CPA vs. CA: Choosing an Accounting Career For You

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Accountants help businesses and individuals track, understand and make decisions regarding their finances. Many accountants work towards becoming certified as either a chartered accountant or a certified public accountant. Choosing one of these areas of specialisation can help you pursue an accounting career that suits your interests and expertise. In this article, we discuss the definition of and difference between a certified public accountant (CPA) and a chartered accountant (CA), to help you choose the career that's right for you.

CPA vs. CA

Understanding the difference between a CPA vs. CA can help you choose an accounting career path that aligns with your goals and expectations. Both are considered highly qualified professionals in the financial industry and handle different types of accounting matters. Your choice may depend on what kind of advising and analysis you prefer to do and the aspects of accounting that are most interesting to you.

What is a certified public accountant?

A certified public accountant, or CPA, is an accountant who focuses on general business accounting and management practices. They may be considered generalists in the accounting field because of their broad understanding of policies, procedures and best practices, though some CPAs may develop expertise in a particular area. Certified public accountants are often qualified to support domains of business finance such as financial and business planning, financial analysis, product cost analysis, marketing and general advising regarding business finance.

What is a chartered accountant?

A chartered accountant is a financial professional with a technical understanding of accounting procedures. Chartered accountants often specialise in specific areas of business finance that require intensive attention. Some of their areas of expertise may include in-depth financial analysis and advising, specialised tax matters and compliance with Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) regulations.

Similarities and differences between a CA and a CPA

Here are some differences between a chartered accountant and a certified public accountant:

Educational background

Chartered accountants and certified public accountants usually require different courses to become qualified for their roles. Chartered accounting students often learn about highly technical and specialised aspects of business accounting. Certified public accounting students may be more likely to learn about general business accounting procedures. Consider researching job openings that interest you and educational programmes to determine which educational path will prepare you for your desired role. Some accounting professionals in both tracks even choose to pursue advanced study to help distinguish them as experts in their field.

Related: 13 Accounting Skills To Include in Your Resume

Required certifications

Chartered accounting and certified public accounting certifications may be administered differently. Research any testing and coursework needed to gain the proper certification for your area of interest. Consider joining professional accounting organisations to help you access the information you need regarding any formal certifications. Both CPA and CA professionals often require continuing education credits to remain certified, so be sure to stay apprised of any ongoing requirements in your chosen field.

Specialisation

Chartered accountants and certified public accountants usually focus on different areas of specialty in their practise. Chartered accountants are often more likely to handle complex accounting procedures such as auditing and intricate tax matters. Certified public accountants handle a broader range of accounting topics for their business or organisation.

Related: 12 Commonly Used Accounting Principles

Employment

Both chartered accountants and certified public accountants can enjoy successful careers in their field. Explore job openings for each profession in your desired location to determine whether there is a greater demand for either a CPA or CA position in your local area. You might also consider the type of business you wish to work for. For example, a CA may pursue a career in a treasury function, whereas a CPA may work in the tax or auditing industries. You may wish to conduct research on various sectors to find out where professional demand lies. Both CPAs and CAs can find roles in private businesses, government institutions, accounting firms or independent accountant.

Frequently asked questions about CPA vs. CA careers

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about making a decision between a career as a chartered accountant or a certified public accountant:

Is one type of accounting career better than another?

Both CPA and CA careers can be enjoyable and successful for those who enjoy accounting and are skilled in the profession. Certified public accounting and chartered accountant careers both require educational preparation as well, though some of the specific courses may differ. Research programmes of study if this may affect your decision regarding which path to pursue.

Related: 30 Accountant Questions for Interview (With Examples)

Are there other types of accounting careers to choose from?

While many accountants choose to pursue a certification as a chartered accountant or a certified public accountant, there are other similar careers you might consider. Tax accountants, for example, specifically manage items such as tax returns and tax-related financial statements. Bookkeeping is another similar role. These professionals focus on the record-keeping and documentation aspects of financial management including invoicing, payroll, banking and business payments and receipts. Consider exploring these alternatives as part of your career research process.

Which accounting career is more challenging?

The level of complexity of a particular accounting career may vary depending on factors such as your prior level of experience in finance or a related field. Consider looking into typical job descriptions for both CPA and CA roles to fully understand the job duties of each type of accounting position. Explore coursework and requirements for certifications in each role as well, and compare those qualifications with your expectations for your career advancement.

Can a CPA become a CA?

It may be possible to shift from a career as a certified public accountant to one as a chartered accountant. When deciding whether you'd like to pursue both certifications, consider whether the roles that interest you require one or the other, or both. Many accountants enjoy successful careers with only one certification.

If you do decide to earn both certifications, research requirements for qualification as a CA and if you may be eligible for any transfer programs. Leverage your professional network and membership in any accounting professional organisations to find out more about current procedures for becoming a chartered accountant after working as a CPA.

Tips for choosing a CPA vs. CA career

Here are some additional tips that may help when planning your accounting career:

Set meaningful goals

Understanding your own career goals can help you choose the accounting career that's right for you. Consider how you'd like to spend your time and attention at work and try to match those outcomes with the appropriate accounting career path. Try using the SMART goal framework to keep your ideas organised. This means setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based.

Related: SMART Goals: Definition and Examples

Make a flexible plan

Using your goals to make a plan for choosing and progressing in your accounting career can help you stay focused and achieve success. Try organising your research and decision-making process by using lists or even spreadsheets to clarify your ideas. Aim to maintain flexibility so you can accommodate changes if and when they arise, such as career opportunities in an area of accounting you may not have considered before.

Reflect often

Periodically pause to reflect on the information you've learned about accounting careers. Compare your understanding with your original goals and make adjustments when necessary. Reflecting on your decision-making process can help you evaluate your progress and find the accounting career that's right for you.

Network effectively

Leveraging your professional network can help you learn more about accounting careers and find the specialisation that's right for you. Try connecting with both CPA and CA professionals to find out more about their duties and experiences. Consider attending industry events such as conferences and using professional social media to connect with accounting professionals who may be willing to discuss their career with you.

Find a mentor

As part of your networking process, try to find a mentor in accounting who can provide guidance through your decision-making process. If you connect with someone who is familiar with both CPA and CA roles, you may be able to gain additional perspective that can help you choose. You might also connect with professionals in both specialties to learn in-depth knowledge about the specific benefits and challenges of each. Try using professional social media, authorised mentoring organisations or alumni gatherings to connect with potential guides.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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