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What Is a Chartered Accountant?

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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 career plans. Instead, you may want to adjust them to include becoming a chartered accountant (CA). But what exactly is a chartered accountant and how are chartered accountants different from CPAs? This guide covers it all. 

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.

Chartered Accountant Salary

Chartered accountant salaries vary based on the company you work for and the country you practice in. According to Indeed, the average chartered account salary is approximately 36,225 pounds per year in the UK. 

In contrast, a chartered professional accountant in Canada (also called a CPA) earns an average base salary of $78,058 Canadian per year. This is similar to a chartered accountant practicing in the U.S., with an average base salary between $101,000 and $178,000 per year while accountants have an average base salary of $79,880 per year. 

What Does a Chartered Accountant Do? 

So, 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.

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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.”

2. Business

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 mentorship to other chartered accountants in the department.

3. Corporate Finance

CAs can also 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.

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What Kinds of Chartered Accountant Jobs Are There?

During your time in an entry-level chartered accountant role, you’ll sharpen your skills and gain experience, allowing you to move into more specialized CA roles. This could include management and leadership or focusing on a specific area of accounting. Some example job titles are:

  • Controller
  • 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. According to the ICAEW, this is the general 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 chartered accountant (CPA or CA designation) in Canada, you need a university degree and must complete an approved training program. And depending on which provinces you want to work in, you may need to complete either two years or 30 months of on-the-job training and pass additional exams.

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.

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The Chartered Accountant Skills You’ll 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 conflict resolution skills, 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.

Chartered Accountants: The Bottom Line

In a sense, chartered accountants are no different than CPAs. Both roles help companies assess their finances and make plans based on those assessments. The difference lies mainly in where you studied accounting and where you start practicing.

If you think accounting is the career for you, level-up your skills in a Forage accounting virtual job simulation. It’s a low-risk way to see if being an accountant or chartered accountant is the right career path for you.

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Rachel Pelta is the Head Writer at Forage. Previously, she was a Content Specialist at FlexJobs, writing articles for job seekers and employers. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, The Ladders, MSN, and Money Talks News.

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