Choosing between ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) is a pivotal decision for any aspiring finance professional. While ACCA is renowned for its focus on accounting, auditing, and taxation, CIMA stands out in management accounting and business strategy.
This concise guide aims to demystify both qualifications, offering insights into their structures, career opportunities, and global recognition. Whether you’re starting your career or looking to specialise, understanding these paths is crucial in shaping your future in the financial world.
Stay tuned as we delve into ACCA and CIMA, helping you align your career goals with the right certification.
What is ACCA?
ACCA stands as a leading global body for accounting professionals. Renowned for its rigorous and comprehensive program, ACCA offers a pathway to expertise in areas like financial reporting, taxation, audit, and business strategy.
ACCA is designed not just to impart technical accounting skills but also to develop a deep understanding of strategic business management, making it a preferred choice for professionals seeking a holistic financial education.
To know more about the ACCA Course, read – All About ACCA
The ACCA qualification consists of 13 exams, divided into three levels: Applied Knowledge, Applied Skills, and Strategic Professional.
Applied Knowledge Level
This foundation level includes three exams –
- Business and Technology (BT)
- Management Accounting (MA)
- Financial Accounting (FA).
These exams introduce the basics of financial and management accounting.
Applied Skills Level
This intermediate level includes six exams
- Corporate and Business Law (LW),
- Performance Management (PM),
- Taxation (TX),
- Financial Reporting (FR),
- Audit and Assurance (AA),
- Financial Management (FM)
These exams build upon the foundational knowledge and start to delve deeper into practical skills and theory.
Strategic Professional Level
The final level consists of four exams, two of which are compulsory (Strategic Business Leader and Strategic Business Reporting) and two are electives.
- Strategic Business Leader (SBL),
- Strategic Business Reporting (SBR)
and two of the four Optional papers –
- Advanced Financial Management (AFM),
- Advanced Performance Management (APM),
- Advanced Taxation (ATX),
- Advanced Audit and Assurance (AAA)
Each exam builds on the knowledge gained in the previous levels, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of accounting and finance.
The exams combine multiple-choice questions, written tasks, and case studies, designed to test both theoretical knowledge and practical skills.
One of the key strengths of the ACCA qualification is its flexibility. Students can take exams at their own pace, with four exam sessions available each year (March, June, September, and December). This allows for balancing study with work and other commitments.
The ACCA also offers exemptions for relevant prior learning, which can reduce the number of exams students need to take.
What is CIMA?
CIMA is a prominent global organization specialising in management accounting. Recognized worldwide, CIMA primarily focuses on business finance for public and private sectors, emphasising strategic management and operational skills.
The qualification prepares professionals for a career in business and finance, particularly in roles that combine accounting expertise with strategic business management. This is ideal for those seeking to develop their skills in decision-making, financial strategy, and business analysis.
CIMA’s curriculum is designed to deliver a deep understanding of management accounting, financial reporting, and business strategy.
CIMA’s exam structure is divided into four levels: Certificate, Operational, Management, and Strategic. Each level builds on the knowledge and skills acquired in the previous one.
This entry-level consists of four fundamental subjects, offering a basic understanding of management accounting, financial accounting, and business concepts.
This level focuses on short-term decision-making, covering areas like cost management, financial reporting, and risk management.
Here, the emphasis shifts to medium-term decision-making, exploring advanced topics in managing performance, financial strategy, and project management.
The final level centers on long-term strategic decision-making and covers risk management, financial strategy, and leadership in a global context.
Each level ends with a case study exam, applying the knowledge gained to real-world business scenarios.
CIMA offers significant flexibility in its exam scheduling, allowing students to sit for exams at various times throughout the year. This adaptability makes it possible to balance study with professional and personal commitments.
Additionally, CIMA has embraced digital transformation, offering many of its learning resources and some exams in a digital format, thereby increasing accessibility for students worldwide.
With its focus on practical application and strategic thinking, CIMA is an excellent choice for those looking to excel in business finance roles and become leaders in strategic management.
In India, the eligibility criteria for ACCA are quite flexible, allowing a wide range of candidates to enroll in the program:
- After 10th Standard: Students who have completed their 10th standard can start with the ACCA qualification but will need to complete the Foundation in Accountancy (FIA) route before moving to the ACCA qualification.
- After 12th Standard: Students who have completed 12th standard with 65% in Mathematics/Accounts and English, and 50% in other subjects from a recognised board are eligible to enrol directly in the ACCA qualification.
