Qualified or Unqualified – What’s the difference? By Mark Lee.

Kashflow logo
Share this content

Hot Potato of 2008

Does it matter to clients whether or not their accountant has a professional qualification? That means they have passed tough exams and belong to one of the professional accounting or tax institutes. Obviously I think its a good idea. Im a member of two professional bodies myself so that does make me slightly biased.

Having said that, some unqualified accountants will be able to provide clients with just as much help and advice as they would get from a qualified accountant. Equally some qualified accountants may not have relevant experience for a clients needs or, sadly, may not be a good advert for the profession.


Please Login or Register to read the full article

The full article is available to registered AccountingWEB.co.uk members only. To read the rest of this article you’ll need to login or register. Registration is FREE and allows you to view all content, ask questions, comment and much more.

About AccountingWEB


Please login or register to join the discussion.

By Anonymous
13th Sep 2008 13:19

Bit late but
I know it is not 1st April but what fun it would be for those accountants
who are not chartered to challenge the Chartered to a tax quiz through this site.

Thanks (0)
21st Aug 2008 11:45

Gavin - it's the title that's the problem
In your 19 August posting you made reference to “the title that CCAB members studied so hard to get” and how others should not be able to use this title. The title they studied so hard to get is the descriptive bit, eg Chartered or Chartered Certified not “Accountant” and it is your contention that this too should be the preserve of some kind of priestly caste that I find unacceptable and unworkable.

As can be seen from Doug’s contribution below, the Early Day Motion on “Accountant” protection, put forward by Vince Cable MP as a kite flying exercise has received the appropriate response and so we can now all get on with helping clients, no matter how high or low caste we are.

Thanks (0)
21st Aug 2008 10:27

Earning the title
Paul, my comments were never meant to be insulting and like I said in my original post, I acknowledge that there are many extremely competent unqualified people out there and many insufficiently competent qualifieds.

I maintain my point, however, that it cannot be right that ANYONE can call themself by a professional title whether or not they have earnt it. I am not aware of any other profession where this is the case.

Bob - I acknowledge my 'their', 'there' error and yes it does matter, I should have been more careful although I was typing furiously on a subject that is important to me.

Perhaps only people who have been through the exams value CCAB qualifications.... and yes I suppose I still have the word 'Chartered' that cannot be used by those who haven't earnt it.

Thanks (0)
20th Aug 2008 19:36

The Government's view, shared by the Opposition
It seems there is no immediate prospect of protecting the term "accountant" as neither the Government nor the Opposition think it is in the public interest:

The Prime Minister's Office has responded to that petition and you can view it here:


Prime Minister's Office

Petition information - http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/Accountants/

Thanks (0)
20th Aug 2008 18:38

Gavin - try Espresso
Alan’s contribution illustrates that in the real world, this is a non-starter and no matter how insulting your protestations or Fascist your leanings there is no way you will encapsulate everything an “accountant” does into some single closed-shop qualification. In fact your approach is likely to start a stampede to unqualify if you represent the norm of qualification.

Again in the real world, and as pointed out in this & similar debates recently, the vast majority of clients don’t care or bother to ask about my qualification. 99% of my clients arrive via recommendation and in 27 years of practice the subject of qualification has probably arisen no more than 5 times and then only in discussions over Auditing.

I have letters after my name but there are areas within “Accountancy” where I have had no experience and am not competent to act. I have worked for years with accountants without letters after their name who have relevant experience and are competent to act in these areas and, in fact, given the cowboys and pompous self-important twits I’ve come across with letters after their name the experienced “unqualified” gets my vote.

Competence, care & integrity are human skills & attributes that can never be guaranteed by a title, letters or exams taken n years ago.

For the other fair minded & tolerant contributors a story that may indicate the way forward. When asking a plumber for “the damage” recently after he fixed my burst pipe, he told me the price and explained that most was calculated at £140 per hour. In shock I protested “I’m an accountant and am lucky to make £100 an hour” to which he replied “yes that’s all I made when I was an accountant”

Thanks (0)
20th Aug 2008 17:33

The real question is still to be answered...
How does the "man on the Clapham omnibus" find someone competent to prepare his accounts/tax return etc?

The reason the hospital analogy is so good is because the same kind of question can be asked. Take for example, "How does the man on the Clapham omnibus have his tonsils removed?" Leaving aside the answer that says, if he were on the Clapham omnibus after a certain time at night there may be 'oiks' aplenty who might offer to do the surgery before he reached the next alighting stage, he would probably go and see a doctor.

