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ACPA / ICPA / IFA - which to choose?

ACPA / ICPA / IFA - which to choose?

Provided I qualify to become a member of ACPA / ICPA / IFA which would be the best to chose?

I have read alot on here about ICPA and their benefits and support. There isn't so much about ACPA but they seem to be similar in type. The IFA seem to differ slightly from both.

I would be particularly keen to hear from current members from any of these organisations, with their opinions on the services and support provided.

Also in terms of a quality perception in accounting circles, are all three on a par?

What about the future of each of the bodies? In terms of membership numbers and development, and where are they headed in terms of standing in the profession in the future?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


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02nd Apr 2010 14:06

ICPA 670 + Practices and Growing

When we started the ICPA a few years ago we tried to make it the organisation dedicated to the Accountant in Practice because we were accountants in practice and we had been let down over the years by institutes purporting to support us but not actually understanding what was required.

Our members benefits ranging from the £350,000 PI Insurance to the Telephone Support Helpline, to the Cloud Software, to the Tottel Tax Books, to the Locumn service, to the significant software savings are testimony to our success. To see all the bnenefits just visit for those I have missed.

Today we have in excess of 670 member practices which allowing for partners is in excess of 800 individual Accountants.

As our numbers have grown so has our standing within the Profession. We now have ICPA Representatives on numerous WT Groups around the Country, we reply to consultations whenever they effect our members and recently I was asked to attend Number 11 Downing Street to discuss Tax and SME's, which is further testiment to our growing reputation. Our in-house magazine Accounting Practice carries two pages per issue given over to HMRC and Brian Redford Head of HMRC Dealing with Agents has used this platform to publicise issues they believe Agents need to be aware of.

We pioneered free CPE originally supplied on disc and now delivered to members via the Internet. Each issue includes a 3 hour Mercia lecture complete with notes and lots more. Recently we have signed up TAXtv to be shown to members at meetings and we sponsor the AcountingWeb Annual Awards.

Small practice Accountants need and deserve an organisation dedicated to them and we have tried to make the ICPA fulfill this aim. Other organisations and Institutes purport to support the small practitioner but over the years this has been shown to be rhetoric which was why started the ICPA and why we are gaining members every week.

I know as Chairman, you will think I'm biased in what I write and obviously I am, but I am very proud of our achievements and hopeful for the future and if all I have done is to get you to our website then I will have succeeded.

Anyway if you simply want to have a chat about anything just give me a call on 0800-074-2896 and I'll be happy to talk to you.

Tony Margaritelli - Chair ICPA









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By Anonymous
02nd Apr 2010 14:12

Provided you qualify?

If you want to 'qualify' as an accountant, I would choose ICAEW, ACCA, CIMA or CIPFA.  It's harder to get there, but you can then say you are 'qualified' to do the job that you will be charging people for.  There's nothing wrong with the other associations and many qualified people also join them, but it's only by qualifying properly that you will really understand your job.

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02nd Apr 2010 17:30

ICPA? I wouldn't class them in the same category as the other two.

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02nd Apr 2010 19:31


i wouldn't class them in the same league as the other two either - they actually provide value for their fees and support their members.

Jason Dormer

Seahorse (UK) Ltd - For accountants and bookkeepers

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09th Apr 2010 11:34


I have been a member of ACPA for many years, being involved with London, Kent, Hampshire and Sussex branches.

The organisation runs regular CPE seminars, provides professional indemnity insurance and is well respected by banks and other mortgage lenders.

The meetings provide a chance for interaction between members who can give each other advice.

It is the one for me.

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09th Apr 2010 12:00

ACPA/ICPA/IFA: Which to choose?

I have been a member of the ICPA from its inception and have nothing but praise for everything it represents and provides. I would recommend, without reservation, that you apply for membership as you have an enormous amount to gain by becoming a member.  If you would like to discuss any aspects of this, or indeed come along to our next area meeting, which is informal and informative, Thursday am 6 May 2010, Bristol then you are welcome to contact me. 

Paul Evans 01443 209209

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By chatman
09th Apr 2010 14:13


I do not really know about the other two, but ICPA seems to offer some good benefits (PII, PEI, CPD etc).  

