ACCA – One of the largest professional accounting bodies

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

If you are interested in pursuing your career in accounting, an accounting degree is not enough for you to move upward in the so-called ‘career ladder’.

A professional qualification is generally a proof of your skills and competence with an expected standard.

However, what should you choose among different professional institutes offering qualifications? In addition to your local professional accounting bodies, such as AICPAs in United States and CA in England, another great choice is ACCA.

Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, or ACCA, is an UK-based professional accounting body. Founded in 1904, ACCA is a global professional association with more than 200,000 members and 500,000 students in 179 countries.

In terms of members and students, ACCA is one of the largest professional accounting bodies which is comparable to AICPA (American Institute of CPAs).

By choosing which professional qualification to study for career development, questions on how long should I take to complete and how much should I earn after qualified are popular.

In this article, I try to answers those popular questions –

  • What is ACCA qualification

  • ACCA Exam Structure

  • What is exemption in ACCA

  • ACCA Exam fee

  • How long can ACCA be completed

  • ACCA or CIMA

  • ACCA vs MBA

  • How much does an ACCA newly qualified member earn

What is ACCA qualification

The first question about ACCA qualification is what is the minimum entry requirement.

ACCA is a very flexible in its exam structure, which will be discussed below. It is no need to have a bachelor degree to start the professional journey.

If you would like to know the entry requirement for your country, just click HERE for details. (Note)

Note: Don’t worry if you find you cannot meet the entry requirement to start ACCA qualification as you can still enrol ACCA Foundation exams, which give you the necessary knowledge to prepare you for the next step – the ACCA Qualification. See More.

ACCA Exam Structure

As said, there are three levels in ACCA exams which you have to pass 13 papers. Three levels are Applied Knowledge, Applied Skills and Strategic Professional.

Applied Knowledge provides you with a broad introduction to the world of finance and develop your essential understanding and techniques in accounting. It consists of 3 papers and the exam format is divided into multiple choice questions and short answer case-based questions.

You have to complete all 3 papers either by passing them or being granted exemptions from the association (will be discussed below).

Applied Skills builds your existing knowledge and understanding and develop strong, broad and practical finance skills required for future strategic professional accountant in any sector or industry. It consists of 6 papers and the exam format is divided into multiple choice questions and short essay questions.

Strategic Professional is divided into essential papers and optional papers. It helps you to prepare for future leadership positions, develops your strategic vision using your unique blend of technical, ethical and professional skills (2 essential papers). You can also specialise in areas that best suit your career ambitions (passing 2 optional papers out of 4 in total).

In addition, you have to complete Ethics and Professional Skills Module (EPSM) during your ACCA exam journey.

What is exemption in ACCA

ACCA accepts students with various background in different countries. Before joining ACCA as a student, if you have already had some qualifications you may not have to take all of the exams in the ACCA Qualification.

These are called exemptions and mean that you will start your studies at the level matching your knowledge and skill.

In the current exemption policy, maximum of nine papers in Applied Knowledge and Applied Skills level exam. ACCA has the final right to approve which papers requested for exemption by student.

You can check what exemptions are entitled based on your qualifications by ACCA Exemption calculator.

You will need to pay exemption fee for each exam exemption awarded and the fees are charged at the early exam entry fee.

If you are a student studying in university and will be graduated at a date in future, you can check whether your program is offered conditional exemptions by ACCA. Upon graduation, you are only required to submit documentary proof to ACCA to confirm.

With exemption policy, you can start your ACCA journey based on your past study while you no need to study all subjects from the beginning level.

If you are offered exemption with the maximum number of exams, that is 9 exams, you are only required to complete 4 exams in Strategic Professional level, plus EPSM and three years required working experience.

If you are still having questions on exemption, just check ACCA FAQ on Exemption.

ACCA Exam Fee

In my opinion, it is one of most complicated part to many new joiners.

First question is how many types of fee that you need to pay?

There are four types of fee which are –

  • Initial registration fee (one-off)

  • Annual subscription fee

  • Exemption fee

  • Exam fee

The first three types of fee are self-explanatory, but the exam fee is very complicated which you need to pay differently subject to when do you apply for exam. In addition, different levels of exams are charging differently.

In short, there are three rates applied in exam fee, namely, early entry, standard entry and late entry.

As the exam fee is different from each country as well, you have to check clearly how much you need to pay and plan well before enrolling any exam in order to avoid any unnecessary costs in late entry (late entry fee is more than double of standard entry fee.

Check ACCA Fee and Charges page for more details.

How long can you complete ACCA Qualification

It depends!

You are probably graduated with an accounting degree recognized by ACCA and exemptions are granted on nine exams. Then, you only need to complete 4 exams and EPSM to become an affiliate member.

Once you have three years relevant working experience, you can put the four letters, ACCA, after your name when the membership certificate issued to you.

If you are not having any qualification that is recognized by ACCA to be granted exemptions, you have to complete 13 exams and EPSM in 7 years (i.e. 7 years rule).

Generally, three years to complete all 13 exams are many students’ goals, either ACCA or journalists claim.

Therefore, three years to complete ACCA qualification is considered the realistic target for many of you.


In fact, it is a debatable topic to say which one is better than other.

However, I would like to narrow down on saying which one should be suitable for you to meet your career goal.

Before answering this question, let’s me make a simple comparison between these two professional accountancy qualifications –

If your career goals are working in professional accounting practice, auditing, taxation or public sector, ACCA is preferred with its focus on financial reporting, auditing and taxation.

On the other hand, if your career goals in next couple of years are in managerial finance, financial services or strategic planning in commercial companies, CIMA is more suitable to you.

But, it doesn’t mean the qualifications restrict your career goal. It is easier for you to kick start your career by building your working experience.

Once you are a member of either association, you can consider the next step on how to move forward in your career development.


Master of Business Administration (MBA) is generally an global recognized degree designed to develop skills required for careers in business and management. Many of MBA programs required the applicants to have few years of working experience.

Most MBA programs consist few core subjects, such as accounting, economics, marketing and management. At the same time, MBA students can choose elective courses based on their own interests or professional needs.

The advantage of studying MBA over pursuing ACCA is the networking opportunity you enjoy during the two-year or three-year MBA program. You have a lot of group projects and presentations to work with your class members. These are valuable experiences in working with different background people to expand your network.

A survey conducted in 2017 showed that 50% to 60% of MBA graduates have found a job by networking!

For ACCA, it is exam-based qualification and the networking opportunities are fewer than studying an MBA.

It’s a good start in finding your professional job, but if you would like to have a good move in commercial world in future, networking is what you need to be good at.

What is a newly qualified ACCA member salary

Though there are uncertainty in the world economy, no matter the worries on UK Brexit, or the trade disputes between major economies (e.g. US and China), the demand of highly skilled accounting and finance professionals are still strong.

According to Hays Accountancy and Finance, the majority of Accounting and Finance employers are planning to hire in the year ahead.

Robert Half 2019 Salary Guide also shows that a newly qualified ACCA member salary is between £45,000 and £55,000 per year in 2019 in London, UK. As compared to a ‘Part Qualified’ ACCA student, it’s about 20% higher!


This article serves to answer many questions raised by people who are interested to pursue accountancy profession but they have no clue of which one to choose.

I explain what is ACCA qualification, it’s exam structure, exemption highlights, what you need to be aware of the fee structure and how long you need to complete it.

In addition, I tell you the reason behind choosing ACCA instead of CIMA, or vice versa. The reason to study MBA instead of ACCA and the last but not the least, how much a newly qualified ACCA member earn.

I hope you are now clear about ACCA and help you to plan your career as well.

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