The letters after your name – CA, CPFA…what do they really mean? The new ICAS-CIPFA qualification

GT trainees2We are Alex and Hiruni – 2 of the 9 Public Sector Audit trainees in London who are studying towards the first-ever professional qualification of its kind – the integrated ICAS-CIPFA qualification.

The big CA (Chartered accountant) – CPFA (Chartered Public Finance Accountant) debate, and how it has changed since the arrival of the ICAS-CIPFA qualification?

A career in public sector financial services has for a long time been heavily linked with the membership of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy- the world’s only accountancy body to specialise in public services. Indeed, Molly’s blog told you all about the CIPFA qualification. This has for many students served as a strong foundation to which a career in public finance has been built.

However at a time when the public and corporate sectors are moving closer together, the need for flexibility – both for employees and employers – has led to the new dual qualification of ICAS (the Institute of Chartered Accountant of Scotland) and CIPFA. Our clients range from local government trading or community interest companies to charities (including universities) and higher education colleges. They all report under the Companies Act, making the public-private sector distinction in audit less clear-cut than it used to be.

How is the new integrated ICAS-CIPFA qualification different to the traditional CIPFA route?

This gold standard accountancy qualification acts as an exciting and unique opportunity for new graduates within PSA to become specialised in both public and corporate finance, through fifteen exams over 3 years and work experience in both fields.

Moreover, 11 of these exams are specifically ICAS modules and the remaining  4 have been adopted from the specialised CIPFA syllabus. At the end of the course, this integrated professional qualification will not only allow members to use the designations of both CA and CPFA, but will  importantly  allow for a greater deal of flexibility in the ever changing role we face as auditors.

So what does this mean to new trainees?

Well, we will sit 6 exams this year, all of which are ICAS modules: 3 in November (which are fast approaching!), 1 in January and 2 in April. Due to our upcoming exams, we have spent a fair amount of time in college since joining Grant Thornton at the end of August.

Unlike our predecessors who attended classes with other accountancy firms, we have benefited from small classroom sessions consisting of just the 9 GT London and Gatwick PSA first year trainees. Since none of us have an accountancy background, the small classroom sessions have been very useful as you are able to ask questions and get as much help as you need from the tutors without having to queue or feel embarrassed!

This also means that we have had to be on top of our game, since you never know when the tutor will ask you a question! It has been a steep learning curve for most of us, but also an enjoyable and bonding experience. In addition to college days, we also have self-study days (called CABLE days). If you think that this means lounging in front of the TV for two hours for every hour of work, you can dream on! The cable days are quite intense study days during which we are required to get through a substantial amount of material. Self-study days are not as daunting as they sound however, as there are recorded lectures and slides that can be accessed online, along with a schedule for each day. So you know exactly what you need to do and you can also ask as many questions as you like from the tutors through the online portal.

Beyond college, the ‘Strong Foundations’ training courses at Bradenham Manor (Grant Thornton’s training centre) were useful, as they dwelled deeper into some of the auditing content we learnt in college from a more practical angle. At Bradenham there was also the added bonus of meeting our peers in commercial audit, tax and advisory from across the country (and of course the constant supply of food!).

We have had a lot of support and training so far, which will hopefully get us all through our exams and one step closer to the CA and CPFA designations.  With just over 6 weeks until our exams (and 5 weeks until the mocks), it is time to get back to the books!

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