With regard to public perception of the letters after your name, I do not think the vast majority of the public knows the difference between one set of letters and another. 

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09th Apr 2010 14:14

Why not all?

Really really happy with the ICPA.  Tottel books included in membership and extremely helpful tech support.

We're in the IFA as well and one of the benefits here is a good deal on the BPP monthly tax updates.  Well worth the annual membership.

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By Anonymous
10th Apr 2010 16:26

Non CCAB bodies

This sounds like a leading question, with references to "membership numbers", "growth", "standing in the profession" etc and several plugs by an organisation called the ICPA. If this is a genuine student looking for advice on which body to join, perhaps the student should look to organisations such as ACCA, ICAEW, ICAS or CIMA which, though are members of CCAB, they compete amongst themselves and a quick glance at their websites reveals a wealth of support services for accountants in practice, as well as auditors, in the case of the ACCA and Institites of CA. Whilst it is true that the consumer of accounting services is often confused by the variety of qualifications held by those who advertise public accounting services, a number of factors exist that should help:

- is the association or institute operating in the public interest, or is it a trade association for its members only?

- are there standards of qualification in place, and are these enforced in the public interest?

- does the association operate a system for monitoring the quality of professional work carried out by members?

There are global standards that apply to the professional bodies (implemented by the International Federation of Accountants - IFAC), as well as standards for professional practice and ethics. One way of distinguishing between all of the UK bodies would be to determine which (a) are members of IFAC and (b) recognized as accountants (accountancy bodies) by the FRC-UK/Company Law and (c) enjoy market recognition associated with the grant of the Royal Charter. This all leads back to a choice amongst the CCAB bodies. Whilst the other bodies mentioned seem to mean well, and serve their members effectively, the impact of having up to 9 or 10 will add to public confusion.........

There are a lot of "accountants" in the UK whose unique sales proposition amounts to fear. They get beween taxpayers and the Inland Revenue, implying that without their services, the tax liabilities would be higher, or more severe penalties imposed. Many CCAB and non CCAB service providers engage in this form of marketing, which projects the profession as an extension of the enforcement arm of HRMC, which is a pity.  Whilst tax advice is rendered necessary because of the complexity of the UK tax system, I would have thought that the true profession existed to add value, create jobs and promote investment in the economy, rather than the lower grade work of bookkeeping and advising clients on how to read what is on the Inland Revenue website.



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By ColinAD
12th Apr 2010 09:04

icpa or acpa?

To me this question is a no brainer.

From 1996 to 2001 when the ICPA was formed I was a member of ACPA.  The services received from ICPA are in a different class.  THe PI insurance of over £300,00 is with a quality Company, the magazine is not only of a professional layout but includes current articles of immediate use to all Accountants, qualified or not.  They were the first to provide free CPE, and the quality of the help line is second to none, and is of enormous importance to small Accountants who do not have the back up of a large staff behind them.

The value of that alone covers the cost of the subscriptions, and the PI insurance would also cost virtually as much as the subscriptions.  If this is added to all the other benefits one would be hard pressed to work out how it is done.  Tony Margaritelli the Chairman spends vast amount of time speaking to and helping members and there is always someone available to answer any questions that may arise.

Before anyone chips in let me say that I am a Director of the ICPA, but without doubt if I were not there is no way that I would not continue to be a member of this organisation which is expanding both membership and benefits on a year by year basis, and I like Tony and the other Directors are proud to be associated with it, and are always available to give existing, and prospective members any help they may need. 

We intend to continue to expand and increase the value to our members, so give us a ring it will be the most valuable call you make this year.


Colin Dunn



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12th Apr 2010 09:52

I dont understand the constant dissing of the ICPA

Let me just say I am not and nor have I ever been  an ICPA member, or connected with it.

I have been a member of the ICAEW for twenty years.

I think the stuff ICPA offers its members is great value for money. If I were a sole practitioner I would gladly give them my money (in addition to retaining my ICAEW membership of course).

Also I think they have done a great deal to improve standards by insisting on PI cover qand CPD, and PROVIDING the CPD materials.

I will also say I dont understand ICAEW members giving up their qualification either, and saying it is not relevant to them - they obviously know nothing about marketing.


