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ACCA vs CPA (USA): Which Is Better for Your Career?

If you are an accountant and are working towards a prestigious qualification, CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) may come to mind.

Should you go for ACCA vs CPA? Does it make sense to get both?

If you don’t feel like watching the video, here is the text version:

ACCA vs CPA: Organization Structure

US CPA

The CPA license is granted by each of the 55 states or jurisdictions in the United States. There is no centralized body and each state has slightly different CPA exam and licensing requirements. International candidates are often confused and frustrated by the complicated application process.

ACCA

ACCA is based in the United Kingdom. It operates as a single entity with a much simpler application process.

International candidates generally consider the certification as a global brand. It is most recognized in Commonwealth countries.

ACCA vs CPA: Application & Qualification

This is probably the biggest difference when it comes to CPA vs ACCA.

US CPA

Candidates must have a minimum of a 4-year bachelor degree and preferably a master’s degree in order to fulfil the 150 credit hours, equivalent to 5 years in higher education.Once you are approved for the exam, you are on your own in terms of how to get prepared.

The CPA exam is a “qualifying exam”, not a “program”.

In a program such as ACCA and CIMA, you can get textbooks from the exam administrator, follow a syllabus and study accordingly.

For the CPA exam, the State Board does not provide any courses or study materials. Candidates take commercial review courses on their own to prepare for the exam.

ACCA

The entry level is much lower – you are qualified as long as you have 3 GCSEs and 2 A Levels in 5 separate subjects including Math and English. Most high school graduates can qualify. If you have a bachelor degree in relevant subjects, you can apply for exemption on part or all of the papers at the Fundamental Level.

Unlike the US CPA, once candidates are registered, ACCA takes an active role in preparing you for the exam by providing study guides and sample exam papers. They also run a database of ACCA Approved Learning Partners.

ACCA vs CPA: Exam Content and Format

US CPA

There are 4 parts of the exam: Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR), Audit & Attestation (AUD), Regulation (REG) and Business Environment & Concepts (BEC).

The exam is 100% computerized consisting of multiple choice questions, task-based simulations (similar to case studies). For BEC, there is an additional section on written responses. Grading is mostly computerized including the essays.

You can choose to take the 4 parts one at a time, 2 at a time or even 4 at the same time. You can sit for the exam any time (Monday to Friday / Saturday) during the first 2 months of each quarter and at any prometric centers throughout the US as well as in Japan, Brazil and 4 Middle Eastern countries.

ACCA

There are 14 papers divided into Fundamental Level (9 papers) and Professional Level (5 papers). Candidates can apply to waive part or all of the papers at the Fundamental Level.

Some but not all papers are computerized.  The exam is offered 4 times a year in more than 170 countries throughout the world.

ACCA vs CPA: Time Required to Pass

US CPA

Most candidates aim to pass the CPA exam within 12 to 18 months. Those who have the time and commitment and choose to take all exam parts in one go can complete the exams within 3 to 6 months.

ACCA

Given the number of papers and the fact the exams are held only twice a year, candidates generally need 3 to 4 years to complete all papers and become an ACCA member.

Reciprocity and Exemptions

US CPA

The US has reciprocal agreement with 7 accounting bodies in the world. Their members can choose to take a simplified version of the exam known as IQEX. ACCA is not among these 7 accounting bodies.

ACCA

ACCA is more “generous” in this regard — exemptions are granted to AICPA members for 8 papers (see below) as well as Foundations of Accountancy. You can check out the exemptions from the link here.

ACCA AICPA exemptions

Other Considerations

US CPA

Citizens and long-term residents from the following countries can take the exam in international sites in Japan, Brazil, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, and the UAE:

  • the above countries
  • most Middle East and South American countries
  • India (only to Middle East exam sites)

All other candidates must take the exam in the US.

ACCA

Candidates can be taken in 400+ testing centers located in more than 170 countries. For those who find it hard to get a US VISA, ACCA could be a much preferred choice.

Summary

US CPA

  • Recognized in US and anywhere with US regional offices
  • 55 jurisdictions; complicated
  • High entry barrier: master’s level
  • Exam offered in 10 months
  • Exam sites in US + 6 countries
  • 4 parts
  • 12-18 months to complete

     

ACCA

  • Recognized in UK and commonwealth countries
  • One single entity; simple application
  • Low entry barrier: post-secondary
  • Exam offered 4 times a year only
  • Exam sites in 170+ countries
  • 14 papers
  • 3-4 years to complete

     

How about Other Chartered Accountant vs CPA?

There are different chartered accountant designations across countries and their respective comparison to the CPA license can be quite different.

In general, I would say that chartered accountants are more of a country-specific or regional nature. For example, CAs from Australian, India and Pakistan are very well recognized in their respective countries. Outside of that though, their value drop considerably.

If you plan to work in your own country long-term, it makes a lot of sense to go for your local chartered accountant certification. If you aspire to work abroad or in multi-national companies, then you may want to take a further look at the CPA license.

Conclusion

The US CPA is arguably the most prestigious accounting qualification. Entry barrier is high with an equivalent of a masters’ degree together with strict working experience requirements.

Because of these stricter requirements, the CPA exam itself has much fewer parts — only 4 compared to 14 papers in ACCA.

There are certain jobs that can only be performed by CPA e.g. signing an audit report under US GAAP and launching a CPA firm in the US. There is a distinct advantage to get the CPA title if you can interested in public accounting in the United States or in American firms.

For ACCA, the application process is much simpler and entry barrier is low. However, it takes years to complete the studies and obtain the membership. While ACCA is globally recognized, it is not as highly regarded outside of the UK and commonwealth countries.

If I Must Pick… Which One Should I Go For?

Since it is not possible to take advantage of the ACCA membership to get exemptions from the US CPA exam, I suggest that you target either one and not both.

In terms of which qualification is better, it is like a question on Coca Cola vs Pepsi… it really depends on where you plan to work.

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