- Graduates and Postgraduates: Graduates, particularly those from commerce and business-related fields, can enroll in the ACCA course. Depending on their qualifications, they may also receive exemptions from certain ACCA papers.
- Working Professionals: Professionals with relevant work experience in accounting or finance can also join the ACCA program, which may enhance their career progression opportunities.
- After 12th Standard: Students who have completed their 12th from any recognized board can begin with the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting, which is the entry-level qualification.
- Graduates: Graduates in any discipline from a recognized university can directly start with the CIMA Professional Qualification. Graduates from finance and accounting backgrounds might receive exemptions for some certificate-level exams.
- MBA and CA Professionals: Individuals with an MBA or CA qualification can get accelerated entry through certain strategic level exams in CIMA. This recognizes their prior learning and experience in related fields.
- Professionals with Relevant Work Experience: Similar to ACCA, professionals working in relevant fields of finance and business can enroll in CIMA, which can aid in career advancement and skill enhancement.
Both ACCA and CIMA provide flexible entry points based on educational and professional backgrounds, making them accessible to a broad audience in India.
These qualifications are designed to complement prior education and experience, providing a platform for further professional development in the field of accounting and management.
Requirements for Completion of the Course
- Exams: Clear all 13 exams, which are divided into Applied Knowledge, Applied Skills, and Strategic Professional levels.
- Ethics and Professional Skills Module: This online module is essential for developing a range of professional skills and ethics, and must be completed before attempting the Strategic Professional exams.
- Practical Experience Requirement (PER): Accumulate 36 months of relevant work experience in accounting or finance roles. This experience can be gained before, during, or after the completion of the exams.
- Continuing Professional Development (CPD): Once fully qualified, ACCA members are required to undertake relevant CPD to keep their knowledge and skills up to date.
- Exams: Pass all the exams across the Certificate, Operational, Management, and Strategic levels, culminating in a final case study exam at each level.
- Practical Experience Requirements (PER): Gain a minimum of three years’ relevant work experience, which provides practical exposure to various aspects of management accounting.
- Membership Application: After passing all the exams and completing the PER, candidates must apply for CIMA membership to be officially recognized as Chartered Global Management Accountants (CGMA).
- Continuing Professional Development (CPD): CIMA members are also expected to engage in CPD activities to maintain their competency and professional standards.
By fulfilling these requirements, candidates can fully complete their ACCA or CIMA qualification, equipping them with not just the technical know-how, but also the practical and ethical prowess needed in the dynamic world of accounting and finance.
Estimated Timeframe for Completion
- Standard Duration: On average, it takes about three to four years to complete the ACCA qualification.
- Factors Affecting Duration: The duration can be shorter for candidates with relevant academic backgrounds who may receive exemptions from some exams. Conversely, it might take longer for those balancing studies with work or other commitments.
- Flexibility: ACCA’s flexible exam schedule allows candidates to progress at their own pace, potentially impacting the overall completion time.
- Standard Duration: Typically, completing CIMA can take around four years.
- Factors Affecting Duration: Similar to ACCA, exemptions based on prior qualifications (like a relevant degree or professional qualifications like CA) can reduce the number of exams, thus shortening the duration.
- Flexibility: CIMA’s structure also offers flexibility, allowing candidates to tailor their study schedule around personal and professional obligations.
In both ACCA and CIMA, the time to completion can be influenced significantly by the individual’s dedication, study approach, and life circumstances.
It’s important for candidates to plan their study schedule realistically, considering their own pace and
Focus and Curriculum Content
- Has a broader scope, covering a wide range of topics in accounting, taxation, auditing, and finance.
- This wide-ranging curriculum can be more challenging for those who prefer or are more comfortable with a specialized focus.
- Concentrates on management accounting, business strategy, and financial management.
- The specialized nature of the curriculum might be difficult for individuals who find strategic business management concepts more challenging compared to technical accounting.
Exam Structure and Assessment
- Exams consist of both theoretical and practical questions, with a significant emphasis on technical accounting skills.
- The final level exams, which are case-study based and require a high level of strategic and professional thinking, can be particularly challenging.
- The case study exams at the end of each level test the practical application of knowledge in business scenarios, which can be demanding for those who may not have extensive practical experience in business settings.
