ACCA vs. CIMA — Which Accounting Qualification Should You Opt For?


Accounting qualifications, such as ACCA and CIMA, have become quite popular in today’s time due to the demand for quality education.

If you have opted to follow a career path in accounting, but haven’t yet decided which accounting qualification to choose, this article can help you.

How to choose the correct accounting qualification

There are several questions you must keep in mind while deciding which accounting qualification to opt for, such as:

  • In which direction do you want your career to develop?
  • What kind of employment do you wish to start your career with?
  • Where do you see yourself in the long term?

What are the benefits of accounting qualifications?

Taking up an accounting qualification provides several benefits, such as:

  • Cost-effective method of obtaining knowledge: Earning an accounting qualification is an excellent way to obtain accounting knowledge and gain technical skills.
  • Job opportunities worldwide: If you obtain an accounting qualification that is accepted worldwide, then you will be able to work wherever you want across the world. Also, these accounting organizations have tie-ups with companies
  • Professional networking opportunities: As a fully-fledged member of an accounting body like CIMA or ACCA, you will get multiple opportunities to interact with the top professionals in your field.

What is ACCA?

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is a body of professional accountants headquartered in the UK. It is the leading international accountancy organization in the world. The ACCA qualification is recognized and accepted, with over 200,000 members and 500,000 students across the world.

Once you pass the set of exams, you can have a productive career in the fields of consulting, finance, banking and accountancy.

There are three components involved in ACCA, including:

  • Work experience: Taking the first step towards becoming an ACCA accountant involves having at least three years of relevant experience.
  • Exams: There are a total of 14 exams to be taken if you wish to obtain the ACCA qualification. However, you might be exempted from taking certain exams depending on the qualifications you already have.
  • Ethics: Unless you pass the Professional Ethics module in ACCA, you will not be able to become a member of the ACCA body.

Once you have paid the registration fee, you can access exclusive ACCA study materials, such as:

  • ACCA papers and articles with regard to important subjects and modules
  • ACCA syllabus guide
  • ACCA past papers
  • Study tips and hacks
  • A mobile app that provides key learning points and helps plan your studies.

The ACCA syllabus is partitioned into four levels and comprises 14 papers.

The Knowledge level in ACCA consists of three papers:

  • AB: Accountant in Business
  • MA: Management Accounting
  • FA: Financial Accounting

The Skill level comprises six papers, which include:

  • CL: Corporate and Business Law
  • PM: Performance Management
  • TX: Taxation
  • FR: Financial Reporting (UK or international)
  • AA: Audit and Assurance (UK or international)
  • FM: Financial Management

There are three papers in the Essentials level, which include:

  • GR&E: Governance, Risk, and Ethics
  • CR: Corporate Reporting (UK or international)
  • BA: Business Analysis

In the Options level, you have to attempt two papers from a total of four:

  • AFM: Advanced Financial Management
  • APM: Advanced Performance Management
  • ATX: Advanced Taxation
  • AAA: Advanced Audit and Assurance (UK or international)

What is CIMA?

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) is the world’s largest management accountancy association consisting of more than 220,000 members and students in 177 countries, according to the official CIMA website).

Before understanding this qualification, it is important to know the concept of management accounting. This form of accounting refers to the process of assessing the operations and business costs required to prepare financial reports, thus assisting managers in setting organizational goals.

Earning the CIMA qualification will help you learn how to:

  • Analyse information and data to assist in business decisions;
  • Create business strategies to increase revenue and profit;
  • Implement various accounting techniques in budgeting.

The CIMA course consists of nine objective exams and three case study exams, which are divided into three pillars and three levels. These are the three pillars:

  • Enterprise pillar: This pillar highlights how project management, relationship management and the structure of an organization helps in effectively implementing strategies.
  • Performance pillar: This pillar uses various management accounting and risk management techniques to examine if the formed strategy is realistic. It also uses these techniques to monitor strategy implementation. This pillar teaches students how to classify, evaluate and manage risk, as well as to manage cost and performance and make decisions regarding capital expenditure and budgets.
  • Financial pillar: This pillar teaches students how financial accounting works in an organization. It also helps students understand the concepts of external regulatory requirements and regulatory frameworks, as well as evaluate financial statements and formulate a financial strategy.

The CIMA syllabus is divided into three levels. At each of these levels, students study subjects across the three pillars. Now, let’s take a look at the three levels in CIMA:

  • Operational level: This level comprises of strategy implementation and the reporting of implementation of the strategy. This level is focused on the short term.
  • Management level: In this level, the senior management chooses the strategy that is to be implemented and communicates it to the lower levels. It also monitors the strategy implementation and ensures remedial actions are taken, if required. This level has a medium-term focus.
  • Strategic level: This level pays attention to making critical strategic decisions and providing context for the implementation of these decisions. This level has a long-term focus.