Should I take the ACCA or CPA Qualification in Singapore?

ACCA and CPA are both good qualification in accounting and finance field - find out the differences

Are you at the crossroads of your accounting and finance career? The accounting profession offers excellent career prospects and opportunities for progression. However, the journey begins with a crucial decision: choosing the right qualification. For many, especially recent college graduates, this choice can seem daunting due to the plethora of courses and certifications available. Two of the most renowned and common certifications in the field are the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and Certified Public Accountant (CPA). 

In this blog, we will explore the key differences and similarities between ACCA and CPA, providing insights into their structures, durations, eligibility criteria, potential job roles, and global recognition.

Whether your goal is to become a Chartered Accountant or to enhance your skills in accounting and finance, we’re here to guide you through making a well-informed decision that aligns with your career aspirations.

Table of Contents

What is ACCA?

ACCA is a globally recognised professional accounting body based in the UK. With over 241,000 members across 178 countries, ACCA offers pathways to becoming a Chartered Certified Accountant.

It covers areas like financial accounting, taxation, management accounting, audit, and business ethics, providing diverse career opportunities worldwide. ACCA’s eligibility criteria is relatively flexible, allowing applications even from those without a finance background.

Benefits of Studying ACCA

  1. Global Recognition: Recognised by over 8500 employers worldwide, ACCA offers abundant career opportunities across the globe.
  2. Diverse Skill Development: ACCA’s curriculum covers a wide range of finance and accounting topics, fostering the development of various skills.
  3. Career Advancement: Holding an ACCA qualification enhances prospects for securing prominent positions in accounting and finance field, such as finance manager or controller.
  4. Networking Opportunities: ACCA provides access to a global network of professionals, enabling valuable connections within the industry that facilitate career growth.
  5. Flexibility and Accessibility: ACCA allows candidates to pursue the qualification at their own pace and it is accessible even to individuals without a background in finance or accounting.

What is CPA?

CPA is a prestigious designation primarily recognised in United States. Administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the CPA exam evaluates candidates on US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), auditing standards, taxation, and business laws.

CPAs are highly skilled professionals proficient in various accounting tasks, including financial reporting, tax filing, and profitability optimisation. Regarded as the “gold standard” in accounting and finance, the CPA qualification is akin to a specialist MBA and is essential for careers in public accounting, corporate finance, and government agencies.

Benefits of Studying CPA

  1. Professional Prestige: A CPA degree enhances your standing and reputation within the industry due to its stringent requirements.
  2. Competitive Salary: CPAs typically command higher salaries compared to non-certified accountants, reflecting the value and expertise associated with the qualification.
  3. Comprehensive Expertise: The CPA qualification equips individuals with in-depth knowledge of accounting regulations, standards, and complex financial reporting practices.
  4. Licensing Authority: CPAs hold licensure that authorises them to perform specific accounting services, including auditing public companies.
  5. High Demand: CPAs are consistently in demand and sought after in various sectors, reflecting the essential role they play in accounting, auditing, taxation, and finance.

The Key Differences Between ACCA and CPA

Field of Work and Career Opportunities

ACCA professionals typically work as taxation and accounting inspectors in both public and private entities. Their global recognition provides opportunities for international positions across diverse industries.

With ACCA, you can pursue roles in financial accounting, management accounting, auditing, taxation, financial analysis, and consultancy. Potential organisations include public accounting firms, multinational corporations, financial institutions, and government agencies. More information is available here.

CPA professionals primarily provide financial advice to small and medium-sized firms. The focus on U.S. accounting practices with CPA offers advantages for careers within the United States, particularly in auditing, taxation, and financial consulting.

CPAs often find roles in public accounting firms, corporate finance departments, and government agencies, or establish their practices.

Career Scope and Specialisation

ACCA provides a comprehensive understanding, encompassing various dimensions of accounting and finance, incorporating international standards and practices. Given its status as an international organisation, ACCA members enjoy global mobility, capable of working in any part of the world. ACCA expertise covers the taxation and accounting systems prevalent in major countries.

In contrast, CPA centres its focus specifically on U.S. accounting principles and regulations. Administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, this certification empowers professionals to practise as accountants in the USA or in regions with US regional offices.

Professional Licensure and Membership

ACCA does not require licensure; instead, it offers membership upon qualification completion. You will be eligible to become an ACCA member once you complete your exams.