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12th Apr 2010 12:23


The big difference between the IFA and the other two is that the IFA is a professional accountancy body which operates in the public interest.

The ICPA is a membership group which provides useful networking and benefits, but is not a professional body obliged to work in the public interest. The ACPA should not be confused with the normal understanding of the term "CPA" (Certified Public Accountant) and is for instance unrelated to the American CPAs (the largest professional accountancy body in the world), which has a UK Chapter or the Australian CPAs. However, it is a relative newcomer  in the UK, so let's not be too precious about this; there are many smaller accountancy bodies which operate or have members in the UK, which have a lesser recognition but may have very professional individual members.

IFA Members are normally admitted either through examinations or prior qualification at a higher level (ICAEW/ACCA/CIMA/ICAS/ICAI etc), or occasionally admitted as a result of a number of years of practical experience supported by the necessary evidence. Membership fees are somewhat lower than those of the CCAB bodies, but practising members have to pay additional fees for both the Practising Certificate and AML Supervision.

The IFA expects its members in practice to provide evidence of annual CPD, and it has disciplinary process. The Practising Certificate is annually renewable and requires evidence to be supplied of holding adequate PII. Practising members are also expected to issue Letters of Engagement before undertaking work for clients and to have Continuity Arrangements in place to come into operation in the event of illness or death.

As a Supervisory Authority under HM Treasury for the purposes of the Money Laundering Regulations 2007, the IFA treats its duties seriously and maintains an up-to-date body of information and guidance on its website ( for its members and those of the FTA, which is now part of the IFA group. This information is on the "public" part of the IFA website and can be viewed by anyone.

Last year the IFA was elected to Associate Membership of IFAC, and is striving to ensure rapid compliance iwth the IFAC Statements of Membership Obligation.

The IFA puts its members first; it specialises in providing support for accountants working in and with SMEs. though the membership is by no means limited to this sector. Part of that support is through providing guidance, part through access to technical helplines run by experts. The alliance with the Federation of Tax Agents provides specialist taxation guidance. The IFA publishes a magazine every two months ("Financial Accountant") and also provides a number of electronic newsletters to members, including, most recently, a bi-monthly AML e-newsletter. There are a number of IFA District Societies which hold events in different parts of the UK, and there is currently a series of Regional Seminars under way (the next is in Leeds on 22 April). "The proof of the pudding is in the eating", or rather on our website!

Martin Nimmo, Manager - Professional Standards, IFA.

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By Anonymous
12th Apr 2010 14:13

Think about AIA

Why not consider being AIA member?


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By Anonymous
13th Apr 2010 10:04

None of the above?

My original question was not meant to be leading and I have no affiliation with any of the bodies I mentioned previously. I just wanted some thoughts and opinions on which offered the best value & service.

My position is that I am currently employed but wish to begin to provide my services on a part time self employed basis to try to build up a client base, so it will prob be a slow burner for me.

As long as i am registered for ML and have my own indem insurance, maybe i shouldn't burden myself at this stage with expensive fees and subscriptions? I would be just concerned that people would look for an affiliation on my stationery and correspondance as I try to market and build up the business gradually.

Any thoughts on this would be very much appreciated.

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13th Apr 2010 11:27

Benefits from joining ACPA
 Designation/ Designatory Letters (Association)

Members of the Association may use the designation:

Certified Public Accountant

They may also use the following designatory letters after their name:

ACPA (Associates)FCPA (Fellows) Associate/ Fellowship CertificatePractising Certificate (qualifying Members/ Regulated Persons)Certificate of Professional Competence (qualifying Members)Recognition by all the major banks and building societiesFree professional indemnity insurance (once accepted on cover by the insurer)Free continuing professional education programmeFree regular copy of Practising Accountant MagazineFree regular copy of Accountants’ Review NewsletterLogbuy discount cardDesignatory letters for overseas members CPAukThe CPA has membership of the: International Association of Accounting and Educational ResearchEuropean Accounting AssociationBritish Accounting Association

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13th Apr 2010 23:19

IFA leading body of accountants representing SMEs and SMPs

My colleague Martin Nimmo has explained the regulatory role of the IFA above  - but I would like to add a few additional facts about the IFA:

