I’ve given my shot at this below. I’m an ACCA so I’ll start with these and make some comparisons with the other bodies where relevant, and also set out what I know about the other bodies under their own headings.
ACCA has over 140,000 members and over 400,000 students in over 170 countries. There would be over half as many ACCA members in Ireland compared to CAI members, but now has almost twice as many current students than CAI.
ACCA considers itself a global body, but are missing some key reciprocal agreements in Anglo countries, such as the US, Canada and Australia where the CAI have better agreements with its sister organisations. ICPAI also have a reciprocal agreement with CPA Australia. <personal opinion alert> I think this is because ACCA are set up in these countries and would be seen as competitors rather than partners.
ACCA members and Students would be found in small and medium sized practices, but are slowly breaking into some of the big four. ACCA members would also be found at all levels of industry, but most top jobs would remain with CAI members <personal opinion alert> possibly due to historical legacy.
The ACCA exams along with CIMA’s would be rated as among the hardest. Rates are lower than CAI’s exams. Its not unusual for final audit paper to have a lower than 30% pass rate at an individual sitting.
ACCA has for a number of years allowed options in the final stages of its qualification. Broadly speaking there is the traditional audit route or the Management Accounting route (similar to CIMA’s qualification).
ACCA students study in third party colleges, whereas CAI students study in CAI colleges. ACCA rate colleges as ACCA approved, ACCA Gold Approved, and ACCA Platinum Approved. There would also be other non approved colleges that offer ACCA lectures.
Teaching Council of Ireland recognise ACCA (and ICPAI) for the purposes of teaching three subjects to leaving cert level. Business Studies, Economics and Accounting. CAI are only recognised for Business Studies and Accounting.
Annual membership fee approx €200 euro approx a third of CAI and ICPAI fees.
Studying costs are borne by student whereas CAI students (excluding Elevation students) have these fees paid for them.
ACCA students require 3 years approved experience (one of which can be before joining ACCA, but 2 years must be after joining).
ACCA, CAI, CPA and IIPA members can receive a practice certificate or audit certificate if they receive the relevant approved experience.
ACCA qualification has been rated at HETAC level 9 (same level as masters degree).
Designation: ACCA for Member and FCCA for Fellow – can call themselves Chartered Certified Accountant
The oldest accountancy body in Ireland with over 19,000 members (mostly on the island of Ireland).
ACA would be considered the premium designation, although somewhat diluted since ACCA members became chartered (see below paragraph on chartered satus) in the 90s.
It has excellent reciprocal agreements in the UK, US, Australia and Canada with only tax and legal papers required to get membership of local premier bodies in US, Australia and Canada.
ACA’s will be found in small, medium and the largest practices as well as in industry.
ACA students enter into contracts with ACA approved firms (practice or less usual, industry) and cannot become members until a certain amount of time has elapsed - from 3.5 years to 5 years depending on whether you join as a graduate or school leaver.
Elevation Programme – A recent development from CAI (moving it closer to ACCA’s structure) in that you can study for CAI exams without being in a contract). You pay for your own study, but must eventually enter a contract and serve your time before becoming a full member.
ACA also provide their students with mock exams before sitting the real thing.
ACA qualification has been rated at HETAC level 9 (same level as masters degree).
Designation: ACA for member and FCA for Fellow – Can call themselves Chartered Accountant.
An Irish based accountancy body with over 5,000 on its books (including members and students).
It’s members would mostly work in practice with small and medium sized practices, with some working in industry.
CPA is not a member of the CCAB (like ACCA, CAI, and CIMA), but are members of the CCAB-I (as are ACCA and the CAI).
CPA would not have as much recognition in practice as ACCA or CAI or in industry as CIMA, ACCA and CAI as evidenced by required qualifications in job ads being considerably more often ACA, ACCA or CIMA (if industry) or simply CCAB.
CPA Ireland has an excellent reciprocal agreement with CPA Australia.
The CPA designation is the most common in the world, but CPA Ireland has no connection with, say, the US CPA.
Study is done at third party colleges
Designation: CPA for Member and FCPA for Fellow – Can call themselves Certified Public Accountants
Mostly found in industry – has more than 80,000 members and over 90,000 students worldwide.
It is a very highly thought of qualification in industry scoring excellently in salary surveys.
Would be relatively rare in practice, as its syllabus concentrates less on audit and more on costing and management accounting.
Study is done at third party colleges.
Designation: ACMA for Member and FCMA for Fellow – can call themselves Chartered Management Accountant.
A fully recognised accountancy and audit body in Ireland, with members and students totalling in the hundreds.
It would not have nearly as much recognition as would ACCA, ACA or CPA accountants.
It prides itself as catering to the accounting needs of small businesses.
It gives generous exemptions to students with prior learning.
Designation: AIPA for member and FIPA for Fellow – Can call themselves Incorporated Public Accountant.
Accounting Technicians (AAT, CAT and IATI)
These are Accounting support staff and would be trained to prepare accounts up to trial balance level. Quite a number of people studying these courses do so with the intention of taking membership exams of the ACCA, CAI, CIMA and CPA.
AAT is mostly in the UK, and less so now in Ireland. It is sponsored by the chartered bodies in the UK except ACCA which dropped it in the 90s to start up its own CAT technician brand. IATI is sponsored by the CAI in Ireland.
While a terminal qualification in its own right, it would be considered more of a stepping stone to further qualification.
This is not without debate on boards.ie when it comes to choosing an organisation, so may be helpful.
ICAI (now CAI) were, along with its sister organisations (ICAS and ICAEW) among the first accounting bodies to receive a charter (recognition) from the UK monarchy. This is what chartered means. They have since been able to use the designation ACA (although ICAS were first and can use CA).
ACCA and CIMA received their charter in the last few decades, and are equally chartered. And can call themselves ‘chartered’, but cannot call themselves ‘chartered accountant’ as it is taken, and must call themselves as described in the paragraphs above.
EXCELLENT BODY INFO - See link
This answers a lot of queries people have on the accountancy bodies in Ireland. Student info starts on page 20, ends page 27, but the membership info in the first twenty pages is also excellent.