I am sure that that man who needs his accounts prepared is not at all interested in whether the person who prepares them has passed ACA, ACCA, AAT or whatever he simply needs to satisfy himself that, in all likelihood, the work will be done correctly and professionally.

Now I think we need to look at this from the point of view of the man on that Clapham omnibus (and I apologise to the countless women who also travel back and forth to London SW11) what can we, as a profession, offer up to give some peace of mind to those that use our services?

Thanks (0)
20th Aug 2008 11:11

Doctors, plumbers and other rogues
Me again!

I love the medical analogy. I'm not a qualified doctor. I'm not a qualified accountant. Tsk tsk. I'm not even a qualified bookkeeper, though I have struggled through the odd (very!) group consolidation.

But when a few years back a family member had a very bad bout of diarrhoea which baffled the hospital path lab and the GP, I looked it up on the interweb and, correctly as it turned out, diagnosed c.diff. Experts, eh! They'd all ignored the giant clue that the patient had just come out of an NHS hospital....

And Gavin, Gavin, before you have a go at the lack of education of other posters, make absolutely sure you know the difference between "there" and "their". Or perhaps it doesn't matter in these days of dwindling standards in professional life.

Oh, and the reference to plumbers - we've sprung a leak. I called the guy who put in a very nice bathroom for us a few years back. Do you know what? I've no idea whether he's qualified or not. I'll let you know how I get on. Don't say you haven't been warned.

Thanks (0)
By spenser
20th Aug 2008 11:09

The distinction already exists
At the moment there are Chartered Accountants and Accountants. The distinction between CCAB members and others already exists.

However if the word accountant is to apply to CCABs only from a certain date then all non qualifieds in practice up to that date will have to be admitted into the professional ranks of one or other of the CCAB members as part of a one off excercise. Why? Because if competent non qualifieds (however defined) who have provided quality services are no longer able to practice as accountants they will in effect be unemployed. This would be an infringement of their Human Rights caused by government legislation. To say that non qualifieds should call themselves something else but provide the same services they provided when called accountants defeats the CCAB argument.

Do CCAB members realy want an influx of non qualifieds into to their Premier Division? All beit as a one off.

Thanks (0)
20th Aug 2008 10:49

I said this would be the same old, same old
But as we are onto Nurses, my sister is a very senior one. She is also a "Doctor" (Phd). When our Mum was in A&E she cheekily said "I am a Doctor" to the young whippersnapper who was attending

I thought this was a damned cheek, but in reality my 58 year old sister probably did outclass the twenty-something young Doc. Just read the accounts Doctors have written about the horrors they perform as Juniors

The point is that decades of experience can count above qualifications

And as for questions, I know some of them are pretty dumb, but I would rather trust someone who knows his limitations and goes and asks than a bullsh****r who ploughs on regardless.

Thanks (0)
20th Aug 2008 09:27

Missing the point Paul
I agree that there are many shoddy 'qualifieds' out there and protecting the title wouldn't stop practising.

It would, however, be a start and remove so many of the unqualified dross out there who blight our profession and damage our reputations.

With regards to the nurses who helped your wife, I gather that they called themself 'nurses' and not 'doctors' - get the point now?

If clients go in to the relationship with there eyes wide open, knowing whether or not there adviser is qualified, I have no problem but that isn't always the case.

Going back to any answers - some of the posts on there appear to be from people who didn't even go to school! I'd be pretty sure that they hadn't passed the professional exams.

Thanks (0)
19th Aug 2008 18:20

Gavin - put the coffee on
As always in this discussion there are completely diametric opinions and experiences and so I do not see how you will ever be able to define “accountant” and who should be entitled to use it. Surely, from your point of view, wouldn’t it be easier to let most numerates call themselves accountants leaving only “special” people (like you) to be called something like Accountant + or "super" or GT2000 when doing defined extra special bank recs or capital gains calculations?

I’m getting bored with this but I wish I could publish details of the rubbish & poor work I have come across when taking over from other “super CCAB members”. There is nothing to stop a rogue studying & passing exams, in fact it would make sense for them to do so.

With regard to your daft observation about “ridiculous questions” posted on Any Answers, maybe I’m missing something but the questioners don’t add their qualification, many don't even show their name, so how do you know what they are, what country they come from what god they worship…get my drift?

Yes, an exam process & governing body may start a person on the right side of the tracks but how can you guarantee that the same will apply in 10 years time or that a person with relevant experience and integrity & good sense won’t be equally “qualified” to do the same work?

Finally, the soppy medical analogy, my wife spent weeks in hospital earlier this year and were it not for the extensive knowledge and experience of the nurses and their instructions to doctors, I doubt she’d have recovered as well as she did.