·         We were founded in 1916 so have nearly 100 years of experience - we are governed by a member-elected Council, the current Chair of which is Eric Anstee, a former CEO of the ICAEW and now a member of the FRC (Financial Reporting Council). Our Honorary President is Professor David Hunt, a former Chair of the IFAC Education Committee and a widely respected figure in the world of Accounting. This structure ensures that member interests are fully reflected in the governance of the Institute and both practising and employed IFA members and Fellows serve on Council. We thus represent the interests of our 9000+ members in our governance. Operating surpluses are ploughed back into developing the Institute rather than being paid away.·         The IFA  offers a range of “commercial” services” such as preferential PII rates for members through its strategic partners - but perhaps more importantly offers a qualifying educational programme, unlike other bodies which are more akin to Trade Associations. Education is at the heart of supporting members needs -   the IFA has recently relaunched its education programme and is rolling this out in tuition centres in the UK and around the world. The programme is fully supported by high quality tuition materials provided by BPP. Our particular specialism is supporting the SME sector (which is where the majority of our members work) and we focus on training and supporting professional financial specialists for SMEs. The quality of our education programme is reflected in the exemptions given by other professional bodies such as ICAEW and by recognition from a number of UK universities.·         In 2009 the Federation of Tax Advisors became part of the IFA, with many of our members doing tax work as well as the usual range of accounting and business advice services. The FTA is being developed as the IFA’s tax faculty and offers its own qualifications, membership grades and BPP supported CPD.·         We are recognised by HM Treasury to regulate/supervise our members for the purposes of the Money Laundering Regulations 2007. We are also associate members of IFAC (International Federation of Accountants) which is the global standard setting body for accountants, and have a clear strategy to upgrade to full membership. Our membership application was sponsored by ICAEW, which undertook the due diligence required by IFAC, and publically supported by all 6 of the CCAB bodies. We subscribe to the IFAC code of ethics as do the CCAB bodies. All members of the IFA in practice must subscribe to the code as part of the annual renewal of their practicing certificates which can be withdrawn (and the member sanctioned, fined or expelled) in the event of misconduct. We regulate and discipline members and handle client complaints through a rigorous disciplinary process. Needless to say all practicing members must hold Professional Indemnity Insurance and undertake compulsory annual CPD to keep their professional competence and learning up to date.·         Accounts prepared by our members are generally recognised by UK banks and many other organisations to support borrowing applications made by their clients. ·         The IFA actively engages in debate with government departments and other opinion forming bodies and works locally with, for instance, HMRC through its Working Together initiative. The question boils down to one of whether a prospective member is looking for the full range of professional membership body benefits or is rather looking more for the type of benefit that might come from a trade association. It is easy to be seduced by headline rates for PI Insurance but the choice of which body to join should be based on a wider set of considerations than price alone. Sharon JanduDirector, Marketing and CommunicationsInstitute of Financial Accountants  

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15th Apr 2010 00:31

Yes membership would help


My advice as someone who has started a practice from scratch is that a professional designation is a distinct advantage as you try to attract your first clients, and worth the initial investment, I always found it good marketing. I am slightly biased like most of  the  posters on this thread, as I have been a member if the Institute of Financial Accountants for many years, first working in industry and then in practice. I am not a paid employee of the IFA, however I am an elected council member, and Vice Chairman of the IFA Council.    It is only possible for me to talk about the IFA, and I would not wish to criticise any other organisation. In the case of the IFA i feel clients will put some weight on their potential accountant being a member of a recognised professional body such as the IFA.   Membership also provides some perceived advantages to clients·   Members have a practising certificate and are expected to operate within a suitable code of conduct and ethics..·   Members have to hold adequate Professional Indemnity Insurance·   Members have a continuity arrangement in place to come into effect in the event of illness or death.    ·   Letter of engagement are required-  Continuing professional development   The IFA is also an associate member of IFAC after our application was supported by the CCAB bodies, in addition we are also recognised under the money laundering regulations (Supervisory body). The strength of the IFA though is in its membership, as we have thousands of excellent members up and down the country and also worldwide.    The IFA also provides support to members through technical helpdesks etc and also regional and local meetings, I am certain you would be welcome to attend one of these meetings and I am certain this would help to make up your mind. Not certain of your educational qualifications or professional experience, however these would have to be assessed to ensure at which membership grade you would be eligible to join. 

