ACCA vs CFA: Salary, Difficulty, Cost, Career Opportunities, etc.

ACCA and CFA are more than just acronyms; they are gateways to advanced knowledge, global opportunities, and distinguished careers in finance and accounting. But how do you know which one is right for you?

In the upcoming sections, we compare and contrast every aspect of these certifications – from their syllabi and exam structures to the career paths they pave. Whether you’re a fresh graduate or a seasoned professional, this guide is tailored to shed light on your path.

Stay tuned as we unravel the nuances of ACCA and CFA, making your decision not just an educated one, but a stepping stone to success in the dynamic world of finance.

What is ACCA?

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is a globally recognised accounting qualification, esteemed for its comprehensive and flexible program structure.

Designed to provide a deep understanding of all aspects of accounting, finance, and business, ACCA is ideal for those aspiring to reach the top echelons in the world of finance.

Exam Structure

  • Applied Knowledge: This level covers the essentials of financial and management accounting. It’s designed to provide a strong base for students, introducing them to the core concepts of the field.
  • Applied Skills: Moving a step forward, this level dives into the application of accounting knowledge in various business contexts. It covers key areas such as corporate and business law, performance management, taxation, and financial reporting.
  • Strategic Professional: This advanced level is split into two parts: Essentials and Options. The Essentials section is compulsory, focusing on strategic business leadership and corporate reporting. The Options section allows candidates to choose two out of four subjects, tailoring their learning to specific interests or career requirements.

Flexibility and Accessibility

One of the key strengths of the ACCA program is its flexibility. Candidates can pace their studies according to their personal and professional commitments, making it feasible for working professionals.

Moreover, with exams conducted multiple times a year and a vast network of exam centers worldwide, ACCA is highly accessible to candidates across the globe.

To get a detailed insight about the course, read – All About ACCA

What is CFA?

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation is a highly esteemed professional certification offered by the CFA Institute. It is recognised globally and is considered a gold standard in the fields of investment management and financial analysis.

The CFA program is designed to equip candidates with advanced investment analysis and real-world portfolio management skills.

Exam Structure

  • Level I: This entry-level stage introduces candidates to the world of investment management. It covers the foundational knowledge of the investment industry, focusing on ethical and professional standards, tools and inputs, and an understanding of asset classes.
  • Level II: Building on the knowledge gained in Level I, this stage delves deeper into asset valuation. It focuses more on the application of tools and concepts in investment valuation and portfolio management.
  • Level III: The final stage of the CFA program emphasises portfolio management and wealth planning. It tests candidates’ ability to synthesise all the concepts and analytical methods in a variety of applications for effective portfolio management and wealth planning.

To know more about CFA as a Course, read – All About CFA

Eligibility Criteria

Understanding the eligibility criteria for ACCA and CFA is crucial for candidates planning to pursue these qualifications.

Each has specific requirements tailored to ensure candidates are well-prepared for the respective programs.


  • Education Requirement: Candidates must have a bachelor’s degree or be in the final or pre-final year of their bachelor’s program to register for the Level I exam. The Level II and III exams can be taken upon completion of the degree.
  • Professional Experience Requirement: Without a bachelor’s degree, candidates are eligible if they have 4,000 hours of professional work experience, which must be full-time and exclude internships, part-time jobs, or student teaching.
  • Combined Education and Experience: A combination of education and work experience totaling at least four years also meets the eligibility criteria, with one year of education equated to 1,000 hours.
  • International Travel Passport: All candidates must have a valid international travel passport to register and sit for the exams, ensuring consistent identity verification globally.
  • Language Requirements: A strong command of English is beneficial, as the CFA curriculum and exams are only offered in English.


  • Minimum Age: While there’s no minimum age for starting the ACCA qualification, candidates need to be 18 or older to register independently.
  • Educational Qualifications:
    • For 10+2 students: A minimum of five separate subjects including English and Mathematics/Accounts, with at least 65% in two subjects and over 50% in others.
    • For those not meeting these marks: Starting with ACCA’s Foundation-level qualifications is an option.
  • Graduates and Professionals: Graduates from accredited institutions may receive exemptions from some exams, depending on their degree subject and university.

Requirements to Complete Each Course

For ACCA, besides passing the relevant exams, completing the Ethics and Professional Skills Module and gaining 36 months of relevant professional experience are necessary.

In contrast, the CFA program requires passing all three levels of exams and accumulating 4,000 hours of acceptable professional work experience, completed in a minimum of 36 months, for the CFA charter.

