Although an accountant's duties are much the same from one country to another, professional credentials are more variable. In the United States, certified public accountants provide most general accounting services. In Canada, the U.K. and other countries rooted in the former British Empire, that role is played by chartered accountants. A CA's training varies slightly between countries, but most follow a pattern similar to the program used in Canada.
The CA credential is only available as a post-baccalaureate training program, so candidates first have to earn a bachelor's degree. Degrees in economics, finance and business are all common choices, but any major is acceptable. Sometimes, non-traditional choices can provide unexpected benefits. For example, philosophy students are taught critical-thinking skills that transfer to other fields. Anyone planning on a career in accounting also needs strong mathematics and communications skills, so courses ranging from statistics to public speaking can all be valuable.
Each Canadian province recognizes a number of training offices, where experienced CAs can mentor aspiring accountants. The minimum work experience required to become a CA is three years, though requirements can vary by jurisdiction. Candidates also must complete a program of graduate-level course work in business and accounting topics. Students can incorporate this material into their bachelor's degree, or take the courses before, during or after completing the work experience requirement. The timing doesn't matter as long as candidates meet both the education and practical requirements before testing for certification.
Becoming a CA isn't simply a matter of passing the courses. Candidates must demonstrate a mastery of the CA's six core competencies, which consist of governance; strategy and risk management; performance measurement and reporting; assurance; finance; management decision-making; and taxation. The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants publishes a candidates' competency map, which explains the requirements in detail. Candidates who consider themselves ready take a grueling three-day exam, called the Uniform Evaluation or UFE. Each day, the candidate is given the details of a hypothetical company and must create a complete written business case. Those whose work is judged to be adequate will be granted a charter, and can then identify themselves as CAs.
Like their American counterparts, CAs are versatile financial professionals with a range of career options. They might become tax specialists, auditors, or consultants; and could work in government, business or a private practice. CAs from Canada and Australia can earn CPA status in the United States through an expedited testing process, and a U.S.-based CPA can apply for recognition as a CA in Canada or other jurisdictions. Accountants with credentials from more than one country can be especially valuable to companies with international operations.
- Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants: How to Become a CA
- Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants: General -- FAQs
- Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants: The UFE Candidates’ Competency Map
- Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants: The UFE
- Association of Chartered Accountants in the United States: The CA Qualification
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