CPA or CA – Which one will help my career?

You got into a great university, you got 2:1 degree in business accounting, and you are ready to start your career in accounting – for you, the hard work is done, right? Wrong. Before you launch your career in accounting you really need to have decided which accountancy qualification you will take, as this may ultimately shape your career.

CPA or CA - Which one will help my career?

Therefore, since your chosen accountancy qualification will determine your career to some degree, perhaps the first step to take is to decide what kind of accounting career path you will take.

In general, there are two career paths that you can take in accountancy; these are commercial accounting and public accounting.

In commercial accounting you work for a particular company, such as Coca Cola or Mercedes as their accountant and you provide accounting services to that company or companies within that group. However, as a public accountant you will be working for a firm like PwC or Ernst and Young who provide accounting services such as audit, tax or forensic accounting to a number of external clients

Because of the difference in the way that Commercial and Public Accountancy roles operate the requirements of the role are different and each role may suit some people more than others.

For example, a commercial role is effectively an in-house role where the accountancy department is an internal cost centre like HR and IT. This is in sharp contrast to Public Accountancy where the accountancy work is being sold as a service to a range of clients. This means that the public accountant will firstly need to be able to generate new business, they will also be required to nurture client relationships to a much higher degree than they would within a commercial environment. Public accountants should also be able to up-sell and cross-sell additional services in a consultative and subtle way – akin to a professional services environment.

Which Qualification Will Help My Career

Having decided which career path you think you prefer, you are now in a position to choose between a CPA and CA. The question is will the CPA or CA benefit one career path more than the other. It is hard to say, because both qualifications develop your technical skills and business management and social skills. Also, CPA and CA graduates tend to be equally spread across commercial and public accounting – so each qualification provides maximum flexibility to work across industry.

There is a lot of heated debate on the financial forums as to whether the CPA or CA is more useful to your career and in truth it was hard to find a strong conclusion on either direction. As it currently stands, there are twice as many CPA members (139,000+) to CA members (70,000+).

It is important to also consider which qualification your first employer will support. Depending on the background of the company and the management team, they may support both qualifications or have a preference towards one. Trying to become a CPA in an organisation full of CAs can be challenging to gain extra support (formal or informal), and the same holds true for a CA in a CPA organisation. When you are applying for positions, it will benefit you greatly to do this research first. This way you can be sure that you find a company that will support your preferred choice of CPA or CA.

If you are looking to work internationally in the future then you should check to see which qualification will serve you best. Countries will have their own processes and you need to make sure you know what their requirements are. For example, in the UK an Australian CA can become an accountant straight away while a CPA needs 5 years practical experience and a testimonial by another ACA.
In conclusion, there is not an easy answer as to which is the best option out of CPA and CA – both will equip you to have successful careers in commercial or public accounting. The key is do make sure you do your research into prospective companies first to see what qualification/s they support. Also if you want your future career plans to involve working overseas, then you may need to be more selective about which qualification you choose to persue.

Thanks goes to Matt Dyki for your support and feedback on this article.