ACCA vs CPA (USA): Which is Better? Read My Analysis

acca vs cpa usaIf 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.

ACCA vs CPA (USA): A Comparison

Should you go for ACCA vs CPA? Does it make sense to get both? Let’s take a look.

ACCA vs CPA: Organization Structure

US CPA

The CPA license is granted by each of the 55 states or jurisdiction 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 much simpler application process.

Although it is a statutory accounting body in the UK, international candidates generally consider the certification as a global brand.

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 fulfill the 150 credit hours, equivalent to 5 years in higher education.

Once you are approved for the exam, you will sit for the exam but you are on your own in terms of how to get prepared. Most candidates choose to take review courses to help in the studies.

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. In other words, 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, paper 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, Audit & Attestation, Regulation and Business Environment & Concepts.

The exam is 100% computerized consisting of multiple choice questions, task-based simulations (i.e. intense case studies) and written communications. Grading is mostly computerized.

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 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 papers at the Fundamental Level.

Some but not all papers are computerized.  The exam is offered in June and December each 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 a year. Some who have the time and commitment can study all materials within 6 months, take all 4 parts of the exam in one go and pass.

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

AICPA (the US accounting body) 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 much 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

For the US CPA exam, unless you reside in the few countries where international exam sites are available (up to May 2012, these countries are Japan, Brazil, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, the UAE), you will have to travel to the US for the test.

On the other hand, the ACCA exam can be taken in more than 100 countries.

For candidates who come from a country that is exceedingly difficult to get a US VISA, ACCA could be a much preferred choice.

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.

There are certain work that can only be done by CPA e.g. signing an audit report and opening a CPA firm. It  has a distinct advantage to obtain this qualification especially 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 the statutory accounting body, and not as highly regarded outside 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, it is wise to target either and not both.

As for ACCA vs CPA, it is like a question on Pepsi vs Coca Cola… it really depends on where you plan to work :)

Can I Be More Helpful?

If you are planning to pursue the CPA and would like to learn how to plan, study and pass the exam on your first attempt, check out this e-course which is absolutely free. You can also read more about this CPA exam mini-course before signing up.