Gaining the tick of approval from accountancy bodies
A qualification from a professional accountancy body demonstrates shows employers, clients and potential clients that you have the training and skills to do your job well. Qualifying with a professional body usually takes years and will involve passing exams and accruing practical experience. (You usually can’t get membership until you have a certain amount of time on the job.)
It's common to acquire the qualifications necessary to join accountancy bodies while working. Most firms will pay all or most education expenses as well as providing study leave to those in their grad programs.
Your choice of employer will probably determine the professional qualification you work towards. If your employer offers you a choice, or if you are choosing between employers that offer different qualifications, consider where your interests lie and what your career ambitions are. No one accountancy body qualification is necessarily better than another. The differences lie in the focus of the syllabus, the sector of employment in which you train and how you obtain the training.
Australia’s Big Three
There are an array of professional accountancy bodies throughout the world, many of them offering training in a specialised field. If you’re planning on working overseas it may be worthwhile researching foreign organisations. However, the chances are you’ll only ever need to be familiar with the following three.
CPA Australia is one of the world's largest accounting bodies. It has a membership of more than 150,000 finance, accounting and business professionals and affiliations with a range of leading accounting bodies all around the world. Its core services to members include education, training, technical support and advocacy.
The CPA [Certified Practising Accountant] designation is a mark of competence indicating soundness in depth, breadth and quality of accountancy knowledge. CPA Australia provides an internationally recognised postgraduate qualification, as well as the opportunity to complete specialist training and undertake continuing professional development. To use the CPA designation, a member must complete a degree or a postgraduate award recognised by CPA Australia. They also need to complete the CPA Program, including three years of professional experience in finance, accounting or business; undertake continuing professional development activities every year and comply with the code of conduct set by CPA Australia.
The Institute of Public Accountants (IPA)
The IPA is one of the top 25 professional accounting bodies in terms of size, boasting 35,000 members. It also enjoys membership of various international and regional accountancy bodies, such as the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC).
The IPA is unique in requiring members to possess an accounting qualification or statutory certification for entry (other bodies accept members with a qualification not specific to accounting). Those who qualify to undertake the IPA Program at Member (MIPA) level complete studies that meet the requirements for financial services registration, registration as a company auditor and registration as a tax agent.
You’re unlikely to apply to join the IPA fresh out of university. Over 65 percent of IPA members hold senior decision-maker roles and many are CEOs, CFOs, Financial Controllers, Commercial Managers and Finance Managers. All IPA members have to have three years of relevant professional experience under the direction of a mentor.
IPA members are required to undertake at least 80 hours of continuing professional education over a two-year period. They are regularly updated on ethical, legislative and professional matters.
Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA)
In 2013 the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia (ICAA) and the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants amalgamated to become Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA). CA now has around 117,000 members.
To join this body and be able to call yourself a chartered accountant you need to have been trained for a minimum of six years. You’ll also need to undertake ongoing professional development; abide by a code of ethics and maintain certain professional standards; agree to be subject to the body’s disciplinary procedures and periodic reviews and be eligible to obtain a Certificate of Public Practice. That noted, it’s possible to become a ‘Student Affiliate’. This will allow you to attend events with industry leaders and potential employers, as well as gain access to resources such as job-hunting advice.