Accountancy and financial management
People studying at a desk for accountancy qualifications

An introduction to professional accountancy bodies

Who offers professional qualifications? Here's a summary of the main professional accountancy bodies in their own words.

Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA )

Qualification: ACCA qualification

The ACCA qualification is an established route to professional status, and globally you will be in demand for your finance and accounting knowledge and skills, regardless of employment sector.

ACCA is the largest and fastest growing international accountancy body, with over 428,000 students, 162,000 members and 8,500 approved employers. Studying with ACCA allows you to build a future that is diverse, challenging and full of opportunities.

There are three equally important elements to qualifying as an ACCA accountant – exams, practical experience and a professional ethics module. The exams are progressive, so if you have a degree in history or economics you will build on your knowledge as you progress. If you have a relevant degree, you will likely be entitled to some exemptions, and will enter the qualification at the most appropriate level. You will need to complete 14 papers in total. A maximum of nine papers in the fundamentals level are available for exemption. You have to complete three years’ relevant work experience and achieve 13 performance objectives before you can qualify.

Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT)

Qualification: The Diploma in Treasury Management

The Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT) is the chartered body for treasury. We lead the profession through our internationally recognised suite of treasury qualifications, by defining standards and championing continuing professional development. We are the authentic voice of the treasury profession, representing the interests of the real economy and educating, supporting and leading the treasurers of today and tomorrow.

In today's marketplace, ACT qualifications are an important benchmark of professional competency, showing your commitment to the industry and to your professional development and performance.

ACT qualifications are relevant to a variety of roles including treasury, accountancy, risk, financial management, banking, relationship management and consultancy. All content has been created in conjunction with the ACT Competency Framework, which ensures you have the right skills and knowledge demanded by employers at any stage of your career.

The Diploma in Treasury Management is the ACT’s core qualification and leads to associate membership of the ACT. This diploma will differentiate you from your peers by helping you to be a confident professional across all areas of treasury management. The syllabus also ensures you can adapt your learning to your chosen field, and develop specialist knowledge in the key areas within treasury, risk and corporate finance that are relevant to your role and your career.

Association of Taxation Technicians

Qualification: Taxation Technician (ATT)

The Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) is the leading professional body for those providing UK tax compliance services. Our primary objective is to promote education and the study of tax administration and practice. One of our key aims is to provide an appropriate qualification for individuals who undertake tax compliance work. We contribute to consultations on the development of the UK tax system and seek to ensure that, for the general public, it is workable and as fair as possible.

In order to sit the exams, candidates must be at least 16 years old and have a reasonable standard of English and mathematics. To become a member of the Association, and use the practising title of Taxation Technician, candidates will need to pass five examination papers and have a minimum of two years' experience, either part-time or full-time, working in taxation or in any other occupation that entails an element of UK taxation. Candidates are examined on Personal Taxation, Business Taxation & Accounting Principles, Law, Professional Responsibilities & Ethics, and a specialist tax paper from a choice of four options. Credits are available for candidates who have passed the examinations of certain other professional bodies prior to sitting the ATT exams. Candidates must be registered with the Association for at least six months before being allowed to enter for a written examination, which are held in May and November.

Chartered Accountants Ireland

Qualification: Chartered accountant qualification (ACA / FCA)

Chartered Accountants Ireland is Ireland’s largest accountancy body with over 23,000 members and 6,000 students, of whom 3,700 members and 1,000 students are in Northern Ireland. Recognised internationally as Ireland’s premier accountancy qualification, Irish chartered accountants follow successful careers both at home and in 192 countries.

The wide regard in which our members are held can be attributed to the excellent educational standards to which we adhere, and the structured, supportive nature of our training. As well as passing professional exams, every Irish chartered accountant must gain relevant work experience, and most students will gain this experience through a structured training contract in an accountancy practice.

However, since the launch in 2009 of the flexible programme, candidates can generate their experience and study up to and including the final exams, outside of a training contract. Flexible candidates can take exams in different sittings or even spread them over more than one year. A new blended learning model for flexible students means lectures can be viewed online remotely, either live or recorded, providing excellent revision opportunities.

As well as completing authorised work experience and demonstrating competence in information technology, students must pass professional examinations covering modules from taxation, finance and law to strategic finance and management accounting. The exams are broken into three sections, concluding with the final admitting exam (FAE) that tests the candidate’s overall competence.

Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)

Qualification: CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting; CIMA Professional Qualification

CIMA is the world’s largest professional body of management accountants, offering the most relevant accounting qualification for a career in business. The CIMA qualification will open doors with employers all over the world; as a CIMA management accountant you’ll earn more and go further.

There’s more to management accounting than you might think. It’s about looking beyond numbers and spreadsheets to add real value to a company. CIMA members work in all areas of a business, in all types of organisations. They could be a project manager, management consultant, finance director or chief executive.

If you have already studied a relevant degree, for example accounting or business, you may be entitled to exemptions from some CIMA exams; however, graduates in any degree discipline can study CIMA. You would start by studying the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting, which will give you a solid grounding to then progress on to the CIMA professional qualification.

