ACCA vs CPA: Salary, Difficulty, Cost, Time, Career Opportunities, etc.

In this comprehensive guide, we dive deep into the world of ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and CPA (Certified Public Accountant). We’ll explore what each certification entails, the opportunities they offer, and how they differ in terms of global recognition, career paths, and much more.

Whether you’re just starting out in your accounting journey or looking to switch gears, understanding the nuances between ACCA and CPA is crucial. Let’s embark on this journey together to discover which certification aligns best with your career aspirations and personal goals.

What is ACCA?

ACCA is a globally recognized accounting qualification, revered for its rigorous standards and comprehensive curriculum. It paves the way for a successful career in accounting, finance, and management.

Structure of the ACCA Program

The ACCA program is structured to provide a deep and broad understanding of accounting principles and business practices. It consists of three main levels:

  • Applied Knowledge: This foundational level covers the basics of financial and management accounting. It includes three papers – Accountant in Business (AB), Management Accounting (MA), and Financial Accounting (FA).
  • Applied Skills: This intermediate level delves into the core areas of corporate and business law, performance management, taxation, financial reporting, audit and assurance, and financial management. It comprises six papers, challenging students to apply their knowledge in practical scenarios.
  • Strategic Professional: The final level focuses on advanced topics in strategic business leadership and strategic business reporting, along with two optional papers from a choice of four, allowing specialization in areas like advanced financial management, advanced performance management, advanced taxation, or advanced audit and assurance.

Each level builds on the knowledge from the previous one, ensuring a gradual and thorough understanding of the accounting profession.

Exam Format

The exam format varies between multiple choice, constructed response, and case studies, depending on the level and subject. Exams are conducted in computer-based format for the Applied Knowledge and Skills levels, while the Strategic Professional exams are a mix of computer-based and traditional paper-based formats.

The ACCA program is designed to be flexible, allowing students to take exams in four sittings throughout the year and to progress at their own pace, making it accessible for working professionals and full-time students alike.

ACCA certification is recognized as a significant credential in the field of accounting and finance globally. With its comprehensive curriculum and flexible structure, it’s a top choice for those aiming to achieve excellence in the world of global accounting.

To get in-depth insights of ACCA as a course, read – All About ACCA

What is CPA?

The CPA designation is a highly esteemed accounting qualification in the United States, recognized for its standard of excellence in accounting expertise and ethical practice. Obtaining a CPA certification opens doors to a wide range of career opportunities in accounting, finance, and business.

If you want to know more about CPA as a course, read – All About CPA

CPA Exam Structure and Content

The CPA exam is renowned for its rigor and comprehensiveness, designed to test candidates’ knowledge and skills in real-world accounting scenarios. The exam consists of four sections, each designed to evaluate a different aspect of accounting knowledge and practice:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD): This section assesses the candidate’s knowledge of the auditing process, including preparing and evaluating audit reports and understanding the responsibilities of auditors. It covers topics like ethics, professional responsibilities, and general principles of auditing.
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC): BEC focuses on business concepts and the importance of a CPA’s role in business. It includes topics like corporate governance, economic concepts, financial management, information systems, and strategic planning.
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR): FAR tests knowledge in financial accounting and reporting. It covers the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), including the standards for financial statements, government accounting, and non-profit accounting.
  • Regulation (REG): This section encompasses federal taxation, ethics, professional responsibilities, and business law. It covers federal tax procedures, taxation of entities, and property transactions.

Each exam section is four hours long, consisting of multiple-choice questions and task-based simulations. For the BEC section, there are also written communication tasks that assess candidates’ writing skills in a business environment.

