Accountancy and finance associations, professional bodies and qualifications

Accountancy and finance associations, professional bodies and qualifications

There are several professional bodies in the sector, ranging from those that cover all areas of accounting to those that offer postgraduate training in specific areas such as management accounting, public finance and auditing.

In the UK, accountants are not required to be a member of any professional organisation, but Chartered Accountants must be a member of either the ICAEW, ICAS or CAI. In practice, the vast majority of accountants hold professional qualifications.

Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

The ACCA is a global body for professional accountants with more than 175,000 members and 455,000 students in more than 180 countries.

Founded in 1904, the ACCA offers a number of different level qualifications from foundation courses to professional certification and the MBA.

The ACCA qualification is widely recognised with a broader focus than specialist management qualifications like the CIMA. Holders can work in large or small businesses across a wide range of sectors. They may work in private practice or become self-employed accountants.

ACCA qualification

To be eligible for ACCA membership (and qualify as a chartered certified accountant), you need to complete a series of examinations and have three years’ relevant experience.

There are 14 exams, in two stages: the foundation and professional level (set at the same level as a masters), and a professional ethics module.

From a unrelated degree subject (or A levels), there are a series of professional qualifications you can earn on route to the ACCA qualification: the diploma in accounting and business, the advanced diploma in accounting and business and a BSc in applied accounting (Oxford Brookes University).

Find out more about the ACCA qualification

Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)

Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) qualifications are particularly suitable for graduates looking to work in a range of business functions such as management accounting, financial management, planning and strategy, and project management.

CIMA qualified accountants look at businesses as a whole, building on the auditing and taxation functions that private practice accountants traditionally provide. Their qualifications are recognised in more than 176 countries.

There are two levels of CIMA membership, associate (ACMA) and fellow (FCMA). To become an associate member, you'll need to apply once you've satisfied the practical experience requirements (with at least three years' relevant experience) and passed the professional qualification.

As an associate member, you're also recognised as a chartered global management accountant (CGMA). This professional designation is jointly recognised by CIMA and AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants).

Members with over three years' senior strategic experience can apply to become FCMA.

CIMA qualifications

CIMA certificate in business accounting (Cert BA)

This is an entry-level accounting qualification for students with little or no accounting background.

The CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting syllabus is being updated for 2017 based on extensive global research with industry leaders and educators. Details of the new syllabus will be released 11 January 2017.

CIMA Professional Qualification

This is a management accounting qualification, which focuses on business, management and strategy as well as finance. It is the examination component of CIMA membership.

To be eligible for the professional qualification, you need to already have business or accounting understanding. For example, you might have completed the Cert BA. There are accelerated routes for graduates with MBA or masters in accounting qualifications.

The programme is structured to cover three key areas; enterprise, performance and finance. These run across each level of the Professional Qualification. There are three separate levels, each with an award for completion:

  • The operational level (CIMA diploma in management accounting) covers organisational management, management accounting and financial reporting and taxation.
  • The management level (CIMA advanced diploma in management accounting) focuses on project and relationship management, advanced management accounting and advanced financial reporting.
  • The strategic level (the overall CIMA professional qualification) concentrates on strategic management, risk management and financial strategy.

Each level is tested through three multiple-choice objective tests and an essay-based case study. Holders of certain qualifications may be eligible for some examination exemptions.

The CIMA can be studied full or part time with a course provider (like Kaplan), online with CIMAstudy or independently using the official textbooks and study materials.

Find out more about the CIMA professional qualification

Islamic finance qualifications

CIMA offers two self-study qualifications for finance professionals seeking accreditation in the fast-growing world of Islamic finance: the diploma in Islamic finance and the advanced diploma in Islamic finance. You qualify for the Advanced Diploma by completing the diploma or, for experienced specialists, passing the gateway examination.

Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA)

The CIPFA is the UK professional organisation for accountants working in the public sector. Its 14,000 members are Chartered Public Finance Accountants (CPFAs) working with public money in government, health, education, housing and all the sectors that make up the public services.

The Institute offers a number of qualifications for specialists in public finance including the CIPFA professional qualification, the integrated qualification for auditors, and the international public financial management (IPFM) qualification. CIPFA examinations can now be taken in more than 100 different countries and the study modes are flexible.