On the other hand, CPA is a licensure qualification that requires candidates to meet specific educational requirements, pass the Uniform CPA Exam, and fulfil experience criteria. Once licensed, CPAs gain authority to provide certain accounting services that require a license, such as auditing public companies.

Global Recognition and Geographical Scope

ACCA boasts a vast global presence, spanning over 180 countries. It holds Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) with various professional accounting bodies, enabling members to receive exemptions or expedite their qualifications in other countries. With support from about 210 “approved employers,” ACCA holds a dominant position in Singapore’s accounting sector.

The CPA certification holds significant esteem within the United States and enjoys international recognition. However, the applicability of the CPA license beyond the U.S. may differ based on individual country regulations and criteria. Although CPA is recognised in Singapore as the “gold standard”, the popularity of the qualification is approximately 14% lower compared to ACCA.

Exam Nature

Exam StructureThe ACCA qualification comprises 13 exams, segmented into three levels: Applied Knowledge, Applied Skills, and Applied Professionals. Its curriculum covers a wide array of subjects, including financial accounting, management accounting, taxation, audit, and assurance, among others. Each level holds different qualification equivalents.The CPA certification features four exam sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). It emphasises U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and U.S. taxation. Completion of all four exams is necessary to obtain the CPA degree.
DurationThe duration of the ACCA qualification varies depending on individual circumstances and prior education. Typically, candidates complete the 13 exams over a period of 3 to 4 years, although some may finish sooner with exemptions.Preparation and passing of all four sections of the CPA exam can take between 8 months to a year. Becoming a CPA professional generally requires 1 to 2 years. Candidates must score at least 75 out of 99 per section within 18 months to pass.
EligibilityACCA does not impose specific educational prerequisites to begin the qualification process. However, individuals aiming for ACCA membership must fulfil specific qualifications and work experience, which may differ by country. It is perfect for those with no prior experience in Accounting and/or Finance field.To pursue the CPA certification, candidates must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited university and fulfil 150 credit hours of education, typically including coursework in accounting or related fields.
Exam FrequencyACCA exams occur four times annually, scheduled in March, June, September, or December. These exams take place at authorised centres worldwide on fixed dates. Additionally, certain levels offer On-demand exams, providing flexibility for candidates to schedule exams at any time of the year. More information is available here.The continuous testing model offers candidates greater flexibility, eliminating fixed exam dates. Candidates can take the CPA Exam year-round without restrictions, except for waiting to receive scores from previous attempts of the same section or in case of significant changes to the Exam.

Which Qualification is Right for You?

Deciding whether CPA or ACCA is more suitable for you depends on several factors, including your career goals, geographical aspirations, educational background, and personal preferences. Here are four areas to consider when making your decision:

  1. Understand Your Career Goals: Consider the type of accounting career you aspire to pursue. CPA is highly regarded in the United States and focuses on U.S. accounting principles, while ACCA offers global recognition and covers international accounting standards. If you aim to work in the U.S., CPA might be more suitable. For international opportunities in countries like Singapore, ACCA could be a better fit. You can check out the ACCA job opportunities in Singapore here.
  2. Assess Educational Background and Requirements: Review the educational prerequisites for each qualification. CPA requires a bachelor’s degree and completion of 150 credit hours of education, while ACCA has no specific educational requirements to start but mandates completion of specific qualifications for membership. If you have no prior experience in Accounting or Finance, ACCA offers Foundation in Accountancy (FIA) qualifications designed to help newcomers enter the field.
  3. Consider Exam Structure and Flexibility: Evaluate the examination structure and scheduling flexibility of each qualification. ACCA exams occur four times a year, with certain stages offering on-demand exams, providing flexibility. CPA offers continuous testing, allowing candidates to take the exam year-round.
  4. Financial Considerations: Assess the financial costs associated with pursuing each qualification, including exam fees, study materials, tuition, and membership fees. Develop a budget plan to manage these expenses effectively.
  5. Availability of Preparatory Courses: Having adequate preparation, including training courses and resources, is essential for passing the ACCA or CPA exams. In Singapore, it is recommended to study the ACCA qualification due to its popularity among accountants, representing 36% of qualified professionals according to efinancialcareers. Many institutions in Singapore offer extensive preparatory courses for ACCA, with Spring Training as one of the top ACCA learning partners. Supplementing your learning with a preparatory course ensures that you learn from highly experienced tutors and have access to exam-based study materials, allowing you to pass the exams with confidence.

By carefully considering these factors and conducting thorough research, you can determine whether CPA or ACCA aligns better with your career aspirations and goals.

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Author: Verlin You

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