What’s the Difference Between a Chartered Accountant and a Certified Accountant?

qualifications(resize)

No, it’s not the start of an ill-considered joke, nor is it a particularly crucial question in the grand scheme of things, but it is a point of some confusion, and an opportunity to discuss some of the technical issues that affect the accountancy profession in the UK, and hence, your choice of accountant.

One important thing to note at the outset is that, in the UK at least, it’s not necessary to have any kind of qualification at all in order to call yourself an accountant (although registration with HMRC is a prerequisite for representing a client). Chartered and Certified accountants, by contrast, have extensive professional qualifications and are regulated by specific institutions.

Broadly speaking, the difference between Chartered and Certified Accountants lies in the organisation with which the accountant is affiliated, and the nature of the qualifications that that body awards.

Chartered Accountants

Chartered accountants can have qualifications awarded by a range of different bodies including:

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW). Individual accountants will typically have ACA or FCA after their name.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS), designated by the suffix letters CA.

Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI). Designatory letters ACA or FCA.

Or another equivalent body in another Commonwealth country. Accountants from these countries are typically designated by the letters CA followed by the name of the country; e.g., CA (Canada).

These institutes award their certifications only after candidates have passed fifteen exams and logged more than 450 hours of relevant work experience. They also enforce a program of continuing professional development with the result that standards of practice remain amongst the highest in the world.

The word ‘Chartered’ refers to the Royal Charters awarded to the original Edinburgh Society of Accountants in 1854, and to other institutes during the subsequent development of the profession since then. A Royal Charter is a formal grant of legal powers coming directly from the monarch. Most universities, for example, are given the power to award their degrees by Royal Charter. Traditionally, this has been the only way for such powers to be bestowed, but in modern times Acts of Parliament have been used as well (the recent conversion of many UK polytechnics, for example, was done under the Further & Higher Education Act (1992), rather than by Royal Charter).

Certified Accountants

Since the award of a Royal Charter to the ACCA in 1996, Certified Accountants are now also (somewhat confusingly) referred to as Chartered. Chartered Certified Accountants, previously Certified Accountants, are affiliated to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), originally a UK institution but now able to award qualifications worldwide. Members (designated by the suffix of ACCA or, after five years FCCA, meaning Fellow of the Association) are required to pass a series of fourteen exams to achieve accreditation. The ACCA also imposes a similar program of professional development to the Chartered Associations. Chartered Certified Accountants are still allowed to call themselves Certified Accountants if they wish, hence the continued use of the term today.

Neither of these designations should be confused with Certified Public Accountants, who, in most states in the USA, are the only individuals allowed to perform public accountancy functions like auditing. In the UK both Chartered and Chartered Certified Accountants can do this, providing they have the necessary additional qualifications.

So What’s the Difference?!

In short, beyond the differences in the body that awards the qualifications, very little. From the perspective of the client (that’s you and me), both types of accountant offer very similar services. The only real difference between them is that a Chartered Accountant typically has a provincial scope, taking work only in the UK, or at least within the Commonwealth, whereas a Chartered Certified Accountant is able to work in most countries worldwide as a result of the international status of the ACCA.

This might affect your decision to engage a particular accountant (if you want to do business in multiple countries, for example) but it probably shouldn’t. Most accountancy firms will employ individuals with a range of qualifications and be able to operate internationally, regardless of the qualifications of, for example, the partners. Have a look at our blog discussing the difference between awarding bodies for more information about Accountancy Qualifications and types of accountant.

Pointers

  • The difference between Chartered and Certified Accountants lies in the organisation with which the accountant is affiliated, and the nature of the qualifications awarded by these bodies
  • The word ‘Chartered’ refers to the Royal Charters awarded to the original Edinburgh Society of Accountants in 1854, and to other institutes during the development of the profession since then
  • Chartered Accountant qualifications can be awarded by: The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW), in Scotland (ICAS), and Ireland (CAI), or another equivalent body in the Commonwealth
  • These organisations require candidates to pass 15 exams and log more than 450 hours of relevant work experience, as well as undertake a program of continuing professional development
  • Chartered Certified Accountants, previously Certified Accountants, are affiliated to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
  • Since the award of a Royal Charter to the ACCA in 1996, Certified Accountants are now also referred to as Chartered
  • Members are required to pass 14 exams to achieve accreditation. The ACCA also imposes a program of professional development
  • From the client’s perspective there is little difference between these types of accountants and the services they offer
  • The only real difference is that a Chartered Accountant typically works only in the UK, or within the Commonwealth, whereas a Chartered Certified Accountant is able to work in most countries worldwide
  • However most accountancy firms will employ individuals with a range of qualifications and be able to operate internationally, regardless of the qualifications of, for example, the partners

Apr 14, 2015