So you want to study accounting? Before that, read this first!

So… your heart is set on Accountancy. That or your brain has fixated on this sector for a future career. You’re still drawing a few blanks, though. The field is known to everyone, but what are its folks actually doing apart from crunching numbers? Or is that all they’re doing all day?

We’re here to help! After reading our primer you’ll have a basic overview that should help you in your decision-making, along with resources you can explore.

*All information is up to date as of Nov 2018.

Accountancy is such a big field, I’m a little confused.

Behind this little word lie so many fields that it’s confusing to newcomers. For the majority of non-finance professionals and students, Audit and Assurance is probably the first thing that comes into mind. Have you considered going into Business Valuation, though? Or Tax?

With all the digital disruption and rapid changes that are happening all the time, though, roles and scopes have increased. It’s hard to keep track even for us! Fortunately, there are resources out there to help guide the perplexed. One is the SkillsFuture Accountancy Skills Framework, which gives you a useful birds-eye-view of the sector and possible career pathways. You can also read up on job roles and occupations as well as skills you should master.

Another is the Industry Insights Tab that can be found on the Singapore Accountancy Commission’s (SAC) website. You can also take a look at SAC’s Accounting Entity Census, which gives you a comprehensive idea of the accounting sector’s current landscape (we’ve referenced it quite a bit here, too).

Do I need a degree to do accountancy–related roles?

Well, not really (and we’ve elaborated on this in an article on ACCA, once). You can bypass a degree and go for professional qualification preparatory programmes like those from LSBF.

Thing is, though, that a degree could still open more doors to you. It’s fast becoming an industry standard if you desire to work in a bigger accounting entity, or work in roles that give you more exposure. Currently, the Big 4 (Ernst & Young, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte & Touche LLP) hire the lion’s share at 88%.

Graduates are also found in every kind of accounting entity imaginable. Based on more figures from the AECensus 2016/17 (a national census conducted by the Singapore Accountancy Commission), 83% of those in accountancy related jobs are graduates. No small number, that.

So, degrees might just become a necessity because of market circumstances and the increase in skill-sets/knowledge it gives you over diplomas. The majority of accounting degrees also come with exemptions for certain professional certifications like ACCA, which gives you an extra boost. That’s not to say you should disregard non-degree options entirely, however! If you don’t have or can’t take a degree at the moment, there are a couple of interesting offerings out there (and upcoming) for various levels. Keep your eyes peeled!

To help you out, we’re listing a few here.

  • Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Advanced Diploma in Accountancy
    • Part of the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme, this is open to accountancy diploma grads from local polytechnics.  Twice a week classes (3.5 hours each) are held during the semester. It is an 18-month programme that provides structured on-the-job training and is company sponsored. Completion of the programme will lead to eligibility to enroll for the Singapore Chartered Accountant qualification, which is only open to degree holders otherwise.
  • SMU-CPA Australia Finance Game Changer Series
    •  This is targeted towards mid-level to senior-level executives and is a joint collaboration between CPA Australia (a professional accounting body) and SMU. It is part of a group of 6 modules that, when completed, will give students a Graduate Certificate in Digital Finance (IoT, Big Data, AI and so on).  Course grants are available and each module is 2 days long.

Which degree should I choose?

We do wish we have an answer to this question but every degree has its advantages, so there is never a definitive answer. Also, today is seeing more people switch careers or industries entirely, unlike the past when people stuck to the same line, so what you learn in university might become relevant in ways you don’t expect (aka ‘skill adjacencies’).

Degrees that concentrate entirely on accounting modules will give you a more thorough grounding in what you truly need to know. Degrees with a few ‘general-ed’ modules can help you be more eloquent or help you relate better to clients. Degrees with a mix of subjects (like a Degree in Accounting and Business Law) can help give you an edge for specific career tracks (Corporate Taxation, in this case). So do your homework on where you’d like to see yourself 5 years down and narrow it down from there.

Consider the amount of time taken, the faculty, and the school’s strengths as well. If it’s finance and accounting (or business), that’s a great plus. Also, make sure that you’re comfortable with what’s listed on the prospectus. If you have a gut feeling that you’ll hate these modules, do reconsider. There’s a case to be argued for in studying what you like, and accountants/accountancy-related careers are known to have incredibly long hours during peak season. That’s a formula for perpetual burn out, if you’re not careful!

How are salaries like for fresh grads?

To be as detailed as possible, we’ve gathered salary findings from two sources. Do note that such surveys/censuses, though, are made up of sample sizes and cannot be entirely representative.