Difficulty Level Analysis

The difficulty levels of ACCA and CFA exams are often debated.

It’s important to understand that their challenges stem from different aspects of the syllabus, exam format, and the intensity of study required.


  • Depth vs. Breadth: ACCA covers a wide range of topics in finance, accounting, and business, but typically at a depth that is considered manageable for individuals with a background in these areas. The challenge lies in the breadth of subjects covered.
  • Progressive Difficulty: The difficulty of ACCA exams increases progressively. Early exams are more straightforward, focusing on fundamental principles, whereas the later, Strategic Professional exams are more complex, involving case study analysis and requiring higher-order thinking skills.
  • Pass Rates: Pass rates for ACCA exams generally indicate a moderate level of difficulty. Early exams have higher pass rates, while the pass rates for later exams drop, reflecting the increasing complexity.

To know more about the difficulty level of ACCA, read – Is ACCA Difficult


  • Intensive Focus on Investment Analysis: The CFA program is intensely specialised, focusing primarily on investment analysis, portfolio management, and finance. This narrow yet deep focus makes the material quite dense and challenging to master.
  • Volume and Depth of Material: The volume of material in the CFA program is substantial, and the depth of understanding required, especially in Level II and Level III, is significant. Candidates often describe these levels as particularly challenging.
  • Exam Format and Time Pressure: The format of CFA exams, which includes vignettes, multiple-choice, and essay-type questions, requires not just understanding of concepts but also the ability to apply them under time pressure.
  • Lower Pass Rates: Historically, CFA exams have lower pass rates compared to ACCA exams. This is indicative of the rigorous standard and depth of understanding required to pass CFA exams.

Read ‘Is CFA Difficult?’ to understand the difficulty level of CFA

Comparative Analysis

  • Subject Focus: While ACCA offers a broader view covering various aspects of accounting and finance, CFA dives deeply into investment management. The difficulty in ACCA comes from the range of topics, whereas in CFA, it’s the depth and intensity of the investment-focused content.
  • Study Time: Candidates for both ACCA and CFA invest a significant amount of time studying, but the intensity and depth of the CFA curriculum generally demand more rigorous and focused study.
  • Pass Rates: The pass rates for CFA exams are typically lower than those for ACCA exams, suggesting a higher level of difficulty in achieving the CFA designation.

In conclusion, while both ACCA and CFA exams are challenging in their own right, the CFA is often perceived as more difficult due to its intense focus on investment analysis, the depth of the material, and the rigorous exam format.

ACCA, while broad and comprehensive, tends to have a slightly more manageable difficulty curve. However, the perceived difficulty can vary based on an individual’s background, skills, and area of expertise.

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Salary Comparison

When considering a career in finance, understanding the salary potential of ACCA and CFA in India is crucial.

Here’s a breakdown of what professionals with these certifications can expect:


  • Entry-Level: ACCA qualifiers in entry-level positions such as junior accountants or financial analysts can expect salaries ranging from ₹3,00,000 to ₹6,00,000 annually, depending on the industry and location.
  • Mid-Career: With a few years of experience, ACCA professionals can see a significant increase, with salaries ranging from ₹6,00,000 to ₹12,00,000 per year in roles like senior accountants or audit managers.
  • Senior-Level: In senior management roles such as finance controllers or chief financial officers, ACCA professionals in India can earn upwards of ₹12,00,000, with the potential to reach ₹20,00,000 or more, especially in larger corporations or multinational companies.

For an more in-depth view of the salaries of ACCA professionals, read – ACCA Salaries, Job Opportunities


  • Entry-Level: CFA charterholders starting in roles like investment analysts can expect salaries between ₹4,00,000 to ₹8,00,000 annually. This can vary based on the sector and the firm’s size.
  • Mid-Career: Mid-level positions such as portfolio managers or research analysts typically offer salaries between ₹8,00,000 and ₹15,00,000, depending on expertise and the type of employer.
  • Senior-Level: For senior roles like chief investment officers or fund managers, CFA professionals in India can earn salaries exceeding ₹15,00,000, potentially going up to ₹25,00,000 or higher in high-profile positions.

For an more in-depth view of the salaries of CFA professionals, read – CFA Salaries, Job Opportunities

Geographic and Industry Variations

  • Salaries in metropolitan areas like Mumbai, Bangalore, and Delhi tend to be higher than the national average for both ACCA and CFA professionals.
  • Industries such as investment banking, asset management, and consulting typically offer higher salary packages, especially for CFA charterholders.

