By | January 20, 2011

Until not so long ago, it was clear that ACAs were given preferential treatment by investment banks recruiting accountants over those armed with competing qualifications, such as the ACCA and CIMA. But has the playing field slowly become more level?

The cold, hard facts

The employment figures from the ICAEW, the ACCA and CIMA do not allow for completely like-for-like comparisons, but still offer an insight into your chances of breaking into banking with each of the qualifications.

Banking and capital markets employs the largest proportion of qualified ACAs, with 14% working in the sector on an average salary of £97.8k. CIMA says that 2,600 of its members are employed by investment banks globally (or around 3.3% of its 79,757 members as at 2009), while the ACCA claims that 7,000 members (or 11%) work in financial services, but it was unable to specify how many work in investment banking.

The official line

Rather obviously, none of the institutes we spoke to were willing to concede that other qualifications are better suited for a career in investment banking, but instead attempted to extol the virtues of undertaking their exams.

“The ACA is still seen as the qualification to hold by those recruiting in the investment banking sector,” says Hazel Garvey, head of business development at the ICAEW. “People often accuse it of being all about audit, but in reality it offers a broad background in all accounting and business issues, and offers an excellent platform for moving into investment banking.”

The global nature of the ACCA qualification – 72% of members and students are based outside of the UK – is one of the major selling points, suggests Andrew Leck, head of ACCA UK.

“For both the employer and the trainee, the portability of the qualification makes it very attractive in the current economic climate,” he says. “What’s more, the commercial and business skills learnt throughout the qualification are in line with the current demands of employers within investment banking.”

Meanwhile, one of the major selling points of the CIMA qualification is the potential it offers for a move into a front office role, argues Peter Simons of the CIMA education team.

“As a management accountant you could find yourself working alongside colleagues in the front office and senior management. Your ability to provide analysis of, for example, customer profitability, product economics or a team’s performance will enhance your credibility,” he argues.

Where the demand is now

CIMA students have become surprisingly desirable again this year within product control – a job role usually reserved for ACA candidates.

“Due to reduced numbers of training contracts issued in 2008, there are fewer newly qualified ACA’s on the market currently, which means investment banks are being more flexible with their preferred qualifications,” says Neil Owen, director of Robert Half Financial Services Group. “The ACCA and CIMA have also attracted a higher calibre of candidates in recent years, and we’re seeing some good people applying.”

He adds that ACAs are still very much preferred for technical accounting rules, such as those around IFRS 9 accounting rules. CIMA, meanwhile, was seen as an advantage as more banks start “commercialising” their finance teams.

“There’s a very high demand for ACAs within internal audit, financial control and product control, whereas banks tend to favour ACCAs or CIMAs for management accounting, financial analysis, planning and business performance measurement positions” adds Chris Wells, senior manager at Morgan McKinley.

2 thoughts on “ACA, ACCA or CIMA

  1. QualifiedJoe

    I think CIMA is the best of the three to break into investment banking firms.
    ACA is very audit based and chances are you will end up working for an audit firm.
    ACCA is marketing heavily, but I dont see the long term relevance of a public sector body (all the institutes should merge anyway – egos just prevent what is a common sense merger).

    So just ask yourself what you want to do in the future:
    Auditor? – do ACA
    Public sector? – do ACCA
    Research department of an investment bank? – do CIMA

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