How to Become a Chartered Accountant in Canada

If working with the public isn’t your thing (and trust me, it usually isn’t a picnic) yet you still want to make some pretty good money, accounting is certainly an attractive path to think about.  While some people might consider spreadsheets and balances to be the epitome of boring, it offers a quiet work environment and a steady routine on a daily basis.  While there is a bit of a surplus of chartered accountants (CAs) in certain urban parts of Canada, there are certainly plenty of positions open around the country and a fairly healthy demand overall.  It goes without saying that we probably aren’t going to lose the demand for people who are good with numbers any time soon!

The first step to getting  your CA designation is getting an accounting undergraduate degree – or (interestingly enough) – any bachelor degree at all.  Technically you can get a bachelor degree in arts, science or even engineering, but obviously most people choose to go with a more traditional business route.

Related: Considering A Major in Engineering?

Once you have that initial education step done, things begin to focus a little bit more.  You will need to check out that provincial/regional program that is responsible for administering CA designations in your area (there are four in Canada: Quebec, Ontario, Atlantic, and Western).  Between taking certain courses and training in a CA office under the supervision of veteran accountants, CA candidates must demonstrate certain core competencies before they are able to tack on those two very important letters of professional designation at the end of their name.  CA training offices come in all shapes and sizes and can include private corporations as well as government organizations.  This practical style of training is considered an essential part of acquiring the myriad of skills needed to become a CA in Canada.  If you’re already in a university program, keep an eye open for recruiters for these CA offices, as getting your plans figured out early can be a major benefit.

When it comes to the core competencies assessment all CA candidates, the new rookies have to pass the Uniform Evaluation (UFE).  This is the final step and testing ground that comes at the end of a potential CA’s journey through course work and supervised training at a CA training office.  The UFE measures accounting knowledge, practical skill levels, and even asks about the ethics involved with practicing as a chartered accountant.  It doesn’t simply test for basic rote memorization of facts associated with the accounting field, but instead seeks to guarantee that every CA has attained a certain level of familiarity and efficiency with the processes, strategies, and laws surrounding the tasks they will be asked to daily.  This approach to education and assessment is at the heart of the “competencies system” that CAs all have to get through.

While the provincial/regional professional bodies are directly responsible for bestowing CA designations, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA) does try to regulate general standards across Canada.  By enforcing some degree of uniformity across Canada, the CICA hopes to make sure that all Canadians and international businesses are guaranteed a high level of professionalism and capability when they hire a CA from any part of the country.  There are certain countries that Canadian accreditation bodies will recognize certification from, but the process is a fairly lengthy one.  More international agreements and standard practice is being worked on and encouraged throughout much of the developed world.

Depending on where you want to go in the world of accounting there are plenty of different opportunities and room for growth.  If you wish to maximize your earning potential and work in a corporate environment than the focus of your CA education might look quite different than someone who wishes to live rurally and start a more rural business that tailors to small customers and tax preparation.  Many of the skills and experiences are broadly transferable if you eventually wish to transfer over, or trying something new within the field.

If you aren’t intimidated by numbers and bit of a lengthy accreditation process then a CA designation might just be your ticket to a rewarding career.  It isn’t my thing, but then again I know what a lot of people pay to have their taxes done and consequently I can say that it can certainly be a lucrative skill set to possess.

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