CPA, CMA, CA: What do the different accounting designations mean?
February 24, 2023

CPA, CMA, CA: What Do the Different Accounting Designations Mean?

It’s no secret: accounting is a complex field. In order to become an expert accountant, individuals require years of study, rigorous on-the-job training and, ultimately, decades of practical experience.

In Canada, there are a number of certification programs that accountants can take to begin mastering their chosen profession. These different types of certification programs are beneficial (both to accountants and those looking to hire them) because they ensure the professionals being employed have been and continue to be held to a high standard.

Without these required designations, it would be next to impossible to determine whether or not an accountant had the expertise and education necessary to perform their on-going duties. 

As experts in accounting recruitment, AHK Accounting Recruiters understands how difficult it can be to find qualified individuals that meet your business’s current professional needs. That’s why, as part of our services, we offer accounting manager recruitment in Vancouver.

In order to help you understand the different accounting designations further—and be able to hire the most qualified staff possible—we put together the following guide for your reference.

The Big Three

Now, you may be wondering, what are the different accounting designations? Originally, there were three separate designations that an individual looking to practice accounting professionally could obtain. These included:

  • Chartered Accountant (CA): This refers to accountants that practice internationally in countries including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Singapore, and India. CAs are recognized by these jurisdictions for their technical competency in accounting. 
  • Certified General Accountant (CGA): This is an accounting designation that no longer exists on its own in Canada. CGAs typically performed auditing and accounting services to various companies, reviewing their employers’ financial reporting systems to ensure they adhered to government laws and regulations, corporate rules, and industry standards. 
  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA): This is a professional specialization that focuses on management and accounting. An individual with this designation was considered an expert in both financial accounting and strategic business management. 

In order to successfully achieve one of these three designations, an individual was required to obtain an undergraduate degree, with different areas of focus accepted for each. 

Our team at AHK Accounting Recruiters has a competitive advantage, as our team of experts has worked in accounting for many years and has gained a great network, expertise, and trust throughout the industries. With a strong understanding of every accounting designation, we are more than equipped to help you with your accounting manager recruitment in Vancouver.

Educational Requirements

Chartered Accountant

The CA designation required an undergraduate degree in accounting, plus three years of training in a designated accounting firm. To become successfully certified, students were required to pass an incredibly difficult three-day exit exam known as the Uniform Final Evaluation. The CA designation continues to be a highly recognized professional status internationally. 

The typical job prospect for these candidates is at large, multinational accounting firms. These types of companies allow them to effectively utilize their specialized education and training in an effective manner.

Certified General Accountant

At the time, CGA certification required an undergraduate degree, two or more years of CGA-related courses, an entrance exam, and two to three years of business experience at the managerial level. One of the advantages of obtaining a CGA was the flexibility. 

Rather than being required to study accounting specifically, the undergraduate degree could be in an unrelated field. However, years of experience at an accounting firm along with the successful completion of courses and written exams were still required. In addition, an individual had to obtain managerial experience before the designation could be granted. 

This branch appealed particularly to individuals who may not have possessed the educational requirements for the other designations.

Certified Management Accountant

For individuals looking to become a CMA, they were required to obtain an undergraduate degree that was within a related discipline. These could include anything to do with business, commerce, or finance, along with other potential fields. Similar to the other two designations, an entrance exam and suitable work experience were both also needed before the designation could be granted. 

These accountants would typically go into the management business, targeting high-level elements of accounting like company growth.

Professional Contributions

Regardless of the designation, accounting professionals have the ability to work in a variety of different fields as auditors, taxation specialists, or providers of general accounting services and consulting to businesses.

No matter what industry a business is in, a certain amount of accounting is required. Whether the aim is to have help preparing for tax season or to receive general financial advice, a certified accountant will need to be hired.

Larger businesses tend to retain in-house accounting experts who can support their business needs on an ongoing basis. Small businesses, on the other hand, typically opt to utilize accountants on an as-needed basis contracted through public accounting firms. 

Our recruiting experts take the time to understand your needs, wants, and goals. Through our free consultation, guidance, and career advice, we open doors of opportunities for accounting professionals in different stages of their career to introduce them to our high-calibre clientele. This includes our accounting manager recruitment services in Vancouver.

What is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA)?

Today, the three traditional forms of accounting designation aren’t as common. This is a direct result of the Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) merger that happened in Canada a few years ago. There were a number of reasons that the three designations were merged together, including:

  1. The requirements between the three different designations (education, professional experience, and exams) were all very similar. This meant that there was very little distinction between what was required to obtain a certain accounting designation compared to the other. 
  1. The distinction between each professional role began to overlap, making it harder to designate one type of certification to a single accounting skill set. There were times when CAs would work in management positions, and CGAs would work at accounting firms. It became increasingly unnecessary to differentiate among the three designations. 

In today’s professional settings, you may encounter an accountant with a combined designation, such as CPA and CGA. This helps indicate which specific stream an individual followed before the merger redesignated them as a CPA.

What makes a CPA different?

The CPA designation acts as a type of one-stop shop. When your accountant is a recognized CPA, you can feel assured that they have completed the necessary educational and professional requirements to become an accountant. 

CPAs operate in a wide range of industries, including public accounting, government, education, and the not-for-profit sector.

How to Hire a Certified Accountant

To learn more about our accounting manager recruitment services in Vancouver, or to book a consultation with one of our recruitment experts, call AHK Accounting Recruiters at 833-399-1663 or contact us here.

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