What is the ACCA? How to get professional accounting qualifications after you graduate
The Association of Certified Chartered Accountants is a global professional body for chartered accountants. Graduates entering sectors such as finance or business are, in many cases, required to train for the ACCA qualification as part of their graduate scheme. It is often considered a desirable qualification in finance roles outside the sector as well, such as within the finance teams of IT or engineering companies. The qualification is predominantly relevant to the field of audit and assurance. On completion, you will become a member of the ACCA. Registration for the ACCA costs £79, with a further £83 annual subscription fee.
The ACCA usually takes three to four years of study to achieve, although the structure of your course often varies depending upon your employer. PwC, for example, typically requires its graduate intake to take more exams in the early stages of their graduate schemes. This tactic means that PwC graduates pass particular examinations ahead of the competition, which can make the firm more appealing to clients – passing the exams is proof of a certain amount of knowledge and credibility.
The three main components of the ACCA are:
- Exams – up to 14 exams, depending on exemptions
- Experience – 36 months' experience in a relevant role (achieving the 13 performance objectives)
- Ethics – the Professional Ethics module.
In the case of graduate trainees, the structure of working towards the exams and the Professional Ethics module tends to be down to the employer. If your course at university was approved by the ACCA, then it may well be that you are exempt from some of the exams at the fundamentals level (see below). The ACCA will also take into account previous knowledge gained from your university degree even if it is not ACCA approved, so this is certainly a route worth exploring if you think you have covered some of the ACCA topics already.
There are also various different ways in which to personalise the qualification for yourself, as part-time and distance-learning courses are available, including some at weekends (generally by those not on a graduate scheme).
ACCA exams are progressive, meaning that your knowledge base builds from one exam to the next in each topic area. These topics are broken into two groups: fundamentals (all the basics and ground-level knowledge you must have) and professional (more advanced knowledge and an understanding of its practical application). All nine fundamentals papers must be passed, while five professional exams must be passed – three compulsory 'essentials' modules, and two from a list of four further, advanced studies.
F1 Accountant in Business (AB)
F2 Management Accounting (MA)
F3 Financial Accounting (FA)
F4 Corporate and Business Law (CL)
F5 Performance Management (PM)
F6 Taxation (TX)
F7 Financial Reporting (FR)
F8 Audit and Assurance (AA)
F9 Financial Management (FM)
P1 Governance, Risks and Ethics
P2 Corporate Reporting (CR)
P3 Business Analysis (BA)
Options (two to be completed)
P4 Advanced Financial Management (AFM)
P5 Advanced Performance Management (APM)
P6 Advanced Taxation (ATX)
P7 Advanced Audit and Assurance (AAA)
Exam fees and dates
Applying to take your exams sooner rather than later is beneficial, especially if your employer is not sponsoring your ACCA study. The exam fee rises depending upon how late you apply. There are two exam periods, in June and December in each year.
The ACCA Professional Ethics module
‘Professional Ethics’ are covered in 11 of the 16 available modules listed above. The recommendation from ACCA is that applicants should look to start the professional ethics module when they are ready to take the P1: Governance, Risk and Ethics module. However, it is not absolutely necessary to do these alongside one another.
There are two parts to the Professional Ethics (nine-unit) module: self-assessment and a case-study.
Self-assessment: series of online questionnaires reflecting on the ethical values you have shown in your work.
Case-study: looking at an audit from two ethical perspectives, firstly as an auditor, and secondly as a corporate financial accountant.
Practical experience requirement (PER)
An essential part of becoming ACCA qualified is fulfilling the 36 months’ PER requirement. You will need to return regularly to your ACCA online Experience Record (known simply as MyExperience). Here you record your progress as you work through the qualification. When you pass one of the nine performance objectives, you must log it in the system. You will need to produce one 300-word reflective statement for each of your performance objectives, which has to be signed off by your practical experience supervisor.
Your performance objectives are broken down into two groups: essentials and options (known as technical objectives). As might be guessed from their names, all five essentials objectives must be completed; however, only four of the fifteen options must be achieved.
Essential performance objectives
You will need to complete all of the following:
1. Professionalism and ethics
2. Stakeholder relationship management
3. Strategy and innovation
4. Governance, risk and control
5. Leadership and management
You will need to complete four of the following:
- Record and process transactions and events
- Prepare external financial reports
- Analyse and interpret financial reports
- Evaluate investment and financing decisions
- Manage and control working capital
- Identify and manage financial risk
Sustainable management accounting
- Evaluate management accounting systems
- Plan and control performance
- Monitor performance
- Tax computations and assessments
- Tax compliance and verification
- Tax planning and advice
Audit and assurance
- Prepare for and plan the audit process
- Collect and evaluate evidence for an audit
- Review and report on the findings of an audit
At your workplace you’ll have a practical experience supervisor who will support your development and review your progress. You will demonstrate your achievement of the performance objectives to your supervisor by performing five activities in the workplace and writing a narrative statement for each performance objective. Your supervisor will then sign off your objectives, and also the time you have worked towards your 36 months’ requirement.
There are three business and accounting qualifications that you can take as you study for the ACCA
- Diploma in Accounting and Business
- Advanced Diploma in Accounting and Business
- BSc (Hons) degree in Applied Accounting from Oxford Brookes University.
If you already have an undergraduate finance degree, you may have already covered the basics of these qualifications, but they provide a professional development opportunity for career changers or non-cognates without a related degree.