ACCA vs CIMA — the accounting qualification you choose will form the foundation of your career and can shape it decades into the future. Employers see the ACCA Qualification and CIMA’s CGMA® Professional Qualification as benchmarks for prospective accounting and finance hires. Although they can both help launch your career, you may find one suits your ambitions better than the other.

Here are just a few things to consider when choosing your accountancy qualification, according to the experts at CIMA and ACCA.

What is The ACCA Qualification, and what is CIMA’s CGMA® Professional Qualification?

CIMA’s CGMA® Professional Qualification from AICPA & CIMA

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants® (CIMA®) and the American Institute of CPAs® (AICPA®) — known as AICPA & CIMA — collaborated with prominent finance professionals to design the Chartered Global Management Accountant® (CGMA®) syllabus to guide ambitious and ethical accountants.

AICPA & CIMA, together as the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants®, have nearly 700,000 AICPA and CIMA members, students, and engaged professionals in 196 countries and territories.

Paul Turner, Regional Vice President for UK & Ireland, shared, “The CGMA designation demonstrates the technical, business, digital, people, and leadership skills to make a real difference, whether that’s advising managers about the financial implications of projects or helping devise negotiation strategies. What you do every day will have a huge business impact.”

Related: 5 things you need to know about a CIMA qualification

The ACCA Qualification from ACCA

The ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) Qualification is a globally recognised finance and business qualification. When you complete your ACCA Qualification, you’ll become an ACCA member, joining over 241,000 other members worldwide. You’ll also have the opportunity to gain additional qualifications on the road to ACCA membership.

ACCA Director of Professional Qualifications – UK, Ann Lamb says, “The ACCA Qualification is a finance and business qualification which produces future-ready ethical professionals with the strategic thinking, experience, and technical and professional skillset to drive themselves and the organisations they support forward.”

Related: 5 things you should know about becoming an ACCA qualified accountant

What skills do you want to learn?

Management accounting in a business context

A CGMA qualification helps you develop valuable finance and business skills, plus the fundamental knowledge needed to drive business success. With AICPA & CIMA, you move through the CGMA syllabus, developing your ability to apply:

  • Technical accounting and finance skills in small and medium-sized enterprises as well as multinational organisations.
  • Business skills that transform data into insights, leading to strategic decision-making.
  • People skills for effective and influential communication, negotiations, and collaboration.
  • Leadership skills to build and motivate teams for exceptional business performance.
  • Digital skills to gather, monitor, analyse, and report data.

“Once you’ve got your CGMA designation, analysing data for informed decision-making will be second nature. CGMA designation holders are sought as trusted advisers in business operations”, said Turner.

Fluency in business and finance

Studying the ACCA Qualification will teach you to be fluent in finance and business. ACCA constantly reviews the content of their qualification, so you can add immediate value to a range of diverse employers around the world.

An ACCA Qualification can help you develop a strategic skillset, technical ability, and professional mindset through a blend of exams, ethics, and experience. You’ll learn everything from innovation and scepticism to commercial awareness and problem-solving. You’ll also get a comprehensive knowledge of digital finance aspects such as data analytics, big data, cyber security, and disruptive technology.

Ann says, “Our flexible exams also give you the opportunity to specialise in a chosen area and in a number of countries; you can even take exams based on your national tax and law.”

What career path do you want to take?

The most important question you need to ask yourself before you choose a qualification is what you want from your career. Each of these qualifications benefits a different career path due to the skills it teaches.

CGMA® Professional Qualification: management accounting, CFO, finance business partner, management consultant

Accounting and finance professionals who hold the CGMA designation — a globally recognised distinction — work a variety of jobs in a variety of industries around the world, from innovative start-ups to Fortune 500 companies.

‘With the CGMA designation, your career opportunities are limitless. The skills you master will empower you to rise to any challenge you want, from advising business owners, CFOs, and CEOs, to becoming one yourself’, said Turner.

The ACCA Qualification: any role in business or finance in any industry

When you study with ACCA, you can take your career in any direction. So, whether you’re targeting a role in the film industry or pharmaceuticals, fast cars or fast food, premium brands, or the premier league, an ACCA Qualification can open the door.

The ACCA Qualification’s flexibility comes from its design. It appeals to employers precisely because it’s been developed by listening to what employers — from all sectors, all over the world — are looking for in their finance professionals. The ever-evolving syllabus allows ACCA members to take their careers in any direction they choose.

“Whether you see yourself as an assurance provider, an enterprise analyst, a stakeholder reporter or a transformation driver, the ACCA Qualification can take you there,” says Ann. “Our career navigator explains the skills students develop through the ACCA Qualification and the job roles and sectors they can work in.”

How long do you want to study for?

CGMA® Professional Qualification

Achieving the CGMA designation may be faster than you imagine. The amount of time depends on the CGMA candidate’s entry point and which pathway they choose. For example, a CGMA candidate with little or no accounting background would start at the foundational level to achieve a Certificate in Business Accounting.

Turner said, “On average, candidates take one year to complete this level. And then they could spend one year completing each of the three levels in the CGMA syllabus — Operational, Management, and Strategic. If a CGMA candidate has already achieved a BSc in accounting and finance, and if the person has experience working in a finance function, they will likely begin at the Management Level of the CGMA syllabus.”

AICPA & CIMA also offer the CGMA Finance Leadership Program, which is a self-paced e-learning experience that could be completed within two years. As a subscription-based route, the CGMA candidate could purchase a one-, two- or three-year subscription that includes the registration fee, all candidate fees, access to learning materials, exam preparation courses and all assessments and Case Study Exam fees — no supplementary learning materials or tuition support are required.

The ACCA Qualification

“The qualification can be studied flexibly to allow students to progress at their own pace,” says Ann. “Therefore, it really depends on each student and their circumstances.”

ACCA has starting points for new finance professionals and longstanding professionals wanting to develop strategic leadership capabilities. They hold exam sessions each quarter and allow you to take up to four exams in each session.

To achieve the ACCA Qualification, students must:

  • Complete a maximum of 13 exams (depending on prior experience and qualifications)
  • Complete an Ethics and Professional Skills module
  • Have evidence of three years of practical work experience within a relevant role

“This means that students can complete the ACCA Qualification in a minimum of three years,” says Ann.


For more information on in-demand qualifications and skills within finance and accounting, download your free copy of the Robert Half 2023 Salary Guide. Browse our latest finance and accounting vacancies or upload your CV today.

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