Thanks (0)
By spenser
19th Aug 2008 11:36

FTA (The Federation of Tax Advisers)
The reference to the FTA as a membership group "...distinct from the professional qualifications..." is not correct.

Admission to the FTA since July 2006 has been by examination. The FTA qualification is a professional qualification.

Thanks (0)
19th Aug 2008 11:27

Medical comparison
I'm afraid I have to agree with the medical comparison made.

As a member of both the AAT and ICAEW I agree that the AAT is an excellent qualification but I don't agree that this is enough to be called an 'accountant'.

I acknowledge many AAT members and people with no accountancy qualifications may be sufficiently competent in what they do. This does not mean, however, that they should be able to use the title that CCAB members studied so hard to get.

There are so many unqualifieds out there that are completely out of there depth and should not be allowed to offer services to the public. You only have to read 'Any Answers' to see some of the ridiculous questions posted.

Sorry to the competent unqualifieds of which there are many but our title needs to be protected.

I have a friend that didn't quite finish law school, should he be allowed to call himself a solicitor, I think not.

Thanks (0)
18th Aug 2008 16:47

In summary...
Is there a problem? [YES / NO]
If NO - Forget about it
If YES - Can we do anything to fix it? [YES / NO]
If No - Forget about it
If YES - Fix it!

Perhaps I am being too simplistic?

Thanks (0)
18th Aug 2008 10:58

George Bernard Shaw springs to mind...
That advertorial appears to have backfired spectacularly!

If I may paraphrase, "Those who can do; those who cannot, teach. Those who cannot teach, teach teachers. And those who cannot teach teachers become accountancy advisors."

Oh well, at least we beancounters can successfully bicker with each other, instead of picking on the real enemy.

Thanks (0)
18th Aug 2008 09:35

Give it a rest
Sorry Mark but as many of us are still recovering from the “Legal protection of the term accountant” farce https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/cgi-bin/item.cgi?id=186066 your article is not helpful.

Given the 1000 shades of grey in the “numerate” profession, no matter how generalised your article (and it was), it was bound to upset somebody and stoke up the pointless debate. For example Paul you quote Mark’s “argument”; it wasn’t.

Thanks (0)
By Anonymous
18th Aug 2008 09:32

Here we go again
Interesting but always two sides to this agruement.

Who is being sued over the Equitable Life. Oh yes, a very large firm of qualified accountants.

You mention ICPA. I belong to this and have found the help and assistance given to me to exceed that which I received when I belonged to ACCA.

ICPA members have PI, we have a training program and become invovled in working together meeting etc.

My clients need hands on help, many move have other 'qualified' practices who have let them down very badly.

Thanks (0)
18th Aug 2008 09:24

Thanks for an interesting piece
and I see loots of comments.

I would like to add that it is very difficult to be come a member of the chartered bodies whilst in practice. Somehow this seems very wrong. I have looked athe position twice. To become a member of the ICAEW one has to stop practice and work for a member to gain qualification and a practicing cert.

For the ACCA (I hope I am right) one needs to take each of the papers but I am not sure how a practicing certificate is obtained!

So Mark you need to start at the Institutes and make sure a reasonable path is available. Particularly as the average age for an accountant is increasing.

By the way all the items you mentioned for a qualified accountant can be exactly for those not qualified by exam.

A much better base for your argument would have been accountants determined by quality. We all know of chartereds who are not up to scratch as much as we all no of the non-qualified's who are excellent.

Thanks (0)
By SimonP
17th Aug 2008 17:19

Qualifications: What do they really mean?
When I first started up in practice (too many years ago), one of my first clients was an hotel.

Since the previous accountant was a Chartered Accountant and I was not, my prospective clients wondered whether changing to me would be a good move.

When I pointed out that in preparing their last accounts, the HIGHLY QUALIFIED FCA had completely omitted an asset from the Balance Sheet, namely their £1/4 million hotel (a lot of money in those days), they swiftly realised that the letters after one's name mean Sweet F.A.

It's not what is after one's name that counts, it's the bit between one's ears.

Having said all that, I think clients should have the protection offered by qualified accountants belonging to recognised institutes.

Thanks (0)
16th Aug 2008 13:10

What else can be done?
I read Mark's posting with interest and with the certain knowledge that the qualified vs unqualified argument will continue to run for quite a bit longer.

