CA vs. CPA


Finance, as we all understand, is the lifeline of any business.  With the recent happenings across the globe, Finance professionals have been in the limelight for the right as well as the wrong reasons and many have taken up senior positions in the corporate world and are managing big conglomerates.  At the end of the day everything boils down to money and here’s where experts in the field of Finance play an all-important role in the success or otherwise of a business.   From an Indian perspective and a Global perspective,  Chartered  Accountancy (CA)  and  Certified  Public  Accountant from the USA  (CPA)  are  two  premier  Professional  Finance  Certifications  and  there  are  always  two  schools  of  thought  which  prefer  one  over  the  other.   While  the  aim  of  both  courses  is  similar,  there  are  certain  specific  and  important  characteristics  that must be understood  before  one  takes up the same.

What is a CA and What is a CPA

Before we try and understand what a CA is and what a CPA is, we need to first understand that the profile of the candidates wanting to do each of them is grossly different.   Both are, as mentioned earlier, professional finance certifications with skills in Auditing, Financial Management, Tax Laws and Commercial Laws to name a few areas of specialisation. However there are certain fundamental characteristics which define them.  The objective of this blog is to highlight these characteristics based on certain parameters.

S.No. Parameters Chartered Accountancy ( CA ) Certified Public Accountant ( CPA )
1 Exam by The exam is conducted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). The exam is conducted by the Association of Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) of the USA on behalf of the State Boards of Accountancy.
2 Eligibility A Pass in High School (10+2) in India.  The student will have to then take up the Foundation exam followed by the Intermediate and Final exams before being conferred upon with the Certificate. Eligibility varies from State to State as they are the body that awards the Certification once a candiate clears the CPA exams.  However the minimum qualification would be a graduation with prescribed number of credits.  It is better to assess the eligibility with an expert before getting into this.
3 Duration of the Course It normally takes about 56 – 60 months for a candidate to complete  including the 3 year mandatory articles period. It takes about 6 – 12 months to complete the exams depending on the background of the candidate.
4 Examination System 1)  A Candidate must pass 20 papers, divided into 3 levels namely Foundation (4), Intermediate (8) and Final (8).
2)  Exams are conducted twice a year in multiple centres across India and select overseas examination centres.
3)  With the exception of Foundation where a couple of papers are objective in nature all other papers at all levels  are descriptive in nature consisting of short and essay type answers.
1)  A Candidate must pass 4 papers which predominantly consists of Objective type of questions.  This would include a combination of Multiple Choice Questions and Task based Simulations.
2)  Online exams are conducted for almost 300 days in a year and it is possible to sit for all papers in one go.
3)  The main drawback however is that CPA exams are not conducted in India and the closest centres for Indian candidates are UAE, Bahrain or Kuwait.
5 Recognition CA is the premier qualification in Finance and Accounting in India and hence is recognized widely across India and a few countries outside India. CPA is the premier qualification in Finance and Accounting in the US and is recognized widely across the US and many countries across the globe.  As far as India is concerned CA does hold a distinct advantage but many MNCs looked for qualified CPAs for their requirement.
6 Cost of Completion To complete the program in entirety it would cost around Rs. 2 lakhs for a candidate.  However the stipend that they receive during the mandatory 3 year articles period would more than offset the cost they incur to complete this course. It would cost around Rs. 4.50 lakhs to Rs. 5 lakhs to complete the CPA in total.  This includes the cost of traveling and staying in the UAE for about 10 days to complete the 4 papers there.
7 Pass Criteria 1)  A Candidate has to secure minimum 40% in each paper and in aggregate 50% overall to be declared as passed.
2) In the case of Intermediate and Final exams, there are 8 papers in each level (divided into 2 groups of 4 papers each).  A student is declared to have passed in that particular group if he has scored 40% in each paper and 50% aggregate in all papers in that group.
3)  If a student has failed to score 40% in any one paper, he has to reappear for all papers in that group unless he has scored 60% or more in any paper.  In this case he need not reappear in that paper next time but the marks would be considered for calculating the aggregate of 50%.
1) A Candidate has the option of writing the papers one by one and clearing.
2)  The minimum pass mark is 75 in each paper and once a student passes a paper he has 18 more months by which he should pass the remaining 3 papers.
3)  If a candidate attempts more than one paper at a time, he is deemed to have cleared those papers where he has got a score of more than 75 and he need not reappear for that paper subject to fulfilment of the condition mentioned in 2 above.
8 Pass Percentage The pass percentage is around the 10% -12% mark (leaving out CPT / Foundation) for the CA taken as a whole. The pass percentage is around the 40% mark for CPA taken as a whole.  This can be attributed to the quality of students who take up the CPA as the eligibility criteria is strict as compared to the CA.
9 Career Prospects Excellent in India and good in certain countries across the globe. With passing of the exams and some work experience the prospects is exciting across the globe and good with MNCs in India.


To sum it up both CA & CPA have their distinct advantages and disadvantages.  While a lot of information is available pertaining to CA in India the following are clearly the highlights of CPA from a candidate’s perspective:

  • Globally recognised and possibility of completion in 6 – 12 months
  • Flexibility to write paper by paper and facilitates learning at one’s pace
  • Predominantly objective and hence very little subjectivity in terms of evaluation
  • Expensive in the short term but quick pay back upon securing an employment