If you want a job in financial services but don't feel inclined to spend 300 hours studying for each three levels of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) qualification, you could always opt for the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) accounting qualification instead.
Like the CFA exams, ACCA exams can be prepared for on a distance learning basis while you're working. Also like the CFA exams, the ACCA is global: if you pass in the UK, you can (in theory) go and work in Shanghai or New York or even Paris. However, while CFA Charter holders often go into fund management or research roles in banks, people with the ACCA qualification will usually move into accounting or finance positions.
The ACCA appears a lot easier to pass than the CFA qualifications. While both CFA level one and CFA two exams have pass rates of only 37%, the 14 core ACCA papers have pass rates ranging from 32% to as high as 65%. In order to gain an ACCA, students have to pass each of the 14 exams listed below. Colin Davis, a spokesman for the ACCA, said that it's common to take four ACCA papers every year.
ACCA: The 14 exam papers and their pass rates
Paper F1, Accountant in Business, 65%
Paper F2, Management Accounting, 59%
Paper F3, Financial Accounting, 55%
Paper F4, Corporate and Business Law, 41%
Paper F5, Performance Management, 37%
Paper F6, Taxation, 47%
Paper F7, Financial Reporting, 53%
Paper F8, Audit and Assurance, 34%
Paper F9, Financial Management, 43%
Paper P1, Governance, Risk and Ethics, 50%
Paper P2, Corporate Reporting, 49%
Paper P3, Business Analysis, 48%
Paper P4, Advanced Financial Management, 33%
Paper P5, Advanced Performance Management, 33%
Paper P6, Advanced Taxation, 44%
Paper P7, Advanced Audit and Assurance, 32%
Will an ACCA really help you to get a banking job?
Will an ACCA enable you to walk straight into a job in banking? Probably not. Our own job listings and CV database suggest 10 CVs were uploaded into the eFinancialCareers system over the past three months for each ACCA job currently advertised. However, banks do hire ACCAs, so having the qualification won't do you any harm.
Tom Stoddart, head of accounting at recruitment firm Eximius in London, said that banks are usually open to hiring candidates who have a CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants), an ACCA or the ACA Chartered Accountant qualification run by the ICAEW. "The ACA is often seen as being more rigorous but ACCA qualified accountants will also get picked up for junior roles in banks," said Stoddart. "They're typically hired into financial accounting, financial reporting, or management accounting roles," he added.
Qualifications that are even easier to pass than the ACCA
If you don't want to sit all 14 papers above and gain an ACCA, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants offers a few alternatives for which the pass rates are even higher.
Introductory Certificate in Financial and Management Accounting
FA1, Recording Financial Transactions, 70%
MA1, Management Information, 74%
Foundation Specialist papers
FTX, Foundations in Taxation, 70%
The qualifications above comprise only one exam, which the vast majority of people seem to pass. Davis said each of these papers can be taken on a home-study basis in six to eighteen months and are intended as "starting blocks" for people who might want to work in accounting or in roles which bring them into contact with accountants. "The foundation and introductory levels are for people who haven't worked in accounting before. All these qualifications are global," he reiterated.
Even if the ACCA exams don't lead to a job instantaneously, they should contribute to your employability, even if you have no prior financial services work experience. "If you have an ACCA on your CV but no banking experience, you'll be more appealing to recruiters than if you neither," said recruiter Stoddart at Eximius.