Are you looking to kick-start your career in the financial sector?

For finance professionals, the qualification credentials from Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and CFA Institute carry immense value and open doors to lucrative career opportunities.

Both ACCA and CFA programs develop specialized accounting, financial analysis, and investment management skills. However, there are some major differences between these reputable global qualifications.

In determining whether to pursue ACCA or CFA, you should compare critical factors like required exams, designation timelines, costs, career outcomes and earning potential. This guide examines ACCA versus CFA on these key parameters so you can make an informed decision.

ACCA Overview

The ACCA qualification equips accounting and finance professionals with skills in assurance, taxation, advisory, financial reporting, business analysis, and ethical practices. Administered by the UK body called Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, completing the ACCA program leads to the ACCA membership and FCCA designation. The flexibility and practical emphasis of ACCA makes it suitable for diverse accounting and finance roles.

CFA Overview

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program focuses more narrowly on investment analysis, quantitative methods, asset valuation, and portfolio management. Run by the US non-profit CFA Institute, the highly quantitative CFA curriculum prepares investment professionals to research financial instruments, perform analysis, and make strategic decisions for banks, investment firms or corporations.

ACCA vs CFA: Key Comparison Points

When evaluating ACCA against CFA, the main factors you should consider are:

  • Exams required
  • Duration of program
  • Program costs
  • Career prospects
  • Average salary potential

This table summarizes the key points regarding ACCA certification vs CFA:

Parameter ACCA CFA
Total Exams 13 exams: Applied Knowledge (3), Applied Skills (6), Strategic Professional (4) + ethics module 3 levels, each with 1 exam
Exam Format Computer-based exams with mix of multiple choice questions, scenarios/simulations and longer written problems Paper-based essay type exams with item-set and case study questions
Duration Can be completed in 3-4 years Requires average of 4 years to complete 3 exam levels
Exam Passing Rate Average pass rate: 50% Average pass rate: 45%
Qualification Cost (USD) Exam registration: $165 per paper Exam registration: $1000 per level
Experience Requirement 3 years relevant accounting/finance experience to obtain ACCA membership 4 years professional investment experience to obtain CFA charter
Career Prospects Corporate/public accounting roles: external/internal audit, tax, advisory, financial reporting, financial analysis Investment industry roles: Investment analyst, portfolio manager, fund manager, research analyst
Average Salary (USD) $77K (can reach ~$140K+ in senior roles) $115K (can reach ~$300K+ as fund managers, analysts)

Difficulty and Time Required

Both ACCA and CFA curriculum are demanding and require serious commitment across multiple years. However, CFA adds an additional layer of intensity with lower pass rates, higher costs, and tougher exams.

The 13 ACCA exams span three levels

Applied Knowledge, Applied Skills and Strategic Professional, which correspond to increasing complexity. Multiple choice computerized exams test technical proficiency and real-world application. With an average 50% global pass rate, ACCA exams pose a significant but achievable challenge. The full ACCA program can be realistically completed in 3-4 years.

The CFA has a notoriously difficult program structure comprising three exam levels. The average pass rate is only 45%. CFA exams are paper-based with essay-type questions requiring in-depth analysis over 6 hours. With an estimated 300 hours of study per CFA exam, most candidates take between 4-6 years to attain the charterholder designation due to repeats. The CFA demands greater rigor and quant skills.

Career Options and Salary Comparison

Both ACCA and CFA holders enjoy lucrative job opportunities across public and corporate accounting roles, financial analyst and advisory positions, or specialized CFA-focused investments sector jobs.

For ACCA, typical roles involve assurance services, taxation, risk management, audit, financial reporting, analysis, and advisory positions within corporations, public accounting firms, governments and non-profits. Average salaries for an ACCA member exceed $77K USD annually, rising well above $140K for senior leadership positions.

The CFA prepares for high-paying roles like portfolio manager, investment analyst, fund manager and research analyst. According to CFA Institute surveys, over 75% of charterholders command six figure incomes averaging around $115K USD. Senior investment professionals with CFA credentials can expect potential earnings upwards of $300K annually.

Which is harder: CFA or ACCA?

Both CFA and ACCA are renowned certification courses in the finance sector. But CFA is way more difficult than ACCA. It has been observed that only 10% of the candidates who enroll in the CFA course successfully complete it. 

Moreover, you get only 4 years to complete the course as compared to the 10 years allotted to complete the ACCA course. Even the CFA prescribed syllabus is lengthier than ACCA. 

ACCA-certified professionals get recognition across the globe and the job opportunities scale to high levels. You can land the prestigious position of Accountant, Internal Auditor, Finance Manager, Finance Consultant, and Tax Manager. 

The difference between the two lies in the career prospects both the certifications hold. CFA is for professionals who wish to develop specialized skills in equity research and financial analysis. On the other hand, ACCA certification is a reputed entry-level course fit for the finance, auditing, and accounting professions. ACCA opens for you a broader career horizon with ample opportunities.


Pursuing ACCA qualification opens diverse accounting and finance career paths across audit, advisory, tax, compliance and analysis positions for firms or businesses worldwide. As a CFA charterholder, your skills directly qualify for lucrative investment research, analysis or portfolio strategy positions.

While the CFA achieves higher salary outcomes specifically in investments, becoming an ACCA member also leads to financially and professionally rewarding roles. The ACCA requires rigorous commitment but offers more flexibility. Before embarking on either journey, reflect deeply on your career aspirations, skill strengths and motivation level.

Leave a Comment