Having a CIPFA qualification shouldn’t restrict you to one path. Members have transferable skills that are equally applicable in the private sector. CIPFA professionals also work with joint public and private ventures, and in auditing and consultancy private sector roles.

Members can expect to earn an average of around £32,000 once qualified, with scope for substantially increasing their earnings with experience. An experienced local authority finance director can earn over £110,000.

The CIPFA professional qualification

The CIPFA professional qualification has three stages: the professional certificate (affiliate member), the professional diploma (associate member) and the strategic level (full CPFA qualification).

As you complete each of the stages, you’ll progress through to the next level of CIPFA membership. The qualification takes about three years to complete and you'll typically take two exams twice a year.

Depending on your skills and experience, you could be exempt for elements on the syllabus as part of several accelerated qualifying routes. Members of the ICAEW, ACCA and several other accountancy bodies take two papers to qualify as part of the CIPFA's fast track programme.

International public financial management (IPFM)

The IPFM is a four-stage qualification and each complete stage leads to a stand-alone qualification as well as contributing towards the professional qualification in IPFM. The IPFM takes around three years in total to complete. The certificate takes about six months to complete, followed by the diploma and advanced diploma, which both last about twelve months and lead to the professional qualification stage.

Integrated Qualification for Auditors

For audit specialists, CIPFA and ICAS (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland) now offer a new integrated auditing qualification that enables you to audit organisations in both the public and corporate sectors in the UK. For CIPFA members, it's the chance to become company audit qualified, and for ICAS members to become public audit qualified.

Qualified members of CIPFA and ICAS can fast track to complete the qualification in around twelve months.

CIPFA university student membership

CIPFA gives university students twelve months free membership, offering intern and networking opportunities as well as industry data to develop your commercial awareness.

Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT)

The CIOT is a UK professional body for chartered tax advisers, which promotes knowledge about taxation and supports efficiency and simplicity in the tax system.

Membership is recognised as a sign of excellence for UK tax specialists. To become a member (and a chartered tax adviser), you’ll need to have relevant professional experience and pass the chartered tax adviser (CTA) exams.

Becoming a chartered tax adviser with the CIOT – the CTA qualification

There are two sittings for the CTA exams each year, one in May and one in November, with with 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.

To take the CTA candidates must be registered as a student member with the CIOT for at least four months and have a confirmation of eligibility.

There are a number of different qualifications that entitle you to a confirmation of eligibility:

  • passing the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) certificate exams
  • being a member of one of a number of other professional organisations
  • being a barrister or solicitor
  • having taken specific qualifications (or papers).

For more details on eligibility, visit

Once you have passed the CTA and can demonstrate three years' relevant experience, you’re eligible to apply for membership to become a chartered tax advisor.

CTA in Ireland and Australia

After a licensing agreement made in 2012, it is possible to take the CTA in Ireland with the Irish Taxation Institute and in Australia with the Tax Institute.

Specialist programmes

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the CIOT offer an ACA CTA joint designation professional qualification programme for students who want to specialise in either tax for major corporates or indirect tax.

For practitioners focusing on international tax, the CIOT also offers the Advanced Diploma in International Taxation (ADIT).

Funding available for PhD tax students

The CIOT offers grants for students undertaking PhD research into taxation at a UK university. Full and part-time students are eligible, as well as MPhil students looking to continue to PhD study.

Applicants should note that grants are not available for university fees and that payment is made after the completion of a year's study.

There are two application deadlines each year: 1 April and 1 November.

Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

The ICAEW is one of the several professional membership organisations for chartered accountants. The institute has more than 147,000 members and its ACA qualification is widely respected.

The ICAEW’s 2015 salary survey suggests the average global salary of an ICAEW chartered accountant is £90,200 plus bonus.

Becoming a ICAEW chartered accountant – the ACA qualification

The ACA chartered accountancy qualification offered by the ICAEW is an internationally recognised business and finance qualification.

There are four main components to the ACA: professional development, ethics and professional scepticism, 450 hours work experience, and a programme of accountancy, finance and business modules (with related examinations).

To become an ACA trainee you need to either apply to one of the ICAEW’s authorised training employers (ATE) for a training agreement or register as an independent student.

While you can sit the majority of the required exams as a registered independent student, you do need to complete the technical work experience with an ATE to qualify as an ICAEW chartered accountant.

Find out more about the ACA qualification