Accountants are in high demand globally, with the Big Four (Price Waterhouse Cooper, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, and KPMG) among the largest employers of graduates. In China, the profession continues to grow steadily. At present there are over 300,000 people working in the industry.
Globally there are many different qualifications that students can take to become practicing accountants; we will be looking at three, ACCA, CPA (US) and CPA (China). There are some significant differences between the three, and the best qualification to take depends entirely upon where you wish to practice as an accountant.Find an accounting course
Becoming a Chartered Accountant in the UK
ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is a leading accountancy body recognised globally. With over 500,000 members (41,000 of which are based in China), and students learning in 170 countries, the qualifications you gain from studying with ACCA will give you the right to practice in many locations. Registering interest with ACCA is a straight-forward process, though becoming a fully-certified member only occurs once you have qualified.
It can take up to four years to qualify through ACCA to become a chartered accountant; there are 14 required modules and exams to pass. Students who have relevant accountancy qualifications from university (such as those who have completed Queen's University Belfast, International Year One in Accounting) will have earned exemptions from some of the modules required, potentially reducing the length of study time required by more than 50% (in some cases, students will only need to take the five professional modules set by ACCA). Exemptions are both course and university-specific; ACCA has set up a simple exemptions calculator on their site so students can see what they are able to apply for before registering for ACCA.
ACCA offers three ways to study for their courses; self-study, online, and through approved learning partners. The organisation is focused on helping their students to pass the courses, and provides access to support through their website. ACCA organise four examination cycles per year at over 170 centres around the world, and students can take up to four papers per session (fundamental papers must be taken in numerical order), though it is recommended by the association that a maximum of four papers are taken in any six-month period.
Though ACCA is recognised in most countries, unfortunately, their qualifications are not recognised in the US, and there is no reciprocal agreement that will entitle someone who has ACCA qualifications to automatically qualify for licensed CPA status.
"I chose my foundation because I want to get an actuarial science degree and in my country, it's hard for me to get into university. A lot of banks began in England and they spread out all over the world. It's so famous, and I want to gain work experience here. That's why I chose to study in London."
Jackly Thong Ern Qi from Malaysia
"I started teaching the professional qualifications, the Association of Accounting Technicians, and the ACCA qualification and what I learned from doing that is a very practical lead teaching method...Learning is an active experience, not a passive one. Teaching those professional qualifications has built up that mind-set into what now it will be called a very active learning approach. So, I bring that to all my lectures."
"Living in the business district of London, I have visited lots of financial institutions like KPMG and as a student I have lots of opportunities."
Anna-Neomie Ouattara from the Ivory Coast
Becoming a CPA in the US
Overseen by the AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants), CPA (Certified Public Accountant) qualifications in the US are more locally focused, with each US state setting their own examinations and specifying qualifying requirements for an individual wishing to become a licensed CPA. The academic entry requirements to become a CPA are higher than those required by ACCA; any student who wishes to become a CPA must either be in their final year of an accountancy-related degree, or have completed their four years of study (e.g. Undergraduate Pathway in Business study programs offered at Drew University, Oregon State University, and University of South Florida).
Every US state sets the requirements each student must meet for sitting their CPA examinations, and while the four CPA exams are the same in every state, the additional qualifications and experience needed to earn the CPA license can differ; there are no exemptions awarded to students who have studied accounting (or an accounting-related subject) to degree level. In Missouri, a student must be a state resident and have studied at a regionally accredited college or university (St Louis University is state accredited). State residency is also a requirement for obtaining a CPA License for those who wish to practice in West Virginia. In Alabama, anyone wishing to earn a CPA License it is necessary to be able to prove legal US citizenship.
In the US, studying to become a CPA can take from 18 months to two years after completion of a four-year degree, this usually includes taking the AICPA examinations, earning 30 further semester hours (the equivalent of a Master’s) studying a program which includes modules that the state list as required, and working between 1,800 and 2,080 hours under the supervision of a licensed and experienced CPA, some states also require students take an ethics paper.
Practicing CPAs in China
Someone who wishes to join the CICPA (China Institute of CPAs) in China as a licensed CPA must have completed a four year course of study at university in an accountancy-related subject (like Manchester Metropolitan University, International Year One in Accounting and Finance). To become a CPA, a qualified student then needs to sit the National Unified CPA Examination at one of the certified examination centres across the country. Being a qualified member of ACCA, or a CPA (US), does not automatically guarantee you membership of the CPA governing body in China (CICPA).
The recommended path
Though ACCA is a qualification recognised in a number of countries outside of the UK, and has reciprocal partnerships with others (such as HKICPA in Hong Kong, and CGA Canada) which means qualified students who apply to become members of these accountancy associations will receive certain exemptions from examinations, it is still necessary to take further exams as well as continuous training in order to qualify to practice in another country.
It is best, ultimately, to study an accountancy-related degree program (study accounting and finance in the UK or US) and, once you have decided where you would like to practice, take the accountancy examinations in that country. Whatever you decide, a foundation in accountancy at any of our universities will ensure that you are prepared for the next stage of your career.