Becoming an Accountant in Canada
Canada's accounting programs support the concept that accountants should learn how their work affects business decisions, rather than strictly being taught accounting practices. Today’s professional accountants practice critical thinking, make presentations, apply research to practice, and understand the many facets of business management.
The four general career paths in accounting each offer a unique series of career possibilities and specializations to consider. Many choose to serve in their primary role as accountants, while others are drawn to the world of business and finance where opportunities for further specialization could lead to positions in management. Others prefer to perform audit and attestation functions, either as employees of accounting firms providing external audit services to business clients, or as company employees performing internal audits that serve their employers directly. Government and non-profit work gives accountants the unique opportunity to manage funds with respect to tax revenue and donations.
The decision to pursue a career in the field of accounting is generally made in tandem with the decision to follow one of the general career paths: public accounting, private/management accounting, internal auditing, or government accounting.
Canada’s Four Accounting Credentialing Bodies
Each of Canada’s four credentialing bodies for accountants grants a unique, but reasonably comparable, credential to candidates that have met education, examination, and experiential requirements:
The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA) awards the Chartered Accountant (CA) credential. It is the umbrella organization under which the 13 provincial and territorial institutional licensing bodies operate. CICA is responsible for maintaining national standards in advanced level CA education modules administered through the four regional educational bodies. The CA designation requires a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite to enrolling in educational modules that are participated in while candidates complete the required three years of competency based practical experience through chartered accountant training offices known as CATOs. CICA also maintains national testing standards and administers the Uniform Evaluation (UFE), the completion of which is the final step towards becoming a CA.
Certified General Accountants Association of Canada (CGA-Canada) confers the CGA credential and functions as the umbrella organization under which the provincial and territorial affiliates operate. Earning the CGA credential requires first satisfying undergraduate requirements through an approved bachelor’s degree program. Undergraduates can then enroll in the CGA Professional Applications and Competence Evaluations (PACE) program. While enrolled, candidates simultaneously gain the three years of required on-the-job experience. Each PACE component concludes with a four-hour competency exam. Successfully completing PACE education and exams, along with the 36 months of practical experience, will result in the issuance of the CGA credential.
Certified Management Accountants of Canada (CMA-Canada) has an affiliated partnerships structure that includes twelve provincial and regional partners that grant the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation to qualified candidates operating within their jurisdictions. The accreditation process involves meeting educational prerequisites by earning a four-year degree through an approved program, and is unique from other credentialing programs in that it requires passing a national entrance examination before beginning the Strategic Leadership Program. Two years of full time practical work experience is participated in concurrent with participation in the two-year long Strategic Leadership Program in order to ultimately earn the CMA credential.
Society of Professional Accountants of Canada (SPAC) awards the Registered Professional Accountant (R.P.A.) credential to qualified applicants. Earning the designation requires the completion of 12 prerequisite courses, three years of practical work experience, and the four-hour long Mandatory Accreditation Examination. The R.P.A. will be awarded reciprocally to accountants that hold APA, CA, CGA, CMA, U.S.-CPA, or U.K.-ACCA credentials.