CIMA vs ACCA: Which is right for you?


Interested in becoming a chartered accountant? One of the trickiest (and most important) steps can be deciding which accounting body you want to qualify through.

You might even be wondering why accounting bodies exist!

The important part for you to remember is that if an employer sees that you are an accountant certified by a chartered accounting body, such as ACCA or CIMA, they can feel confident that their finances are in safe hands. This reassurance is in no small part due to the rigorous examinations that these bodies demand their students pass.

But CIMA and ACCA are not interchangeable, and you need to be prepared to make your choice.

You will want to be sure that the modules you study will be relevant to your chosen career. And, you need to ensure that your qualification will be valued by your target employers, so it’s really important to take some time to choose the benefits of having CIMA vs ACCA listed on your CV.

1. What type of accountant do you want to be?

2. How many exams do I need to pass for each?

3. How difficult are the exams?

4. How can you start?

5. How long will it take, and is it expensive?

6. How much will I earn with each qualification?

7. Which is better? What do employers prefer?

1. CIMA vs ACCA: What type of accountant do you want to be?

Accountancy is a broad term for a wide range of work in finance. The main factor that should play into your CIMA vs ACCA decision is what area of accounting you would find most rewarding.

Members of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) tend to work in more technical areas of accounting.

This lends itself to careers in tax, audit, and consulting. As you would expect, the modules you study tend to focus more towards this side of accounting. Accounting firms, like PwC, usually prefer ACCA-qualified accountants as ACCA indicates greater technical acumen.

    Members of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) tend to work in more business strategy-focused areas of accounting.

    This qualification trains students to help recommend and implement business decisions. This qualification might lend itself to a career as a management accountant, business analyst, consultant, or financial controller. This makes you a great candidate for roles in the finance department at companies of various sizes.

      This isn’t to say that either the ACCA or CIMA qualifications are limiting. 

      Plenty of ACCA-qualified students go on to become management accountants, and there are parts of the ACCA course tailored towards this, like the Strategic Business Leader module (we’ve actually written a guide specifically about that module if you’d like to know more). 

      There are also CIMA students who go on to become auditors. And in CIMA, you have to study financial accounting throughout. 

      When weighing up CIMA vs ACCA, you won’t necessarily be closing any doors, but your choice may make applying to certain positions easier if you choose the right qualification!

      2. How many exams do I need to pass for each?

      Whether it’s for ACCA or CIMA, both governing bodies have a rigorous process where you need to pass a set of exams before receiving your qualification. Both bodies allow students who’ve already got relevant qualifications in business or accounting to skip various modules, so be sure to check with ACCA or CIMA when enrolling.


      ACCA requires students to pass a maximum of 14 exams broken up into 3 groups and the ethics and professional skills module:

      Applied Knowledge:

      • Business and Technology (BT)
      • Financial Accounting (FA)
      • Management Accounting (MA)

      Applied Skills:

      • Audit and Assurance
      • Corporate and Business Law (LW)
      • Financial Management (FM)
      • Financial Reporting (FR)
      • Performance Management (PM)
      • Taxation (TX)

      Strategic Professional:

      • Essentials (these are mandatory):
        • Strategic Business Leader (SBL)
        • Strategic Business Reporting (SBR)
      • Options (you will need to choose 2 of the following):
        • Advanced Audit and Assurance (AAA)
        • Advanced Financial Management (AFM)
        • Advanced Performance Management (APM)
        • Advanced Taxation (ATX)

      Ethics and Professional Skills module

      The Applied Knowledge exams provide an introduction to accounting and business. Applied Skills will help you to develop that knowledge and (as the name suggests) apply it. And the Strategic Professional exams focus on developing your leadership abilities. 


      For CIMA, you have a choice of routes. 

      Through the CIMA PQ (Professional Qualification) route, you will need to pass 16 exams in total, including 3 case study exams. The exams are broken up into 4 levels:

      Certificate level:

      • BA1 – Fundamentals of Business Economics
      • BA2 – Fundamentals of Management Accounting
      • BA3 – Fundamentals of Financial Accounting
      • BA4 – Fundamentals of Ethics, Corporate Governance and Business Law


      • E1 – Managing Finance in a Digital World
      • P1 – Management Accounting
      • F1 – Financial Reporting
      • OCS – Operational Case Study

      Management level:

      • E2 – Managing Performance
      • P2 – Advanced Management Accounting
      • F2 – Advanced Financial Reporting
      • MCS – Management Case Study

      Strategic level:

      • E3 – Strategic Management
      • P3 – Risk Management
      • F3 – Financial Strategy
      • SCS – Strategic Case Study

      We’ve written a page all about the CIMA exams if you’d like to know more.

      Through the CIMA FLP (Financial Leadership Programme) route, however, you will only need to sit the 3 case study exams! The rest of the studying is undertaken through online assessments as you learn. 

