If you plan on working in the U.S. as an accountant, you’ll likely want to become a certified public accountant (CPA). But what if you don’t plan on working in the U.S.? What if your career goals include living and working abroad?
Fortunately, you don’t need to change your plans. You can still be an accountant, just not a CPA. Instead, you can become a chartered accountant. In this guide, you’ll learn:
- What Is a Chartered Accountant?
- How Much Does a Chartered Accountant Make?
- What Does a Chartered Accountant Do?
- How to Become a Chartered Accountant
- What Skills Does a Chartered Accountant Need?
What Is a Chartered Accountant?
A chartered accountant (CA) is an international accounting credential used in many countries outside the U.S. The CA designation is the same thing as being a certified public accountant (CPA) in the U.S, which means the individual is qualified to work as an accountant in the public or private sector.
How Much Does a Chartered Accountant Make?
The salary for a CA varies based on the company you work for and the country you practice in. For example, by some estimates, CAs earn:
- 35,122 pounds per year in England
- 33,509 pounds per year in Scotland
- 31,970 pounds per year in Wales
- 34,005 pounds per year in Northern Ireland
In contrast, a chartered professional accountant in Canada (also called a CPA) earns a median salary of 62,500 Canadian dollars, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median pay for accountants and auditors in the U.S. was $77,250 per year in 2021.
What Does a Chartered Accountant Do?
A CA does everything a CPA does, including:
- Conducting financial audits
- Providing financial advice
- Giving tax planning advice
- Maintaining records and preparing reports
- Auditing records
- Preparing financial statements
According to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), chartered accountants work in every economic sector and may run their own accounting business. They provide advice and lend their expertise to help leaders make sound financial decisions.
Though CAs can work in any industry, including nonprofits (charity), audit and assurance, insolvency, and tax, chartered accountants primarily work in four key areas.
1. Public Practice
Many CAs work as general accountants and “provide a range of accounting and tax services to clients, including business advice, management consultancy, and audits,” says an ICAEW spokesperson. They add, “Firms vary in size from the sole practitioner to one of the Big Four multinational accounting firms.”
Some CAs work for private businesses, using their financial skills to help the company grow and assisting with the general management of the company. While the CA may do this as an entry or mid-level accountant, many CAs also apply their skills in leadership roles, helping the company chart a financial course and providing leadership to other chartered accountants in the department.
3. Corporate Finance
CAs often work in corporate finance. The ICAEW spokesperson explains that large companies often have departments devoted to accounting and corporate finance. Chartered accountants in corporate finance may vet merger and acquisition deals or help restructure corporate debts.
4. Forensic Accounting
Finally, notes the spokesperson, CAs may provide forensic accounting services and act as expert witnesses. They may use their accounting skills in a variety of investigations like commercial fraud, personal injury lawsuits, and other civil cases.
What Kinds of Jobs Can a Chartered Accountant Have?
During your time in an entry-level role, you’ll sharpen your skills and gain experience, allowing you to move into more specialized chartered accountant roles. This could include management and leadership or focusing on a specific area of accounting. Some example job titles are:
- Accounting manager
- Finance manager
- Accounting director
- Group controller
How to Become a Chartered Accountant
The process of becoming a chartered accountant varies based on where you studied and what country you want to work in. For example, the ICAEW outlines this process to receive a CA designation:
“You must complete the ACA [associated chartered accountant] which is made up of four components which include: practical work experience; 15 accountancy, finance, and business exams; professional development; and, ethics and professional scepticism training.”
However, individual countries may have specific requirements for CAs. For instance, in Greece, you must complete two A levels and three general certificates of secondary education (GCSEs) — or the international equivalent of three GCSEs. But in India, you have to sit for three of the advanced level examinations and ethics courses.
Other countries may have their own credentialing bodies and requirements. To become a CPA in Canada, you must:
- Hold a degree from an accredited institution (or have the equivalent education)
- Prove you have sufficient competence in the area you want to focus on (like audit and assurance or business law)
- Complete three years of mentored practical experience
- Pass the exam
Can a Chartered Accountant Become a CPA (or Vice Versa)?
Because the CA and CPA designations are similar, a CA won’t necessarily have to go through the same credentialing procedure a new accountant would to become a CPA. Some U.S. states have a reciprocity agreement with CA credentialing bodies that allow those with a CA designation to work as a CPA in the U.S. without needing to pursue a CPA. As part of that agreement, CPAs may also be able to work in certain countries without pursuing a full CA designation.
What Skills Does a Chartered Accountant Need?
While a career as a chartered accountant requires hard skills such as numeracy, data analysis, and computer skills like spreadsheets, soft skills are also a necessary part of the role.
The ICAEW says that, for example, “A job in corporate finance requires skills in negotiation with finance providers, lawyers, researchers, and other key professionals.” You’ll also likely need strong skills in conflict resolution, respectfulness, and prioritization to ensure your clients trust your recommendations and advice.
Ultimately, a successful chartered accountant — or CPA — needs strong hard and soft skills to ensure you’re able to not only prepare reports and analyze data but also deliver the news about how well the company is (or is not) doing financially.
Ready to test your accounting skills? Enroll in a Forage accounting virtual work experience today.
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