Do you analyse situations and weigh up all your options before making a decision? Then you’re thinking like a management accountant already.

Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA)

Qualification: CIPFA Professional Qualification

If you want a career that is diverse, challenging and gives you responsibility from day one, then becoming a CIPFA qualified accountant could be the best decision you ever make if you have aspirations of reaching the top.

Designed to equip you with essential accountancy, leadership and strategic skills to enable you to succeed in both the public and private sectors, the CIPFA Professional Qualification can take you anywhere you choose.

The CIPFA Professional Qualification is the gold standard financial qualification for government and public services organisations; you can become qualified in as little as two years and reach the top more quickly.

There are three stages of assessment to the CIPFA Professional Qualification: professional certificate, professional diploma and the strategic stage, with each stage awarding a recognised qualification.

Assessment is through exams for and a log of workplace experience. There are various entry routes to the professional qualification, designed to suit graduates, AATs, fully qualified accountants and senior professionals.

The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT)

Qualification: Chartered Tax Adviser Qualification (CTA)

CIOT is the leading professional body in the UK for Chartered Tax Advisers dealing with all aspects of taxation. Our primary purpose is to promote education in taxation with a key aim of achieving a more efficient and less complex tax system for all. The Institute is a member of the Confédération Fiscale Européenne, the umbrella body for taxation advisers in Europe, and deals with all aspects of direct and indirect taxation. In order to sit the exams, candidates need a ‘confirmation of eligibility’, which can be gained in a number of ways including qualifying as a solicitor, an accountant, or passing the Association of Taxation Technician (ATT) exams.

To become a Chartered Tax Adviser, candidates will need three years’ professional experience and to pass six tax papers. Candidates are examined on two specialist tax subjects and must also show an understanding of a broad range of taxes, as well as applying their knowledge to a practical case study.

Credits are available for candidates who have passed the examinations of certain other professional bodies prior to sitting the CTA exams. Candidates must be registered with the Institute for six months before the exams, which are held in May and November. For those pursuing a career in international tax, the CIOT also offers the Advanced Diploma in International Taxation (ADIT).

CPA Australia

Qualification: Certified Practising Accountant (CPA)

CPA Australia is one of the world's largest accounting bodies with a membership of more than 150,000 finance, accounting and business professionals in 121 countries. We have affiliations with a range of leading accounting bodies all around the world. Our core services to members include education, training, technical support and advocacy.

Staff and members work together with local and international bodies to represent the views and concerns of the profession to governments, regulators, industries, academia and the general public.

The CPA designation is a mark of high professional competence. It indicates soundness in depth, breadth and quality of accountancy knowledge. It provides members with an internationally recognised postgraduate qualification as well as the opportunity to complete specialist training and continuing professional development (CPD). To use the CPA designation, a member must complete a degree or a postgraduate award recognised by CPA Australia, complete the CPA Program, including three years of professional experience in finance, accounting or business, undertake CPD activities each year and comply with a strict code of conduct set by CPA Australia.

Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

Qualification: Associate of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ACA)

ICAEW’s chartered accountancy qualification, the ACA, is one of the most advanced learning and professional development programmes available. It gives you the knowledge and expertise to perform at the highest levels in accountancy, finance and business.

You can train for the ACA qualification in all sectors, from accountancy practice and business to the not-for-profit and charity sectors. All you need to do is apply for an ACA training agreement with one of ICAEW’s authorised training employers or authorised training principals. The training agreement details the commitment between you and your employer, and is key to your success and development. It’s also why 97 per cent of the ‘Best Global Brands’ employ ICAEW Chartered Accountants.

Graduate training agreements typically take three years to complete and during this time you’ll gain practical work experience, develop your ethical understanding of business, enhance your professional skills and achieve a high level of academic excellence.

To apply for an ACA training agreement you don’t need to have studied a business or finance-related subject at university. Each employer has their own entry criteria which you will need to meet before you can make your application. In addition to your academic achievements, employers want you to be motivated and career driven, as well as commercially aware.

Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)

Qualification: Chartered Accountant Qualification (CA)

The CA qualification is globally recognised by a wide range of sectors and organisations – from leading professional services firms and global corporations to small and medium-sized businesses and the public sector.

ICAS is the only UK institute to both train and examine all of its students and its members have the right to put the letters ‘CA’ after their name. There are currently over 20,000 members working globally, many in high-ranking positions such as chief executive, chairman, director or partner.

The CA qualification takes three years to complete and involves a combination of structured work experience, classroom-based study and exams. The exam syllabus contains ten subjects divided into three stages: the test of competence (TC), entailing the initial acquisition of knowledge; the test of professional skills (TPS), in which students develop their practical skills; and the test of professional expertise (TPE), assessing the judgement and application of knowledge. Through classroom-based study and online learning, students develop all-round business and financial acumen along with problem-solving skills. The flexible work-based training, monitored through an achievement log, ensures that every student gains the breadth of practical experience necessary to qualify as a CA.