I asked myself what kind of security I would want if I needed a medical operation; say something small. Would I need a surgeon? Perhaps a GP or even a nurse could do the job; perhaps someone has worked all their life in a doctor's surgery and, while non-qualified, has the knowledge and experience to do the job. I just don't know. That is the real problem for me. Looking someone in the eye and saying "yes I trust this person" doesn't carry a huge amount of weight when my small operation has become infected because the equipment hasn't been steralised.

Turning to accountants I think the public have the same problem. Just because someone says "I am an accountant" doesn't mean they are capable of doing the work - they might be a recently qualified CA from a small practice or they may be an ex-HMRC inspector with 30 years experience.

I can see where the Qualified or Unqualified debate comes from and, on balance, I think that the name should be sacrosanct but who should be let in?

Perhaps a licence would be an option, possibly policed by the FSA. There could be certain levels that could be based on experience, qualifications, CPD or whatever metrics are decided to measure an accountant's experience.

This would inevitably add yet another layer of bureaucracy but the challenge would be to recognise and certify the skills that people that provide accountancy services have without pushing out those without formal qualifications.

Thanks (0)
16th Aug 2008 11:36

Unfair to bookkeepers
I am also a member of AAT and proud of it, however I do think that Antony should proof read his submission for spelling errors before sending it!

Bookkeepers, in a lot of cases, have just as many qualifications as accountants. Some even have more expertise in the day to day running of a client's business affairs. To put them down as Mark appears to do is unfair.

Thanks (0)
16th Aug 2008 09:41

Another point of view
"This is the insurance that pays out (or not) if a clients loses money through their accountant’s negligence."

No, this is the insurance which frightens badly served clients into not suing because they know they'll have a battery of expensive (and highly qualified, PI insured) lawyers against them. PI is a protection for the accountant, not the client.

CPE: "This is intended to ensure they keep uptodate with current developments relevant to their work."

But any old breakfast briefing about the latest whizzo financial products seems to carry CPE points, if their promotional material is to be believed.

"Qualified accountants have to abide by a strict code of professional ethics"

Like Arthur Andersen, I suppose. And as opposed to everyone else, who have to abide by the law....

"If you’re the patient, an accountant is like a GP (doctor) and a bookkeeper is like a nurse."

So that's the standard you aspire to, the competence of the GP? You know, the guy who can barely keep up with the leaflets from Big Pharma, let alone find more than eight minutes to sort your health out?

I'm sure that many people and organisations rely on qualifications as a test of competence and relevant experience. Others will just want to look their potential adviser in the eye and ask themselves, "Is this someone I can trust?"

Thanks (0)
By puzzel
15th Aug 2008 21:52

Bookkeeper, you want your bumps felt
If you think that after several years of studying and exams to be classed by you as a bookkeeper, then I would advise that you hide in the shadows from me, if not many other Members of the Association of Accounting Technicians (MAAT).

We are not just bookkeepers as you have stated, this is an insult to our association and the profession as a whole.

Holding the qualification of the MAAT or FMAAT is fare more than just a bookkeeper.

If anything, you should consider we are in the middle of a three tier process. We know what is required from the bookkeeper to the person preparing the tax return. But the strange thing is, we (being AAT qualified) are able to complete the majority of these stages, if not all of them. Many a time, I have come across CIMA, IAEW etc and so called graduates of accounting that do not know what goes into compiling a set off accounts, and even what a DR & CR are? The last graduate I taught ended up having a box of tissues on the desk as they always got into tears and could not understand the simple principles of accounting.

The AAT qualification and knowledge is at times as superior a qualification as any other chartered or certified accountant given the situation that the experience that it is applied too.

Maybe it is just because the audit threshold has risen to £5.6 million that you are no longer required to undertake various accountancy works that you feel threatened by a so called inferior establishment?

You are out of order and an apology is sort

Name provided and proud of it, Antony Wilson MAAT for many a years.

Thanks (0)
15th Aug 2008 17:08

Is that a petard I see?.....
is a link to Mark's site where he is inviting advisors to join his tax consulting organisation.

The membership criteria include: "A recognised tax, accountancy or legal qualification or extensive training from HMRC (or IR or HMC&E)."

I note the article says "normally'. I wonder if the organisation has any unqualified members?

Thanks (0)
15th Aug 2008 16:09

Is this "Feature" an advert for Mark's book and thereby his webs
I cannot see that it will do much for us Accountants other than stir up a hoary old debate which gets us nowhere

Time was when AccountingWeb sent me interesting emails with interesting headlines which clicked through to interesting stories

These days it seems to me more about promoting products. I wonder how much Mark paid to AccountingWeb for its inclusion (Friday is Advert day, isn't it?)

Still, I suppose that is how the proprietors make their money ......

Thanks (0)