Whether you are in the accounting industry or are aspiring to become an accountant, a professional certification can improve your job prospects and earning potential.  Beyond having a degree, certifications bring a level of prestige and credibility with them.  In a competitive job market, having a certification gives you an advantage over other professionals that don’t have one.

Two of the most coveted advanced accounting certifications are offered by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Chartered Institute of Managerial Accountants (CIMA).  While they both define the standards that a certified professional should follow, they are very different credentials.

What is the ACCA?

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, or ACCA, was formed in 1904 to promote ethics and quality in the accounting profession. It is a principles-based certification that can cross over into different industries and disciplines. The ACCA focuses on quality accounting practices and financial reporting.

Why get the ACCA certification?

To get the ACCA credential, you must demonstrate that you can think strategically, understand finances, and act ethically. The ACCA is a valuable credential for accountants who perform audit or compliance services or report financial results to third parties. Accountants with the ACCA certification often work in tax, audit, or consulting roles.

Become ACCA-certified

Completing the ACCA certification will require an investment of time. To complete the ACCA credential you must do the following;

Pass a series of up to 13 tests – Tests are given in four cycles throughout the year.  You can take up to 4 different exams in one cycle and are limited to a total of 8 tests in one year.  Tests are grouped into 3 modules.  You must take the modules in order, however, the tests within the module can be taken in any order.

Modules include:

  • Applied Knowledge
  • Applied Skills
  • Strategic Professional (essentials and options)

Exam cycles are broken out as follows:

  • March cycle – January 1 – March 31
  • June cycle – April 1 – June 30
  • September cycle – July 1 – September 30
  • December cycle – October 1 – December 31

You may be exempt from some tests based on your education.  To find out if you are eligible to skip a few tests, you can access the ACCA’s exemption calculator here.

Ethical and professional skills course – You must complete this course prior to becoming ACCA-certified.  This course can be taken after you’ve completed the first module of tests under Applied Knowledge.

Practical Experience Requirement (PER) – Applicants are required to have 36 months of supervised, practical experience to qualify for the ACCA.  This experience can range from having a full-time job to volunteering.  You must meet nine performance objectives which include 5 essential objectives and 4 technical objectives.

Meeting the essential objectives are mandatory and include;

  • Ethics and professionalism
  • Stakeholder relationship management
  • Strategy and innovation
  • Governance, risk, and control
  • Leadership and management

There are 17 technical objectives offered and you choose which four you’d like to meet.  The key areas that these objectives cover include;

  • Corporate and business reporting
  • Financial management
  • Management accounting
  • Taxation
  • Audit and assurance
  • Advisory and consultancy
  • Data, digital, and technology

What is the CIMA?

The Chartered Institute of Managerial Accountants, or CIMA, is the largest professional accounting association in the world.  First established in 1919, the CIMA credential equips accountants to deal with change and effect sustainable success throughout an organization.

The CIMA goes beyond principles-based accounting to prepare accounting professionals to lead in a business landscape that is a state of change.  The certification is designed around the interrelationship with three pillars:

  • Enterprise
  • Performance
  • Financial

By focusing on the strategies and relationships between the three pillars, a CIMA holder grows into a strategic partner that can make effective decisions in a changing business environment.

Why get the CIMA?

The CIMA is a good certification for accountants who plan to work in industry.  The CIMA is designed to expand your knowledge and skillset to address strategic, operational, risk, and financial decisions.  Using an accountant’s base financial knowledge, the CIMA’s certification is intended to produce a well-rounded professional that can add to a company’s future success.  Typically positions that hold a CIMA credential include financial controllers, finance directors, commercial analysts, and Chief Financial Officers.

Become CIMA certified

If you are considering a CIMA certification, there are two levels of membership which are;

  • Associate – You must pass 16 examinations and 3 case study examinations.  There are a variety of study materials, live classes, online courses, and study groups available through the CIMA to help you prepare for the exam.

In addition, you must have at least three years of qualifying work experience in the profession that includes technical, business, communication, and leadership skills.  This experience must be at a level higher than a beginner to qualify.

  • Fellow – Beyond the Associate level, you can be accepted as a Fellow when you demonstrate an effective role in strategy, operations, or leadership.  A Fellow will usually hold a position where they either serve on a board or report to directors in that capacity.

Once certified, both Associate and Fellow members are known as Chartered Global Management Associates and can use the suffix “CGMA” after their name.

Similarities and differences between the ACCA and CIMA

Both certifications have some things in common.  They are prestigious credentials that are recognized globally.  Both the ACCA and CIMA require that you pass a series of tests and have three years of qualifying work experience.  To maintain the certification, both require that you take continuing education to stay on top of trends and changes in standards.

Where the two credentials differ from each other is their intended purpose.  The ACCA lines up with professionals in public accounting who perform audit and accounting services for clients.  Its goals are maintaining credibility, reliability, quality, and ethical practices.  On the other hand, the CIMA credential is focused on developing well-rounded leaders who can leverage finances, operations, and strategy to create a sustainable company. The CIMA focuses on the success of a company’s operations whereas the ACCA focuses on financial reporting.

What is a better certification – ACCA and CIMA?

To make this decision, you need to consider the career path that you are on, or plan to be on. ACCA credentials are a good match for accounting professionals who are responsible for financial reporting. If you are looking to pursue a position that entails strategy, operations, and financial management, the CIMA may be the better choice.

Regardless of which certification you ultimately pursue, either one can be a boon to your career and professional growth.  Employers hold both credentials in high regard.  Not only can this can open up more job opportunities for you, but it can also better position your career for growth and advancement.