Based on 2018’s Graduate Employment GES (2017’s graduates):

  • Nanyang Technological University
    • Bachelor of Accountancy (Hons)

Basic Monthly Salary

Gross Monthly Salary

Mean

Median

Mean

Median

25th percentile

75th percentile

$3,121

$3,000

$3,166

$3,000

$2,900

$3,100

    • Double Degree in Bachelor of Accountancy (Hons) and Bachelor of Business (Hons)

Basic Monthly Salary

Gross Monthly Salary

Mean

Median

Mean

Median

25th percentile

75th percentile

$3,830

$3,500

$3,892

$3,600

$3,013

$4,317

  • National University of Singapore
    • Bachelor of Business Administration (Accountancy)

Basic Monthly Salary

Gross Monthly Salary

Mean

Median

Mean

Median

25th percentile

75th percentile

$3,396

$3,000

$3,892

$3,473

$3,000

$3,600

    • Bachelor of Business Administration (Accountancy, Hons)

Basic Monthly Salary

Gross Monthly Salary

Mean

Median

Mean

Median

25th percentile

75th percentile

$3,689

$3,100

$3,744

$3,125

$3,000

$4,023

  • Singapore Management University (SMU)
    • Accountancy

Basic Monthly Salary

Gross Monthly Salary

Mean

Median

Mean

Median

25th percentile

75th percentile

$3,569

$3,000

 $3,646

$3,000

$2,920

$3,600

    • Accountancy (Cum Laude and above)

Basic Monthly Salary

Gross Monthly Salary

Mean

Median

Mean

Median

25th percentile

75th percentile

$4,037

$3,200

$4,089

$3,200

$3,000

$4,645

  • Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT)
    • Bachelor of Accountancy with Honours

Basic Monthly Salary

Gross Monthly Salary

Mean

Median

Mean

Median

25th percentile

75th percentile

$3,073

$3,050

$3,113

$3,088

$2,975

$3,250

Based on the AECensus 2016/17 (Singapore Accountancy Commission), which surveyed 176 Accounting Entities and 21 Accounting Servicing Entities:

(Screenshot from the AECensus 2016/17)

Professional Qualifications

Firstly, why are these important and coveted?

Professional qualifications, typically pre-requisites for obtaining chartered accountant designations/memberships alongside relevant work experience, are conferred by leading professional accounting bodies. You achieve them only after going through rigorous studying and exams, which could begin during your school days.

Currently, more than a third of Singapore’s accountancy professionals possess professional qualifications (48% in 2016[i]).  They’re not easy to obtain: in fact, many fail a paper or two on their first try, part of the reason why having them automatically makes you more employable (which is also why we’re including a list of schools you can enrol in for some extra help along the way).

Here are some stats from ACCA, for example, that show how much hard work is required to obtain its qualification:

Strategic professional exam pass rates (%)

Exam session

SBL

SBR

AFM

APM

ATX

AAA

Sep 2018

45

47

35

33

30

30

Jun 2018

 

 

40

35

40

34

Mar 2018

 

 

41

29

37

30

Dec 2017

 

 

33

29

36

35

Sep 2017

 

 

35

32

33

31

Jun 2017

 

 

34

32

43

32

Mar 2017

 

 

35

28

38

32

(Credits: ACCA’s homepage)

Employers and clients can thus be assured of your capabilities, and your increased skills and knowledge open the door to more opportunities. These include salary increases —10% of AEs were willing to pay their 1st year senior associations a salary of $4,400 and above, as compared to 3% for those without and international mobility (AECensus 2016/17)—as well as access to a professional network!

Without further ado…

#1: ACCA

The second acronym we’re tackling, ACCA is short for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. ACCA goes back as far as 1904 in London and today, it is the global professional body offering the Chartered Certified Accountant qualification… also known as ACCA for short.

What it entails:

The ACCA qualification currently requires 14 papers (2-3 hours each), split between 4 modules. These are the Applied Knowledge (Fundamentals), Applied Skills (Fundamentals), Essentials (Stratefic Professional) and Options (Strategic Professional) modules respectively. Tested areas include topics such as Financial Accounting, Financial Management, and Taxation.

ACCA requires all modules to be taken in order and recommends that papers within modules be sat for in numerical order, too.

Exam format:

Comprises of e-exams as well as pen and paper formats (if chosen). Expect MCQs, long questions (constructed responses) and objective test questions.

Minimum pre-requisites:

2 A-level passes PLUS 3 O-level passes in separate subjects. Must include Maths & English. Accredited degrees allow for exemptions.

Should I take it?

ACCA is a more generalist accounting qualification with global recognition, covering a wider range of subjects. This, and the course’s flexibility (you have 7 years to complete the Professional level before your results expire), makes it a good choice for most newcomers to the accounting industry.

In fact, about 35% of Singapore’s finance professionals hold the ACCA qualification, making it the most popular here.