ACCA and CPA Eligibility Criteria and Exam Levels in India

CriteriaACCA (India)CPA (US, for Indian Candidates)
Academic RequirementsMinimum 65% in 2 subjects and 50% in others in 10+2, including English and Mathematics/AccountsTypically, CA, ICWA, CS, MBA, or Master’s in commerce/related field
Experience Requirements36 months relevant experience for membership1-2 years under a licensed CPA (can be in India)
Pathway for Non-Standard EligibilityFoundation-level qualifications for students not meeting marks criteriaBridge course in accounting for candidates without an accounting background
Exams/Levels to ClearApplied Knowledge, Applied Skills, and Strategic Professional levelsFour sections: AUD (Auditing and Attestation), BEC (Business Environment and Concepts), FAR (Financial Accounting and Reporting), REG (Regulation)

Exam Structure and Difficulty Level

Understanding the exam structures and difficulty levels of ACCA and CPA is essential for aspiring accountants. This analysis will help you prepare effectively and set realistic expectations for your journey towards these prestigious qualifications.

Exam Structures

ACCA

  • Levels: The ACCA consists of three levels – Applied Knowledge, Applied Skills, and Strategic Professional.
  • Number of Exams: There are a total of 13 exams, though some exemptions are based on prior education.
  • Format: The exams include a mix of multiple-choice, short answer, and case-based questions.
  • Duration: Each exam typically lasts between two to three hours.

CPA

  • Sections: The CPA exam is divided into four sections.
  • Number of Exams: Candidates must pass all four sections.
  • Format: Each section includes multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, and written communication tasks (only in BEC).
  • Duration: Each section of the CPA exam is a four-hour long session.

Analysis of the Difficulty Level of Both Exams

ACCA

  • Considered challenging due to the breadth of subjects covered.
  • Requires a deep understanding of accounting standards and the ability to apply knowledge in practical scenarios.

CPA

  • Known for its rigorous and comprehensive nature.
  • Emphasizes US GAAP and GAAS, requiring strong analytical and application skills.

Pass Rates and Preparation Tips

ACCA Pass Rates

  • Varies by paper but generally ranges from 40% to 50%.
  • Slightly higher pass rates in the initial papers and more challenging in the professional papers.

CPA Pass Rates

  • Historically, CPA pass rates hover around 45% to 55% for each section.
  • Notoriously low for certain sections like FAR due to the depth of content.

Preparation Tips

  • ACCA: Focus on understanding the core concepts and practice with past papers. Time management is crucial.
  • CPA: Strong emphasis on US GAAP and taxation. Practice simulations and multiple-choice questions extensively.
  • For both exams, consistent study, joining study groups, and using review courses are highly recommended.

In case you want to know more about the difficulty of ACCA, read – Is ACCA Difficult?

Global Recognition and Mobility

Recognition of ACCA and CPA Certifications Worldwide

ACCA

  • Global Presence: ACCA is recognized in over 180 countries globally. It’s particularly strong in the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
  • Universal Relevance: The qualification is designed to provide global accounting knowledge, making it applicable across various international accounting standards.
  • Partnerships: ACCA has partnerships with accounting bodies in many countries, enhancing its global acceptability.

CPA

  • US Focus: Primarily recognized in the United States, the CPA certification is the standard for accountants in the US.
  • International Recognition: Although it’s US-centric, CPA is also respected in other countries, especially those with strong business ties to the US.
  • Specialization in US Standards: CPA’s focus on US GAAP and GAAS makes it indispensable for accountants working with US clients or American corporations.

Geographic Mobility for ACCA and CPA Professionals

ACCA Professionals

  • Enjoy a high level of mobility, especially in Commonwealth countries and regions where ACCA is well-established.
  • Often pursue careers in international audit firms, global corporations, and finance sectors across different continents.

CPA Professionals

  • Mobility is somewhat limited compared to ACCA due to the US-centric nature of the certification.
  • However, CPAs often find excellent opportunities in multinational corporations and in countries with strong business relationships with the US.

Countries Where Each Certification is Highly Valued

ACCA

  • Highly valued in the UK, Europe, Asia (particularly in countries like Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong), and in the Middle East.
  • Recognized in emerging economies and Commonwealth countries, making it a versatile choice for global career opportunities.

CPA

  • Most valued in the United States.
  • Also recognized in Canada, Australia, and other countries with mutual recognition agreements or business connections with the US.

