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Case Study: Is becoming a Chartered Accountant worth it?

Posted on 9th January 2020 by Parker Bridge

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This case study first appeared in the Parker Bridge 2019 Market & Salary Report and was based on its survey data. Check out our most recent Salary Report for our latest case studies.

It is well reported that becoming a Chartered Accountant can open many lucrative career opportunities in every sector of business throughout New Zealand and internationally. However, we wanted to use the research we had collected from our salary survey to identify just how much of an impact being CA-qualified can have on your career. 

To do this, we asked respondents who stated that they worked in Accounting & Finance positions whether they were a Chartered Accountant. The findings in this case study have been drawn from those respondents who answered yes or no. It is also worth mentioning that this study is not Auckland or Wellington-specific and looks at respondents from across all of New Zealand.

Half of the market are Chartered Accountants

The first interesting find was that exactly half of the market was CA-qualified. This did provide us with a fair comparison between CA and non-CA respondents but when we broke this question down by role, we found a clear trend. The volume of Chartered Accountants significantly increased as the roles we looked at became more senior and/or had greater management responsibilities. For example, only 21% of Assistant Accountants were Chartered Accountants but nine out of ten Chief Financial Officers stated the same. 

When we combined these findings into a graph (below), you can clearly see a career ladder taking shape. Financial and Management Accountants were in the middle with 56% and 58% stating they were CA-qualified respectively. Interestingly, however, Company Accountants were divided exactly down the middle at 50%. This could indicate that not holding a CA qualification may be a potential barrier to career growth for these professionals, particularly if there is a desire to move into a management position. Commercial Manager was the management role that had the lowest representation of Chartered Accountants, but this was still at 60%. Finance Manager was next with just over two-thirds of these respondents holding a CA qualification and 71% of Financial Controllers were also Chartered Accountants.

Chartered Accountants work for larger companies

Our research also found that Chartered Accountants were more likely to work for larger organisations. More than two thirds of Accounting professionals that worked in large businesses were Chartered Accountants, and nearly half of respondents that worked for enterprise-sized employers stated the same. Two out of five Accounting professionals that worked for medium-sized businesses were also CA-qualified, but this figure dropped sharply for smaller organisations. Only 19% of respondents working in companies between 1 and 20 employees held a Chartered Accounting qualification.

The most likely reason for this trend is that the complexity of a business increases with its size. Larger organisations have greater reporting requirements for compliance and audit obligations and therefore require more technical skills to meet them. Whilst a smaller organisation can manage with one Chartered Company Accountant, a larger business will usually need a team. These teams can consist of several Financial Accountants, a Finance Manager or Financial Controller, and a Chief Financial Officer, and all of them can be Chartered Accountants specialising in different aspects of the finance function. 

Larger organisations often have greater opportunities for career growth and development. Our research found that Chartered Accountants recognised this as the majority of CA-qualified respondents worked for businesses with more than 201 professionals. It is likely that completing a CA-qualification result in accessing more options to work for larger teams and more complex businesses.

Chartered Accountants receive more flexible working opportunities 

When we reviewed the average benefits Chartered Accountants were receiving compared to non-CA qualified respondents, we found a clear difference between the two sets of professionals. The topmost benefit that was being offered to non-CA qualified professionals was challenging work, followed by a company phone/allowance and then flexible working hours. In the case of Chartered Accountants, flexible working hours was the highest benefit on offer and 10% more respondents reported receiving it. The ability to work from home came in second place and also had 10% more respondents state that they received this form of flexibility.

The fact that most Chartered Accountants worked for large organisations was likely the reason for these findings. Larger companies often have the resources and adaptability to provide flexible working arrangements and initiatives to their workforce. Smaller businesses can often struggle to keep up with these benefits due to having fewer resources available to them.

The impact that providing more flexible working arrangements to Chartered Accountants was seen in what these professionals were prioritising in their next jobs. Although having a good balance between work and personal life was a top priority for both CA and non-CA respondents, it was 14% more important for the latter. Interestingly, Chartered Accountants were also prioritising a better internal culture from their next role, but this did not appear in the top five for non-CA professionals. Instead, having a higher salary was second place for non-Chartered Accountants and was 16% more important to them. 

Chartered Accountants are paid 26% more on average

When we compared the average salaries between Chartered and non-Chartered Accountants, our research found that Chartered Accountants were paid 26% more. CA-qualified professionals were also nearly one and half times more likely to receive a yearly bonus and for 29% more in value.

The highest variance in average salary across the top ten roles in our research was in Financial Controllers. A-CA qualified Financial Controller was paid 36%, or $52,502, more in their annual salary. Business and Finance Analysts experienced the second-highest increase in salary at 28% or a difference of $24,943. Company Accountants were in third place at an 18% variance or a difference of $15,500.

The lowest difference in average salaries was in Assistant Accountants who only saw an average increase of $100. Commercial Managers were 8% ahead of Assistant Accountants and saw an average increase of $10,556. Chief Financial Officers also saw an 8% increase but most respondents under that job title were Chartered Accountants.

Whilst our research has shown that being a qualified Chartered Accountant has a positive impact on a professional’s salary, the financial performance of the business they work for had also appeared to be a deciding factor. If we were to consider financial turnover as an indicator of business performance, then Chartered Accountants were more likely to work for highly successful organisations than compared to non-CA qualified professionals. The average turnover for businesses that Chartered Accountants were working for was $101 - $300 million per year, whilst the average turnover for non-CA professionals was $0 - $25 million

Despite the increase in salary and bonuses however, Chartered Accountants were only slightly happier than non-CA qualified professionals. The overall satisfaction score for CA-qualified professionals was 3.32 and 3.24 for non-CAs. This goes to show that money does not strictly buy happiness as these professionals simply wanted different things. Employers will need to ensure that they are giving both types of professionals a voice, so that these issues come to light.

Interestingly, there was a 50-50 split between men and women in the Chartered Accounting market but just like other areas of New Zealand’s Accounting industry, there was a clear gender pay gap. On average, men who are CA-qualified are paid 18% more than women with the same qualification which equated a difference of $20,873 per year.