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ACCA or CFA? Which is best when you want to leave banking?

Investment banking pays pretty well but once you reach middle management and above, jobs in many other industries pay pretty well too and offer a much better lifestyle. The bonuses are not as good but nowadays, even in banking, the bumper bonus is far from certain.

I realised just how many people were thinking about life after banking when one of my former managing directors (MDs) from Goldman Sachs called me to ask about my experience with the taking ACCA accounting qualification. He’s not on Facebook, of course, but his wife had seen one of my Facebook posts in which I bragged about a 90% score for my first ACCA exam.

I finished 13 ACCA exams in under two years and was exempt from one of the 14 exams because of my CFA qualification. I needed something fresh on my CV so I could jump out of self-employment back into the life of work but I knew I didn’t want to go back to the back-breaking hours of investment banking. This is what I discovered:

The CFA Charter

Outside of banking the CFA is not well known especially if you want to move outside London. For instance, I had an interview with the treasury department of a FTSE 250 company and the Treasurer hadn’t even heard of the CFA.

If you’re looking for non-iBanking wealth management roles, then the CFA could carry you through to the interview stage.

In addition, the CFA could provide you with the breadth of knowledge and perhaps confidence you need to perform competently in a non-banking role.

The ACCA qualification

The ACCA is, by a long shot, harder than the CFA based on the sheer volume of material that you need to absorb.

I was single and unmarried when I did the CFA and married with two children when I did the ACCA. However, I don’t think this influences my view because I had a full-time nanny throughout the time I was doing the ACCA and didn’t have to any household chores or childcare etc.

The CFA is 3 exams with CFA level 2 being the most challenging. The ACCA is 14 exams and at least 10 of them need some serious grafting.

I struggled to get non-banking related job interview with the CFA on my CV, however, once I had 7 ACCA exams under my belt, a feat that took about 10 months – one in Dec-16, two in Mar-17, two in Jun-17, two in Sep-17, I got several worthy interview opportunities all within a period of about 6 weeks.

The job offer I accepted was almost custom-made for my lifestyle and I can attest to the fact that there is a life after banking. My banking friends are completely confused by the fact that I’m usually out of work by 3:30/4:00 pm and I can work from home on up to two days a week without asking anyone for permission.

If you are seriously thinking about adding something to your CV that will help you escape your banking hours without compromising your lifestyle, I would recommend the ACCA based on my experience of doing both.

Heather Katsonga Woodward is a former analyst at Goldman Sachs and vice president at HSBC

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AUTHORHeather Katsonga-Woodward Insider Comment
  • WC
    8 May 2020
  • Re
    Real talk
    10 January 2020

    Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time has about 250 pages. And all the Harry Potter books all together have thousands of pages. But nobody who would genuinely say that because Harry Potter books are more voluminous, that they are harder to understand than A Brief History of Time. Well it is the same thing. Acca has several followers, but compared to CFA, it remains in the junior league.

  • An
    An intelligent voice
    10 January 2020

    Volume of material is by no means a sign of toughness. If you collate all the material of primary school, that's a lot compared only one subject from secondary school. But that does not mean primary school is easier. Now, some of you might not agree with this comparison, however CFA has a masters equivalence. You cannot go through CFA exams after high school. You can do acca.
    Addionally, the combined exam pass demonstrate that CFA is harder. You can pass acca with a 51% score. For CFA it is at least 70%.
    Lastly, CFA charter has been defined as the hardest professional certification to obtain by the Wall Street Journal.

  • wh
    who is I
    10 January 2020

    Yup, i agree. CFA is more focused and neither is easy, but by sheer volume to grasp, interpret and apply ACCA is vastly more difficult.

  • Ba
    10 January 2020

    The idea of a FTSE 250 Treasurer not knowing what a CFA is is absurd.

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