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Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in Australia

To become a Certified Public Accountant in Australia there are a number of options that you can pursue, from university education to learning on the job through internships. This makes accounting a career that is accessible to many Australian students, even those who do not want to commit to a 3 year long bachelor degree.

With a bit of research you can easily find a number of diploma courses that can see you qualified as a CPA, as well as training courses run by Australian accounting institutes. You might also consider looking at entry level positions of bookkeeping in small businesses, where you can work under a CPA with more industry experience and learn from them.

With many options it's important to work out what is best for your style of learning and where you want to take your career. Accounting has many areas of specialisation through which CPA's can further their education and apply to become a chartered accountant.

That being said, most CPA's wishing to become a chartered accountant with one of Australia's legally recognised institutes will need to have completed a bachelor or master degree at university in order to commence membership.

With this in mind, let's take a look at what you education you need to gain as a student to practice as a Certified Public Accountant.

What Are The Prerequisites For Applying to an Accounting Course?

As mentioned, there is a chance that you can start working as an accountant in entry level positions before you have attained a diploma, bachelor, or master degree. However, these jobs are basic positions like junior clerks or bookkeepers, and have little room to grow, learn, or advance your career.

If you are planning to join one of Australia's three legally recognised accounting institutes, a bachelor degree is normally one of the requirements before you apply for membership. Having a bachelor degree, or master degree, in accounting will give you access to work as a professional certified public accountant anywhere in Australia.

Being good with numbers is a must in accounting
There are a few different paths you can take to become an accountant, you just need to be confident in maths and be willing to learn (Source: Pixabay)

Luckily, most Australian universities do not have many requirements for those students looking to apply for a bachelor degree in Accounting. This means that gaining entry to a university to study accounting is relatively easily attainable for many students.

For example, Swinburne University in Melbourne offers a 3 year bachelor degree in accounting which will allow you to work as a CPA in Australia, the only requirements being that you have a 60 or higher ATAR. This 60 ATAR will actually guarantee you entry to this course, meaning that you might even still have a chance if you apply with a lower score.

Other than this, you will usually not need to have studied any particular subjects at school, or have any previous work experience - The most important things is to have good numerical literacy and an enthusiasm to learn.

Some universities may, however, have other or more difficult requirements. For entry to a Bachelor of Commerce at The University of Melbourne you will need to score at least 25 in both English and Maths in your year 12 exams, and have an ATAR of around 92.

Clearly there is variation in entry requirements, but you are more likely to find courses which require lower ATAR scores than those that are 90+.

Further, you may come across accounting courses which do not have prerequisites of high school results, but where it may be beneficial for you to have these anyway. This is because some courses will cover a basic Maths and English literacy program, but if you can already prove you are proficient in these areas you have the chance to gain credit and potentially finish your course earlier.

What You Need to be Qualified to Practice as an Accountant

A diploma or degree can be a great place to start your education in accounting, but you can then get qualified further through one of the major accounting bodies in Australia. We will look at this more in depth a bit later, but each of the three recognised accounting institutes in Australia first require you to obtain a bachelor degree before considering membership.

However, to just get started in the field you have a few options in front of you:

  • Internships/work experience at entry level positions
  • A diploma of accounting
  • A bachelor or master degree of accounting
  • A bachelor degree in which you major in accounting
  • Post graduate study options to gain knowledge in specific areas - such as business accounting

Essentially, if you plan to make accounting your life long career you really should be completing a bachelor degree to ensure you are qualified to practice in Australia. Other online training courses or short courses are out there, but a degree will guarantee that you can progress in your career and join an Australian accounting institute.

Accountants that you meet in your career and study with at university will all have different backgrounds and different levels of experience. Some may have gone straight into studying accounting, others may have started later in life after deciding on a career change.

This makes accounting an interesting professional world where your colleagues will have a large variety of life experience and previous skills.

Because of this, it's important to not compare yourself to others in this profession, especially when going for job interviews and promotions, as every accountant (including yourself) will be unique in their own way.