Comparative Analysis

While starting salaries for both ACCA and CFA professionals are competitive in India, CFA charterholders often have a higher salary potential, particularly in specialised fields of finance.

However, ACCA professionals also have strong earning potential, especially in senior management roles within diverse industries.

Time and Cost Investment


  • Registration Fee: A one-time fee of approximately ₹8,400.
  • Annual Subscription: Approximately ₹11,400 is required annually to maintain registration.
  • Exam Fees: Vary across levels, with Applied Knowledge at ₹9,200 each, Applied Skills at ₹13,700 each, and Strategic Professional between ₹17,400 and ₹24,200.
  • Ethics and Professional Skills Module: This costs about ₹7,600.
  • Exemption Fees: Depending on prior qualifications, with fees for Knowledge and Skills exemptions at around ₹8,500 and ₹11,300, respectively.

Approximate Minimum Total Cost: The minimum cost to complete the ACCA qualification can be around ₹2,30,000, encompassing all necessary fees and basic study materials.


  • Program Enrolment Fee: A one-time fee of $350 is required for the first Level I exam.
  • Exam Registration Fee: Tiered pricing is used, with early registration at around $900 and standard registration around $1,200.
  • Curriculum Cost: Included in the exam registration fee (eBooks), with printed materials available for an additional fee.
  • Optional Study Material Costs: Varying widely, additional study materials can range from $50 to over $1,000.

Approximate Minimum Total Cost: The total cost to pursue the CFA certification can be around $3,000, accounting for all exam fees and basic study materials.

Time Commitment

Both ACCA and CFA demand considerable time investments. ACCA typically takes 3-5 years with 100-150 study hours recommended per paper.

The CFA program, often completed in 4 years, requires about 300 study hours per level.

Comparative Analysis

Both ACCA and CFA are significant financial investments. With the approximate minimum cost of ACCA around ₹2,30,000 and CFA around ₹2,25,000, they are similarly expensive.

However, the potential return on investment in terms of career opportunities and salary prospects can make these costs worthwhile for many professionals in the finance and accounting sectors.

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Future Prospects

The advent of AI is revolutionising industries, including finance and accounting. Understanding how AI may impact the careers of ACCA and CFA professionals is crucial for those looking to stay ahead in a rapidly evolving landscape.


  • Automation of Routine Tasks: AI’s ability to automate routine accounting tasks poses a risk to jobs focused on basic bookkeeping and transactional roles. This includes some areas covered by ACCA.
  • Adaptation and Resilience: However, ACCA’s broad curriculum and focus on strategic financial management, ethics, and professional judgment mean that ACCA professionals are well-equipped to adapt. They can move towards more advisory and decision-making roles, where human insight and strategic thinking are irreplaceable.
  • Emphasis on Analytical Skills: ACCA has been proactive in integrating topics related to digital finance and data analytics into its syllabus, preparing its members for a future where accountants are expected to interpret data and provide insights beyond traditional accounting.


  • Enhanced Analytical Tools: In investment management, AI is more of an enabler than a disruptor. It provides CFA professionals with sophisticated tools for data analysis, risk assessment, and investment decision-making.
  • Complementary to CFA Skillset: The CFA curriculum, with its deep focus on analytical skills, portfolio management, and ethical considerations, complements the capabilities brought by AI. CFA professionals are likely to leverage AI to enhance their investment strategies and financial analysis.
  • Less Risk of Obsolescence: The specialised nature of CFA roles in investment analysis and portfolio management, which require a high degree of human judgment and ethical oversight, are less likely to be fully automated by AI.

Adapting to an AI-Driven Future

  • ACCA professionals may need to focus more on developing strategic, advisory, and analytical skills to stay ahead, as some traditional accounting roles become more automated.
  • CFA professionals are likely to see AI as a tool that enhances their capabilities in investment analysis and decision-making, rather than a direct threat to their roles.

Comparative Analysis

Both ACCA and CFA offer pathways to thriving careers in the age of AI. ACCA professionals might need to adapt more as AI changes the landscape of traditional accounting, while CFA professionals are positioned to use AI as a powerful tool in investment management.

The key for both will be a willingness to embrace new technologies, continuously learn, and evolve their skill sets to stay relevant in an AI-driven world.