- Both ACCA and CIMA require practical work experience, but the nature of the experience can influence the perceived difficulty.
- ACCA’s broader requirement may be easier for those in diverse accounting roles, while CIMA’s focus on management accounting roles could be a challenge for those not in such positions.
It’s not about which is more difficult, but rather which is more aligned with your career goals and strengths.
- If you have a strong interest in and aptitude for a wide range of accounting practices, ACCA might be more suitable.
- Conversely, if your interest lies in the intersection of accounting and business strategy, CIMA could be the better fit.
The perceived difficulty can also depend on your previous educational background and work experience.
- A background in general accounting might make ACCA more approachable, while experience in management or business roles could align better with CIMA.
In summary, both ACCA and CIMA are rigorous and respected qualifications, each with its unique challenges.
The choice should be based on your career aspirations, learning preferences, and professional background, rather than solely on the perceived difficulty.
To get a deeper insight into the difficulty level of ACCA, read – Is ACCA Difficult?
Global Recognition and Mobility
- It is recognised on a wider scale by employers worldwide. ACCA’s strong global network includes partnerships with accounting bodies and organizations across various continents, ensuring its members are valued and sought-after in the global job market.
- The qualification is known for its stringent standards and comprehensive curriculum, which align with international accounting norms and practices.
- CIMA, with its focus on management accounting, is also globally recognized, particularly in countries where there is a high demand for professionals skilled in business and financial strategy.
- It is acknowledged in many countries for its emphasis on the practical application of financial management and strategy in business, making its members key assets in both the public and private sectors.
Opportunities for International Careers
- ACCA qualification provides a strong foundation for a career in international finance and accounting. Its members are often considered for roles in multinational corporations, accounting firms, and finance departments across the globe.
- The broad scope of ACCA’s curriculum prepares professionals for various roles, from auditing to financial consulting, in different sectors.
To know more about the scope, salaries and career of ACCA Internationally, read – ACCA Salaries Internationally
- CIMA’s focus on business strategy and management accounting makes its members ideal candidates for roles that require a blend of financial expertise and strategic thinking.
- This includes positions like financial analysts, management consultants, and strategic planners in multinational companies.
- CIMA’s practical approach and business-centric curriculum are highly valued in corporate roles that demand an understanding of the global business environment.
Both ACCA and CIMA enhance mobility for accounting and finance professionals, enabling them to work in diverse industries and locations around the world.
The international recognition of these qualifications means that members have the flexibility to move across borders, taking advantage of global job markets and varied career opportunities.
This global mobility is a significant advantage for professionals looking to broaden their horizons and gain international exposure in their careers.
Average Salaries in India
- Entry-Level: Fresh ACCA affiliates or those with minimal experience can expect starting salaries ranging from INR 4 to 6 lakhs per annum, depending on the organization and role.
- Mid-Level: With a few years of experience, especially in multinational corporations or large accounting firms, ACCA professionals can earn between INR 6 to 15 lakhs per annum.
- Senior Roles: Experienced ACCA professionals in senior management or specialist roles can earn upwards of INR 15 lakhs per annum, with the potential to go much higher based on the company, location, and scope of the role.
To know more about salaries earned by ACCA Professionals, read – ACCA Jobs, Salaries
- Entry-Level: For CIMA qualifiers at the entry-level, salaries usually range from INR 5 to 7 lakhs per annum, varying with the type of industry and the size of the company.
- Mid-Level: With increasing experience and expertise, especially in strategic and management roles, professionals can earn between INR 10 to 20 lakhs per annum.
- Senior Roles: CIMA members in high-level management positions or specialist roles in business and financial strategy can see salaries exceeding INR 20 lakhs per annum, potentially higher depending on the company and job responsibilities.
Key Points to Note
- Industry and Role Variance: Salaries can vary significantly based on the industry (such as financial services, consulting, manufacturing) and the specific role (like financial analyst, business strategist, management consultant).
- Experience and Skillset: As professionals gain more experience and expand their skillset, salary potential increases. Continuous professional development plays a key role in advancing career prospects.
- Demand and Location: Metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore often offer higher salaries compared to other regions.
In summary, both ACCA and CIMA qualifications can lead to well-paying careers in India, with salary ranges that increase significantly with experience and expertise.
While there are similarities in earning potential, the specific career path, industry, and individual skillset will largely determine the salary for each professional.
- Registration Fee: INR 8,400.