If you want to learn more about taking accounting classes online to get you started or supplement your university education, follow this link.

Each course has different requirements but most are easily attainable
Finding the right course for you can be a daunting process, but many universities in Australia offer well established courses for low entry requirements (Source: Pixabay)

Australian Institutes of Accounting

As we have discussed previously, there are three main legally recognised accounting institutes in Australia with who you can gain membership and further you career. Let's take a look at them.

CPA Australia

CPA Australia describes itself as "An international, interconnected member organisation". They have over 168,000 members throughout the world, and aim to provide each of them with:

  • Education
  • Training
  • Technical Support
  • Advocacy

Through this, CPA Australia and it's members present the views and concerns of the accounting profession to government bodies, industries, and the public.

CPA Australia Program

To become a member of CPA Australia, you must first complete the CPA program that they offer. This is a course that is usually only open to accountants who have completed a relevant bachelor degree, however they also "Welcome applicants with diverse educational backgrounds".

If this is the case for you, you may need to complete some further studies before you can apply for the CPA program.

This means that you can still apply to take the program even if you don't specifically have a bachelor in accounting. However, to join the CPA program you must complete some foundation exams to ensure that you have the relevant skills and knowledge to progress.

The program is comprised of 4 main units, and 2 electives. The main units of study are:

  • Ethics and Governance
  • Financial Reporting
  • Strategic Management Accounting
  • Global Strategy and Leadership

There are a range of electives to choose from, but if you have not yet studied taxation and auditing - This is what you must choose.

Accounting institutes' programs can usually be completed online
The exams and units of study you need to complete for these programs can often be done online (Source: Pixabay)

Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ)

CA ANZ is another accounting body in Australia that is well respected, their website tells us more about them:

"Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) represents more than 128,000 financial professionals, supporting them to make a difference to the businesses, organisations and communities in which they work and live. Chartered Accountants are known as Difference Makers. The depth and breadth of their expertise helps them to see the big picture and chart the best course of action."

This institute often runs events and conferences for it's members, allowing them to make professional connections and gain access to resources.

How to Become a Chartered Accountant

A Chartered Accountant is simply an accredited accountant who has specialised in a particular area of accounting. Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand provide a program in which you can gain the education to make this a reality.

This program has four steps to complete throughout the process, being:

  • Work out if you are eligible to become a Chartered Accountant
  • Put in a provisional application to CA ANZ
  • Enrol in the CA program to complete three years of mentored practical experience
  • Apply for your full membership

Eligibility relies on many things such as your academic background, competency in required areas, English language proficiency, character assessment, and more. One thing that all accountants need to do is follow the golden rules and principles of accounting, something that will be considered in your eligibility requirements.

Institute of Public Accountants (IPA)

The last accounting body that we will look at today is IPA. This institute and it's members focus their efforts on small businesses; 75% of their 40,000+ members work with small businesses, or are themselves a small business. Because of this, their aims and goals are described by themselves as:

"To improve the quality of life of small business.

We recognise the vital contribution that small business makes to the economy globally. As trusted advisers, IPA members play a pivotal role in the lives of their small business clients and are in an ideal position to support the productivity, growth and prosperity of small business; thus making a genuine economic contribution."

They aim to have one of their members involved with every small business in Australia to support them and help them thrive.

Becoming a Member

There are three levels of membership within IPA. These are:

  • Associate
  • Member
  • Fellow

Which category you fall into will depend on your experience and how your career is progressing. If you are a graduate accountant, for example, you will be an associate of IPA until you have a few years of experience under your belt and can comfortably practice accounting.

One way to fast track this is to take the IPA program. This program aims to expose accountants to new ideas and concept, whilst improving you critical analysis skills and your ability to provide strategic advice to your clients.

This program is an excellent way to progress your career as an accountant, as well as network with colleagues and gain an MBA.

Accounting is an exciting career with endless paths of progression that you can explore. The Australian accounting institutes can help you further your education and career, whilst teaching you how to make a difference in the lives of your clients. 

 

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Daniel

A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.