While ACCA no longer meets the requirements to achieve the Chartered Accountant (Singapore) designation, the qualification affords you a wider range of career options in finance. If you decide that accounting isn’t for you, you can choose to explore banking or consulting, for example!

Furthermore, plenty of help is available for those keen on ACCA as compared to the other qualifications. You’ll not only find loads of resources available out there that you can self-study with, but also many schools offering prep courses or accredited degrees that’ll bring you up to speed!  If you work hard enough, you could even finish the course and gain this qualification within 2 years.

#2: SCA (formerly SQP)

The newest of the lot, the Singapore Chartered Association (SCA) qualification is really new, having been launched in 2013 by the Singapore Accountancy Commission and the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA). Launched to ensure a higher standard of accounting in Singapore, those holding this qualification will be eligible for the Charted Accountant (Singapore) designation.

The ISCA has signed Reciprocal Membership Agreements (RMA) with ICAEW (which we’ll talk about below), so if you’ve achieved the SCA qualification and the Chartered Accountant (Singapore) designation, you can then apply for a practising certificate that will let you provide accountancy services in the UK.

What it entails:

The Foundation level has 6 modules (with exemptions possible), and the Professional another 6 (4 technical, 1 capstone, 1 Ethics and Professionalism module).

Exam format:  Computer-based exams (closed book)

Minimum pre-requisites:

Accredited degree/other degree from universities approved by SAC and Completion of SCA (Foundation), or a direct entry degree from SUSS/SIT/NTU/NUS.

Should I take it?

For most people looking to base their accounting career in Singapore and are only looking to have one qualification, choosing the SCA would seem only logical.

It’s much harder to obtain than ACCA, however, as you can only begin taking it WHILE gaining 3 years of relevant work experience in any of the Accredited Training Organisations. Compared to ACCA, there are also less resources available for self-study. Otherwise, competing it would greatly advance your career!

Do note, as a result, that If you’re a newbie/mid-career and looking to enter the accounting and finance industry but aren’t keen on a degree, that this might not be the right qualification for you.

#3: ICAEW (ACA)

The ICAEW, short for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, is a jolly grand dame, having been established back in 1880. Their ACA qualification is a pre-requisite to becoming a ICAEW chartered accountant (alongside 450 days of relevant work experience). Globally recognised, it has more than 100,000 members worldwide!

What it entails:

The ACA qualification comprises of 15 modules (6 modules under certificate level, 6 modules under professional level, 3 modules under advanced level).

Exam format:  

For certificate level, exams are 1.5 hour computer based assessments. For professional level, exams are 2.5-3 hour long and are paper-based.

Minimum pre-requisites:

 2 A-level passes PLUS 3 O-level passes (A-C) or any degree from recognised university comparable to UK Bachelor’s degree

Should I take it?

Generally, this is a road less taken as most locals would go for the SCA qualification — as the ICAEW is a UK qualification and might be less relevant in Singapore’s context. In fact, only 3% of finance professionals here hold this qualification.

Given that the ISCA has signed an RMA with ICAEW, though, you’ll still get the best of both worlds, so there’s no need to worry there! 

The ACA qualification has a stronger audit and accounting focus as compared to the more comprehensive ACCA. If you’re extremely sure of going into auditing and accounting, you could consider this after doing sufficient research to see if this really suits you.

#4: CIMA

The last in our list and the most specialised of them all, the CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) qualification comes from the world’s largest professional body of management accountants. CIMA is the only accountancy body to have this focus in business needs, and completion of this qualification is one pre-requisite for becoming a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA).

What it entails:

          Certificate level: 4 subjects

          Professional level: 3 levels with 3 pillars each (Operational -> Management -> Strategic), 12 exams

Exam format:  

          Certificate level: E-examination

          Professional level: E-examinations (9 in total), 3 case studies

Minimum pre-requisites: 

          Certificate level: School leavers.

          Professional level: a degree from a recognised university.

Should I take it?

If you’re keen on business and management, yes! The qualification preps you to have management expertise to make you better-rounded, and will also give you the opportunity to pursue careers outside of the finance sector (business manager, for example).

Do note that the CIMA qualification is much harder to obtain as compared to the ACCA qualification, for example, as it requires you to pass its exams in order. You also can’t, unlike ACCA, take multiple exams at once. Its difficulty thus makes CIMA holders, around 4% of the local finance population, highly respected.

#halp i am lost

 Yeah, Accountancy seems like it for me.

If that’s so…take a look and see if these are right for, or open to you! We’ll also have a compilation of accounting courses up and running, soon. Do check back regularly!

 

We hope this has been of some use to you in clearing some doubts, and we hope that any readers with insights into accounting or courses they’ve taken can share with us! Help us improve our content to better improve our juniors.

Otherwise, we wish you a great beginning towards a fulfilling career!

 


[i] 2016 /7 AECensus

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