- Annual Subscription: INR 11,400.
- Exam Fees: INR 9,200 per Applied Knowledge exam, INR 13,700 per Applied Skills exam, and INR 17,400 to 24,200 per Strategic Professional exam.
- Ethics and Professional Skills Module: INR 7,600.
Total Minimum Cost: Approximately INR 2,30,000.
- Registration Fee: INR 9,500.
- Annual Subscription: INR 13,000 (increases to INR 30,000 post-Strategic Case Study exam).
- Exam Fees: Costs for exams range from:
- INR 8,000 to 11,000 for Certificate level
- INR 9,200 to 13,000 for Operational level tests
- INR 17,000 to 22,500 for Operational case study,
- INR 27,000 to 33,000 for the Strategic level case study.
Total Minimum Cost: Approximately INR 2,00,000 to 3,00,000.
Both qualifications represent significant investments, with total costs varying based on exam fees, exemptions, and additional study resources.
In the dynamic world of finance, ACCA may hold certain advantages over CIMA:
- Global Recognition and Versatility: ACCA is recognized in more countries, making it a preferred qualification for global mobility. Its comprehensive curriculum covers various aspects of finance, making it versatile for multiple roles in different sectors.
- Regulatory and Compliance Expertise: ACCA’s strong focus on auditing, taxation, and compliance is essential in the ever-changing regulatory landscape, offering a sustainable career path as these roles often require up-to-date, human expertise less susceptible to automation.
- Adaptability to Technological Changes: While automation affects certain accounting tasks, ACCA’s emphasis on strategic thinking and ethical standards prepares professionals to adapt and thrive in evolving technological environments.
ACCA’s broad-based approach equips professionals with a diverse skill set, potentially offering more varied career opportunities in the rapidly changing world of finance and accounting.
|Post-10th with FIA or 12th; Graduates receive exemptions
|Post-12th or Graduates; MBA/CA for accelerated entry
|13 Exams, Ethics Module, 36 months Practical Experience
|Tiered Exams, 3 years Practical Experience
|Time to Complete
|Approximately 3-4 years, depending on exemptions and study pace
|Approximately 3-4 years, varies with exemptions
|Comprehensive in accounting, taxation, audit; broader scope
|Focused on management accounting; strategic business orientation
|Highly recognized in over 180 countries; versatile across sectors
|Strong recognition, especially in management roles
|Entry-level: INR 4-6 Lakhs; Mid-level: INR 6-15 Lakhs; Senior: INR 15+ Lakhs
|Entry-level: INR 5-7 Lakhs; Mid-level: INR 10-20 Lakhs; Senior: INR 20+ Lakhs
|Approximately INR 2,30,000, excluding study materials and additional resources
|Ranges from INR 2,00,000 to 3,00,000, excluding additional costs
|Versatile career paths in finance and accounting; high demand in various sectors
|Strong in roles requiring strategic financial management and business strategy
Making A Final Decision
Consider ACCA if:
- You aim for a broad career in finance and accounting, including roles in auditing, taxation, and financial management.
- You value global mobility and recognition, as ACCA is widely recognized across different countries and industries.
- You prefer a comprehensive understanding of various aspects of finance.
Opt for CIMA if:
- Your interest lies in the intersection of finance and business strategy.
- You aspire to roles in management accounting, business analysis, and strategic planning.
- You seek a career path that emphasizes decision-making and business strategy within finance.
Evaluate your career aspirations, preferred industry, and the type of role you envisage for yourself in the future to guide your decision. Both qualifications offer robust career paths, but align differently with specific career trajectories.
Choosing between ACCA and CIMA is a pivotal decision that shapes your career in finance and accounting.
ACCA suits those aspiring for a wide-ranging career in finance, offering global recognition and versatility across various sectors.
On the other hand, CIMA is ideal if you’re inclined towards strategic business management and decision-making within finance.
Both paths offer robust opportunities, but aligning the qualification with your career goals is crucial. Reflect on your interests and professional aspirations to make an informed choice, leading to a fulfilling career in the dynamic world of finance.
Frequently Asked Questions
ACCA focuses broadly on accounting, audit, and finance, while CIMA specializes in management accounting and business strategy.
Both typically take around 3-4 years, depending on prior qualifications and study pace.
The costs are similar, with ACCA around INR 2,30,000 and CIMA ranging from INR 2,00,000 to 3,00,000 in India.