ACCA Exams and why you should avoid them.

In my capacity as COO of eQuality Time I have recently gained an ACCA Diploma in Accounting and Business by passing three exams and an ethics module. It’s an RQF level 4 Qualification making it roughly the same level as the first year of a degree course. I’m very much not recommending it except in very specific circumstances and have tried to write down why.

EQuality Time’s smaller projects are funded by grants from large grant making organisations. Quite reasonably such organisations like to see evidence that applicants manage money well. Sometimes this is about simple policies ‘are there accounts?’ but as we’ve grown it’s more often ‘Who is responsible and what are their qualifications?’.

This was made explicit for us when we had our finance systems reviewed a while back: we should have a bit more financial knowledge in our trustees and staff, and we should be able to evidence it to funders with some lines on the CV. To this end, we’ve recruited another trustee who has improved things at that level, and I’ve been doing some training and qualification gaining.

The learning

I enjoyed learning generally about the topic from such noted educators as ‘YouTube’ and occasionally Google. It really is a topic that benefits from ‘Here is a couple of hours on the basics’ rather than ‘Google your specific question’. It’s been much more about learning a language that a process – We’ve always understood the concepts, but now I know what they are called and It’s easier to read things like companies house returns for organisations we might work for. Moreover my reports to the trustees have been much more standardised and more easily shown to people outside the organisation.

I think now was the right time to have done it; we’ve only just reached a size were it’s beneficial, and it would have wasted resources to do it earlier.

The Qualification

I picked the ACCA on the back of Googling for the most recognised accounting qualifications and on the basis they had a qualification of about the right level for me.

The exams themselves aren’t particularly hard, and the syllabus isn’t particularly challenging. Each exam was probably about 20 hours of:

  • read textbook
  • do mock exams
  • read textbook again
  • take exam

Which doesn’t count the YouTubing I did earlier when exploring around the topic.

There were two major problems:

  • The official materials were terrible
  • The cost

Anyone following me on Twitter will have seen quite a lot of ranting on the first topic. The officially 2019 study text has sections on the Data Protection Act to learn, despite it not being in force anymore. There are spelling errors, there are maths errors (particularly annoying in a textbook – having to think “Do I not understand this question or is the maths wrong?” is a really annoying way of trying to learn). There are screenshots of software on Windows 95. It’s truly amazing.

There’s also a bizarre amount of right-wingism: “Unions bad! Minimum wage bad!”, which isn’t really something that’s entirely on the syllabus. There’s obviously a lot in there which isn’t charity specific as well, which is fine, and lot that isn’t our charity specific either, which is also fine.

Joining the ACCA to be able to take the exams is £70. Turns out that doesn’t include the membership fee of £112, the exam fees of £110 a time, £14 for each set of mock exams and the text books at about £35 a time. I Googled several times to check I’d joined the right organisation rather than some sort of scam.

So effectively, there’s been a payment of £659 to certify my knowledge with a diploma from a prestigious organisation. I continue to believe this was the right course of action – there are better suited and cheaper qualifying organisations, but not that many that would be as recognisable to people reviewing grants. If this qualification is the extra thing that gets us one big grant then it will be well worth it, but I don’t think I’d recommend it to other people.

One more detail: Comic Relief gave us some money specifically ring-fenced for bringing finance and processes up to code so we used that money for this. I think I would have been much more reluctant if it had come out of money intended for end-users.


Some choice example tweets below. None of which were ever responded to by the ACCA.