, the other main qualifications for accountants in the UK are as follows:
The Association of Accounting Technicians is the leading global body for accounting technicians and boasts nearly 124,000 members and students. Its qualification is ideal for those wishing to take up an accountancy career without any previous experience. The body offers accounting qualifications; bookkeeping qualifications; business skills, qualifications, and courses as well as apprenticeships.
The ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant) is a chartered accountant qualification of the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) that is targeted at finance professionals. It is recognised all over the world in both the business world and the public sector. The ACA qualification comprises four elements that equip students with accountancy skills, finance knowledge, and real-world business experience.
These elements include:
- 450 days of practical work experience at an ICAEW-authorised training employer
- 15 exam modules on topics such as business strategy, financial management, assurance, and law
- Professional development: Prepares students to successfully deal with different situations they will meet throughout their careers.
- Ethics and professional scepticism: Provides students with the necessary skills to work under close observation in confidence that they are making the correct decisions.
CIPFA is short for “Chartered Institute of Public Finance.” It is the only professional accountancy body in the world that focuses exclusively on public finance. CIPFA’s qualifications help people acquire the foundation for a public finance career.
These qualifications include CIPFA’s benchmark professional qualification for public sector accountants and a postgraduate diploma for people currently employed in leadership positions. These programmes are taught at the organisation’s in-house CIPFA Education and Training Centre, and other centres of learning all over the world. It has 14,000 members working in the public sector.
Both the CIMA and ACCA offer internationally recognised qualifications that are accepted by employers all over the world. The most notable difference between the two respected bodies is that the CIMA is for management accountants while the ACCA is for chartered accountants. Hence, any decision on which of these bodies’ qualifications to choose should be based on personal career aspirations and previous work experience.
For example, if you are a graduate with a flair for numbers and hoping to go into a career in practice, tax, or auditing, then ACCA should be more suitable. But if you intend to build a career in business, finance, and industry and have an interest in leadership, management, and strategy, then you should consider a CIMA qualification.