Accountancy practices tend to prefer candidates to hold some form of accounting qualification whether that’s ACA or ACCA and ideally with first time passes.
Completing the ICAEW chartered accountant qualification acts as a good grounding for forging a career in corporate finance, in that it gives you a better understanding of the foundations required once you move into the industry, which you are unlikely to have obtained through traditional education.
There are many aspects of corporate finance where an accounting qualification can come into use, specifically when carrying out due diligence.
Overall, an accounting qualification is more useful within a transaction support role, as opposed to a lead advisory/M&A focused role.
Are accounting qualifications essential for corporate finance roles?
Holding an accounting qualification would definitely put you in a strong position when applying for corporate finance roles. In fact, if you work in professional services and have a desire to move into corporate finance then an accounting qualification is somewhat expected. The ACA is the most common qualification.
However, if you have trained at a corporate finance boutique, PE house or an investment bank the qualification isn’t as essential.
It also depends on what sector you’re looking to move into. An accounting qualification is likely to help you move into a financial services or a FIG role and probably holds less importance in sectors like oil & gas, retail and leisure, for example.
It seems as though some firms are stricter than others when it comes to applicants holding an accounting qualification as a prerequisite to obtaining the role.
It has become more apparent that the ACA or ACCA qualification can be outweighed by holding solid transactional experience. We are starting to see more candidates being called in for interviews based on how many deals they’ve worked on from origination to completion, as opposed to what qualifications they have.
Another qualification that is very relevant to corporate finance is the CFA.
The CFA is split into ten topic areas which are known to ‘provide the framework for making investment decisions’ according to the CFA Institute. Although it may be more relevant, we are more likely to be asked by accountancy practices to find candidates who hold an accounting qualification with first-time passes rather than the CFA.
How to make the move into corporate finance
If you're looking to make the step into corporate finance from another area, it is worth completing a secondment/internship or pushing for some sort of exposure within the field.
There are many candidates within audit who are accounting qualified wanting to make the move into corporate finance and sometimes being ACA or ACCA qualified just might not be enough.
Even taking an extra course in financial modelling and working on start-up projects alongside work can help you stand out from the crowd. This also demonstrates your interest in corporate finance and the additional effort in trying to make the move.
As a candidate, it can be quite tough to obtain the ‘perfect’ background to move into corporate finance or to progress within the field, as every client’s requirements are so different across the industry.
As an employer, you could potentially be missing out on quality candidates because they decided to complete the CFA instead of the ACA or ACCA
Should the CFA be valued higher than an accountancy qualification due to its relevancy in the field? Also, should transactional experience on certain occasions outweigh having a specific qualification? Something to think about...