John Chapman

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By john59
15th Apr 2010 09:49

A difference that counts


The Institute of Financial Accountants certainly does differ from both the ICPA and ACPA. The IFA was established in 1916 and is a larger organization than both the ICPA and the ACPA with around 9,000 members. In fact it is the largest organization of its kind in the world. As an Institute, rather than an accountancy organization they are the only body of the three that is self-regulatory in relation to the Money Laundering Regulations. Both ICPA and ACPA have to be regulated by HMRC. The institute is also an associate member of IFAC. The IFA have recently reviewed their strategy and one of their stated aims is to tailor their services particularly to accountants in practice who deal with small and medium enterprises. There are flexible entry requirements and different grades of membership, which can be achieved via an APL process or by achieving the IFA qualification (IFA have just developed new syllabus 2010). They have a specialist Tax division in the form of the Federation of Tax Advisers who themselves are highly regarded for their expertise so IFA members are uniquely placed within the non chartered community to provide an all around service to both SMEs and industry. Benefits of joining the IFA include acceptance of accounts by all of the major high street banks including Santander and majority of other finance organizations, discounted PI insurance, access to telephone help line support and access to the ICAEW library information services. Practicing Members are required to achieve 30 CPD points per year to retain a practicing certificate and many of these points can be accrued through attendance at regular monthly meetings of the local District Societies of which they have excellent coverage throughout the country, which provide good opportunities for networking with fellow professionals and sharing relevant issues. Further information on all aspects of the IFA can be obtained from the web link John HornbyMember of IFA

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By colinl
31st Aug 2010 15:39

ICPA without hesitation

 I was a member of the ICPA for a while but resigned when I went back into industry for an easier life. The benefits of membership mean you easily recoup the fees.

when I was looking around I approached the ACPA but no one responded unlike the ICPA who were always prompt and efficient. 

As an ex-IAB member (FIAB) I was aware of the IFA but not sure what they offered. Certainly it made no sense to me to gain membership and preferred the offering from AAT. They were aligned with the IAB but the two separated.  

I think the ICPA is now occupying some of the ground which could have been held by the IFA had it not been apparently drifting along for years. But yes I accept the IFA is different to the ICPA/ACPA but I do wonder of its future and there have been previous hints of a 'merger' (takeover) with AAT I think. 








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01st Sep 2010 00:04



I was once interested in joining the IFA and when I saw their supposed membership numbers I was amazed.

So I asked them to confirm them and they wouldn't.

There is nothing that proves they have the numbers they say they have.

If they can not prove their membership numbers what hope is there for the support of their members.

I sat the exams of another body that was transparent and can now safely say I am a qualified accountant.

On another point. I was also told that if I used the title "certified" and I had not sat an exam of competency and I was sued by a client I would almost certainly lose. They reason I was given is that there was once a body in the UK that used "Certified Public Accountants" when it was effectively nothing more that a trade body and was told by the High Court it couldn't use it when they were sued by the ACCA to stop them using the title "Certified"  


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29th Oct 2010 23:27


If you use the letters IFA does that not give a completely different impression? As in Independent Financial Adviser?

Has anyone had that problem?

As regards to the previous post, surely if you have adequate PI Cover then you are covered against claims of this nature. As the insurers would be aware of the associations you belong to, and the nature of work carried out.




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By akramco
12th Sep 2011 00:34

I think all 3 are similar in UK at the moment (ACPA maybe being slightly ahead in prestige) but in the future I see CPA taking over the other two simply because of the reputation of certified public accountants in the USA and around the world being so high.

Imagine you own a business and are looking for an accountant and know barely anything about accountants, based on the name who would you go for?
A) Certified Public Accountant (ACPA)?
B) Financial Accountant (IFA)?
C) Certified Practicing Accountant (ICPA)?

I would go for A certified public accountant sounds just that much more prestigious than the other two. In fact if I knew nothing about accountants and wanted basic tax services I would probably even choose a CPA over a chartered management accountant (CIMA).


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