      The structure of the FLP route, you’ll notice, is fairly similar to the PQ route (but only the case study exams are really exams, the rest are online assessments while you learn):

      Foundational level:

      • Introduction to Business and Finance
      • Introduction to Financial Accounting
      • Introduction to Management Accounting

      Operational level:

      • Digital Finance
      • Management Accounting
      • Financial Reporting
      • OCS – Operational Case Study

      Management level:

      • Performance and Project Management
      • Advanced Management Accounting
      • Advanced Financial Reporting
      • MCS – Management Case Study

      Strategic level:

      • Strategic Management
      • Risk Management
      • Financial Strategy
      • SCS – Strategic Case Study

      If you want to know more about the FLP route, check out our page all about CIMA FLP

      All of the modules for CIMA are mandatory (unless you are exempt because of prior qualifications).

      The exams (or mini-assessments) you will face in the qualification could be a big factor in your choice of CIMA vs ACCA, so make sure you consider them carefully. 

      3. How difficult are the exams?

      The general trend is that ACCA is easier at the start but becomes more difficult than CIMA as it gets more technical. 

      The below pass rates are based on averages of figures available on the CIMA and ACCA websites (as of March 2023):

      Level  ACCA Average Pass Rate CIMA Average Pass Rate
      -/ Certificate  –  65.25%
      Applied Knowledge / Operational Level  69.33% 71%
      Applied Skills / Management level 54% 62.25%
      Strategic Professional / Strategic level 44.88% 60.75%


      This rough comparison is for illustrative purposes only – this is not meant to imply that the qualifications and their levels are directly equivalent. And individual papers have higher and lower pass rates than the average, so if that’s a concern and something that will influence your decision, it would be worth investigating further. 

      As you can see, generally the average pass rate for ACCA exams tends to be a bit lower than CIMA, with the gap widening in the higher level exams.


        4. How can you start?

        The good news is that you don’t need a degree to start either ACCA or CIMA; though, as mentioned before, you could get exemptions from certain modules if you have prior qualifications.

        CIMA FLP Course

        For ACCA, you need 2 A Levels, and 3 GCSEs (or international equivalents) across five different subjects, in order to start your studies for the ACCA qualification. But there’s no need to worry or give up if you don’t have these as ACCA offers a ‘Foundations in Accountancy’ course that you can enter even without formal qualifications. From here, you can progress onto the ACCA qualification! 

        CIMA doesn’t require any qualifications at all! You could be a school leaver with no qualifications, or even still be at school, and start your CIMA studies. You just need to be at least 16 years old and ready to meet the demands of a challenging course! If you go through the PQ route, you’ll begin with the CIMA Certificate level and with the FLP route you’ll start with the Foundational Level. 

         Whether it’s ACCA or CIMA, you’ll be able to find a route that’s accessible to you.

          5. How long will it take, and is it expensive?

          This question has no single answer, as there is a multitude of options you can choose from for ACCA or CIMA. There are different providers, course routes, individual exam costs, international variations and many more! 

          Let’s run through different costs for each examining body (for a student in the UK in 2023, as an example):

          ACCA CIMA
          Initial registration £89 £95
          Annual subscription

          £122 for students

          £283 for members

          £130 for students (after the first year)

          £300 after passing the SCS exam

          Exemption fees £98-£123 £0
          Exam fees £92-£263 £110-£330


          As you can see, CIMA vs ACCA fees are broadly similar, with the notable exception that there’s no exemption fee for the CIMA qualification. Therefore, if you already have some qualifications in business and accounting, and want to save some money, this saving could help make up your mind choosing between CIMA vs ACCA.

          6. How much will I earn with each qualification?

          There is no set amount you will earn after qualifying with ACCA or CIMA

          What you would earn after qualifying on either ACCA or CIMA would vary depending on many factors, particularly your location and your chosen role. However, we can give you a range of salaries for the UK as an illustration.

          According to Kanan International, the average recently qualified ACCA accountant earns £48,000 a year. According to Prospects, a qualified CIMA accountant stands to earn £41,000-£54,000 a year on average. Likewise, Hays reports that there is little difference in salary for CIMA vs ACCA when the professional is newly qualified. 

          Whether your qualification is ACCA or CIMA, you should anticipate a good salary befitting a highly qualified professional. And, as you gain experience and perform well, your salary will only continue to rise! 

          The above averages are based on the UK job market, but ACCA and CIMA are both globally respected qualifications, so you should anticipate a good, professional salary no matter where you are.

            CIMA FLP Value

            7. Which is better? What do employers prefer?


            Ultimately, it’s hard to say that either ACCA or CIMA is definitively better than the other. 

            Both of these qualifications will set you up for a well-respected career in accounting. The main factor to consider when deciding CIMA vs ACCA is what kind of finance work you want to do. You might be more interested in technical financial accounting, or in business strategy, and this will help you weigh up CIMA vs ACCA

            And, in terms of getting a job, employers will consider your qualifications based on what kind of accountant they need! A ‘Big 4’ accounting firm like PwC would probably prefer a candidate with the technical knowledge ACCA provides. However, a finance function within a large company may prioritise the business know-how and strategic thinking that a CIMA-qualified accountant could bring to the table. 

            CIMA vs ACCA isn’t a choice between which is the better accounting body. It’s a choice between which works better for you and what you want to achieve in your career. 

            Holly Dymmock

            Customer Service and Mentoring Supervisor

            I hope you’ve found this guide on CIMA vs ACCA useful – but if you’ve got any further questions, leave a message and I’d be happy to help!


            Illustration by Storyset.