If you want to know about career for an ACCA Internationally, read – ACCA Career, Salaries Internationally

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Career Opportunities and Specializations

The choice between ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and CPA (Certified Public Accountant) can significantly influence your career trajectory. Both certifications open doors to diverse opportunities, but they align differently with various industry sectors, roles, and specialization options.

Career Paths for ACCA and CPA Professionals

ACCA Professionals

  • Versatility: ACCA members are known for their versatility and can work in a wide range of sectors, including public practice, industry, commerce, and the public sector.
  • Global Opportunities: With ACCA’s global recognition, members have opportunities to work in multinational corporations, international auditing firms, and finance roles worldwide.
  • Entrepreneurship and Consultancy: ACCA qualification also provides a strong foundation for those looking to start their own practice or become financial consultants.

CPA Professionals

  • US Market Focus: CPAs are highly sought after in the United States in public accounting, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private corporations.
  • Specialized Roles in the US: CPAs often hold high-level positions like Chief Financial Officer (CFO), tax consultant, or auditor in American companies.
  • International Roles: CPAs may also find opportunities in international firms, but typically in roles that require expertise in US accounting standards.

Industry Sectors and Roles Typically Associated with Each Certification

ACCA

  • Industry Sectors: Public accounting, auditing, banking and finance, management consulting, corporate finance.
  • Roles: Financial accountant, management accountant, financial controller, finance manager, internal auditor.

CPA

  • Industry Sectors: Public accounting, corporate accounting, tax accounting, government accounting, forensic accounting.
  • Roles: Public accountant, tax consultant, corporate accountant, auditor, compliance officer.

Opportunities for Specialization and Further Advancement

ACCA

  • ACCA professionals can specialize in areas like tax, auditing, and corporate finance. The qualification encourages continuous learning, allowing members to stay updated with the latest in accounting and finance.
  • Leadership roles in finance and business are common progression paths for ACCA professionals.

CPA

  • CPAs have a clear path for specialization in US taxation, audit and assurance, business consulting, and forensic accounting.
  • The CPA credential is often a stepping stone to executive positions like CFO or financial director in US-based firms.

Cost and Time Investment

ACCA Exam Costs in India (2023)

  • Registration Fee: Approximately ₹8,400 (one-time).
  • Annual Subscription: Approximately ₹11,400 (required annually to maintain registration).
  • Exam Fees:
    • Applied Knowledge Level: Approximately ₹9,200 per exam.
    • Applied Skills Level: Approximately ₹13,700 per exam.
    • Strategic Professional Level: Ranges from approximately ₹17,400 to ₹24,200 per exam.
  • Ethics and Professional Skills Module: Approximately ₹7,600.
  • Exemption Fees:
    • Each Knowledge Exam Exempted: Approximately ₹8,500.
    • Each Skill Exam Exempted: Approximately ₹11,300.

The approximate minimum cost could be ₹2,30,000

CPA Course Costs for an Indian Student (2023)

  • CPA Training Fee: Ranges from ₹1,05,000 to ₹1,20,000.
  • Evaluation Fee: Approximately ₹20,000 to ₹30,000.
  • Exam Fee and International Testing Fee: Approximately ₹2,00,000.
  • Application Fee: Approximately ₹15,000.

Total Average Cost: The overall cost of completing the US CPA course in India typically ranges from approximately ₹3.5 to ₹4 lakhs.

Time Commitment Required for Each Certification

ACCA

  • The ACCA qualification can take anywhere from 3 to 5 years to complete, depending on exemptions and the pace of study.
  • The flexible exam schedule allows candidates to balance work and studies.

CPA

  • Typically, it takes about 18 months to complete all four sections of the CPA exam.
  • The stringent “18-month rule” means candidates must pass all four sections within 18 months of passing the first one.

Comparative Analysis

ACCA

  • Offers a flexible pathway, potentially more affordable due to varied cost options and self-paced study.
  • Ideal for those balancing work and study.

