Do you need a Chartered Accountant (CA) or Certified Public Accountant (CPA)?

By Robert Half on 17 July 2023
Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes

There has been a drastic increase in job opportunities available in the accounting and finance industry in Hong Kong in recent years despite the pandemic. As one of Southeast Asia’s business hubs, Hong Kong is home to more than 40,000 Institute of Certified Public Accountant members.

Why accountants are essential to your business

Accountants are invaluable assets to any business –  helping owners, managers, and investors evaluate the financial performance of their organisation. However, with a number of accounting certifications – the most popular of which are Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), and  Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) – it can be difficult for employers to narrow down what type of accountant they need. 

If you’re uncertain about what sort of accountant you need – specifically, if you’re choosing between a CA and CPA, read on. It’s important to note here, however, that the difference between an accountant and the aforementioned certifications is that the term “accountant” on its own does not require you to hold any specific qualifications. An accountant is someone who, for example, may have studied accountancy at the foundational level. 

Alternatively, CAs and CPAs have professional accreditation, which involves additional study, examinations, and professional work experience. 

Chartered Accountant (CA) or Certified Public Accountant (CPA) – what’s the difference?

To become a Chartered Accountant (CA) in Hong Kong, individuals usually pursue the qualification offered by the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA). The HKICPA is the statutory licensing body responsible for regulating and promoting the accountancy profession in Hong Kong.

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), on the other hand, is an international qualification issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Typically, those with a CPA qualification have 2 or more years of accounting experience as well as a bachelor’s degree in business administration, finance or accounting.

Related: What’s the difference between a Finance Manager and Financial Controller?

If you’re wondering whether a CA or a CPA is better for your business, the answer is either! Depending on what you’re looking for in an accountant, each qualification brings different attributes to the table.

Chartered Accountant (CA) 

  • In Hong Kong, most qualified CAs work in their own firms, or as consultants in public or private firms.
  • CAs are typically more specialised towards auditing and taxes and are better equipped at handling more complex accounting issues. 
  • Additionally, although qualified CAs can and often do work overseas, their qualification from the is tailored to the financial environment in Hong Kong. That said, the CA qualification is globally-recognised, with Reciprocal Membership Agreements signed with other members of Chartered Accountants Worldwide (CAW), including the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) and the Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI). 

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

  • CPA accountants primarily service small- to medium-sized firms.
  • CPAs are certified by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), so are able to work both in the USA and anywhere with American regional offices.
  • CPAs are equipped with a broader frame of knowledge, with more varied accounting skills, making them better suited to contribute to business strategy. Owing to this breadth, CPA qualifications are often considered the “gold standard” for accounting and finance professionals in Hong Kong. 
  • CPA certification requires 150 hours of study on core finance, business, and accounting subjects, and the AICPA requires the certificate to be completed in 18 months.

Related: Hiring and management advice

Which one is better for your business?

Your decision on whether or not you need a Chartered Accountant  or Certified Public Accountant thus depends on your business goals, geographical constraints, and accounting requirements. If you’re looking for someone who can sort out the nitty-gritty, more technical accounting issues, a CA might be what you need. Hong Kong CAs are able to navigate the needs of the Hong Kong and broader Asian market. 

On the other hand, if you’re a small to medium sized enterprise, a CPA might suit your needs well. CPA qualifications span accounting, tax, audit, and risk assessment – which means they can, if suitable, save you heaps of time and money in the long run. 

As the role of the accountant evolves to suit our increasingly digitised, virtual and data-driven world, and demands fluctuate, it’s important to note that you may need one or more differently qualified accountants to suit your organisation. At the end of the day, CPAs and CAs are just two of many accounting certifications to service your needs. 

Still confused about whether your organisation needs a Chartered Accountant  or Certified Public Accountant?

Let us help –  Robert Half is Hong Kong's leading employment agency.

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