Comparison Table

Eligibility Requirements– No minimum age, but 18+ for independent registration.
– 10+2 with 65% in 2 subjects and 50% in others; exemptions for higher education.
– Bachelor’s degree or final year enrolment; or 4,000 hours of work experience.
– Valid international travel passport.
Flexibility– Flexible exam schedules.
– Can be pursued alongside employment.
– Exemptions based on previous qualifications.
– Structured exam levels with fixed schedules.
– Requires significant study time, often alongside employment.
Requirements to Complete– Pass 13 exams (exemptions possible).
– Complete Ethics and Professional Skills Module.
– 36 months of relevant experience.
– Pass all 3 levels of exams.
– 4,000 hours of professional work experience.
– Adherence to ethical standards.
Difficulty Level– Progressive difficulty; broader range of topics.
– Higher early exam pass rates; lower at professional level.
– Consistently high difficulty; deep focus on investment analysis.
– Generally lower pass rates.
Average Salary (India)– Entry-level: ₹3-6 Lakhs.
– Mid-level: ₹6-12 Lakhs.
– Senior-level: ₹12-20+ Lakhs.
– Entry-level: ₹4-8 Lakhs.
– Mid-level: ₹8-15 Lakhs.
– Senior-level: ₹15-25+ Lakhs.
Cost– Approximate minimum total cost: ₹2,30,000.– Approximate minimum total cost: ₹2,25,000
Time to Complete– Typically 3-5 years, depending on pace and exemptions.– Generally 4 years, but can be completed in as little as 18 months.
Future Prospects– Broad scope in various finance/accounting roles.
– Adaptable to digital finance trends.
– Risk of some roles being automated by AI.
– Specialised in investment management.
– Enhanced by AI in data analysis and decision-making.
– Less risk of automation due to specialised focus.

Making Your Final Decision

Deciding between ACCA and CFA is a significant career choice that depends on your professional aspirations, interests, and circumstances.

Here are some key considerations to help you make an informed decision:

  • Career Aspirations and Industry Preference:
    • ACCA: Ideal if you’re aiming for a broad career in accounting, audit, taxation, or corporate finance across various sectors.
    • CFA: Best suited for those focused on investment analysis, portfolio management, and the financial services sector.
  • Time and Flexibility: ACCA offers more flexibility and can be spread over several years, while CFA requires a concentrated and intense study schedule.
  • Cost and Investment: Both qualifications require a financial investment. Weigh the costs against potential salary benefits and ROI based on the career path you wish to pursue.
  • Long-term Career Goals: Think about where you see yourself in 5-10 years. ACCA may open doors to various roles in finance and accounting, while CFA is targeted towards specialised roles in investment and portfolio management.
  • Global Recognition and Mobility: Both certifications are internationally recognised. Consider where you plan to work and the demand for each qualification in that region.
  • Personal Strengths and Interests: Reflect on your academic strengths and interests. ACCA covers a wide range of accounting topics, while CFA is intensive in investment and financial analysis.
  • Networking and Professional Community: Consider the professional networking opportunities each certification offers. Both ACCA and CFA have strong global communities, but they cater to different professional circles.
  • Preparation for Future Challenges: Analyse which certification aligns better with the evolving demands of the finance and accounting industry.

Ultimately, both ACCA and CFA are prestigious qualifications that can significantly enhance your career. Your choice should align with your personal career objectives, lifestyle considerations, and professional growth aspirations.

Whichever path you choose, commitment, dedication, and hard work will be key to your success.


Choosing between ACCA and CFA is a crucial step in your finance career. ACCA opens doors to a variety of roles in accounting and finance, ideal for those seeking versatility. CFA, meanwhile, specialises in investment analysis, perfect for those passionate about financial markets.

Reflect on your career goals, the time you can invest, and your interests. Each path offers unique opportunities and challenges. Make your choice based on where you see yourself thriving.

Your decision now paves the way for your professional journey ahead. Choose wisely, and embark on a path filled with potential and growth.

Frequently Asked Question

Can I pursue ACCA or CFA while working?

Yes, both ACCA and CFA can be pursued alongside full-time employment, though they require a significant time commitment for study and exam preparation.

Which certification is more expensive, ACCA or CFA?

The costs are similar, with ACCA around ₹2,30,000 and CFA around ₹2,25,000 for the entire program.

Do both ACCA and CFA require work experience?

Yes, ACCA requires 36 months of relevant experience, and CFA requires 4,000 hours of professional work experience.

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