CPA

  • Higher upfront costs and a more concentrated time commitment.
  • The CPA’s time constraint can be a significant consideration for working professionals.

Both ACCA and CPA require substantial financial and time investments, but the long-term career benefits often outweigh these initial costs. Prospective candidates should weigh these factors based on personal circumstances, career objectives, and financial capacity.

Salaries

ACCA Salaries in India

  • Overall Average: Around ₹8 lakhs per annum
  • Overall Range: Annual income of an ACCA member is between ₹6 lakhs and ₹40 lakhs, lower for freshers and affiliates.
  • Big 4 Companies:
    • Entry-Level: ₹4 to ₹6 lakhs per annum.
    • Mid-Level: ₹9 to ₹14 lakhs per annum.
    • Senior Management/Leadership: ₹35 to ₹40 lakhs per annum.

CPA Salaries in India

  • Overall Average: Around ₹7 lakhs per annum.
  • Based on Job Profile:
    • Accountant: ₹2 to ₹5 lakhs per annum.
    • Chartered Accountant: ₹4 to ₹20 lakhs per annum.
    • Finance Manager: ₹4 to ₹20 lakhs per annum.
    • Financial Analysts: ₹2 to ₹10 lakhs per annum.
    • Senior Positions: Ranging from ₹3 to ₹8 lakhs for senior accountants, up to ₹10 lakhs on average for other senior roles.
  • Entry-Level Salary: Around ₹5 lakhs per annum, with an average of ₹9 lakhs per annum, varying by company and location.

Comparison Table

CriteriaACCA (India)CPA (India)
Global RecognitionRecognized in over 180 countriesHighly recognized in the US; respected globally
FlexibilityFlexible exam scheduling and progressionStrict 18-month timeline for exam completion
CurriculumCovers a wide range of international accounting topicsFocused on US GAAP and GAAS
Career OpportunitiesWide range in various industries globallyFocused on US-based accounting roles
Cost₹8.4k registration; ₹9.2k-₹24.2k exam fees₹3.5 to ₹4 lakhs total average cost
Time Commitment3 to 5 yearsApproximately 18 months
Salary Range₹6.4 to ₹39.5 lakhs (varies by role and experience)Around ₹6.99 lakhs average; up to ₹9.25 lakhs for senior roles
SpecializationBroader global accounting and financeSpecialization in US accounting standards

Making A Final Decision

Based on the merits and demerits of both ACCA and CPA certifications, the decision largely hinges on your career focus and location preferences:

  • Choose ACCA if you:
    • Desire a globally recognized qualification with wider geographical flexibility.
    • Seek diverse career opportunities across various industries worldwide.
    • Prefer a certification with a more comprehensive and broad curriculum.
  • Opt for CPA if you:
    • Aim to establish or advance your career predominantly in the United States.
    • Seek roles that specifically require expertise in US GAAP and GAAS.
    • Prefer a shorter certification timeline with potentially higher earning potential in the US.

Remember, both ACCA and CPA offer distinct advantages and open different career doors. Your choice should align with your personal career goals and geographic aspirations in the accounting field.

Conclusion

In conclusion, choosing between ACCA and CPA is a pivotal decision that depends on your career aspirations and geographical focus. If you envision a career with global mobility and diverse opportunities, ACCA is your gateway to international accounting and finance. However, if your aim is to excel in the US market with a specialization in US GAAP and GAAS, CPA is the definitive choice.

Remember, both paths lead to rewarding careers. Your decision should be a reflection of your professional goals and where you see yourself in the world of accounting. Whichever path you choose, dedication and commitment to your profession will pave the way for success.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which certification is better for a global career?

ACCA is more suited for global career opportunities due to its wide recognition.

How long does it take to complete ACCA and CPA?

ACCA typically takes 3-5 years, while CPA can be completed within approximately 18 months.

Which certification is better for a career in international accounting?

ACCA is preferred for international accounting due to its wide recognition and comprehensive curriculum covering various global accounting standards.

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