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Chartered Account

My role
Strategic Project Accountant for the London Borough of Southwark. I gained a range of line management/financial management and project experiences as a trainee. My prior (trainee) role was and now my current role is, concerned with economic and infrastructure planning and regeneration.
The good
CPFAs are in high demand owing to the size of the sector relative to the number of qualified members. This means that career prospects are very good and individuals demonstrating drive and potential are likely to progress very successfully, the remuneration can in consequence be very good.
The not so good
Competition for training places can be very intense so perseverance may be necessary.
Words of Advice
Many employers require applicants to sit aptitude tests (verbal, numerical etc). This is especially the case for Civil/Public service roles and/or roles where training contracts are offered to graduates. Practising such tests before sitting them at interview may be of use, they can often be purchased online.
The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA)
CIPFA is one of the leading professional accountancy bodies in the UK and is the only UK institute specialising in the public sector. It is responsible for the education and training of professional accountants and for their regulation through the setting and monitoring of professional standards.
The qualification in brief
It is a Chartered Accountancy qualification and takes around three years to complete if all papers are passed at the first sitting. It is open to graduates of all disciplines and subject to conditions some individuals with relevant experience.
Trainees sit thirteen papers in all and prior to admittance as members, must also submit to the institute a portfolio of workplace activity for assessment.
The qualification process is designed to provide a rigorous intellectual challenge to students and to develop skills/knowledge incrementally throughout the examination process. Papers fall into three stages, Certificate, Diploma and Final Test of Professional Competence (FTPC).
Examples of the papers examined include Financial and Management Accounting at the start of the qualification (Certificate) and Strategic Business Management with a Financial Management Case Study at the end (FTPC). Papers are for the most part three hours but the case study is six. Examinations on Governance and Public Policy and Strategic Business Management are both research papers on top of core texts. No prior financial or accountancy knowledge is assumed at the start of the qualification.
Once admitted, members are entitled to use the letters CPFA (Chartered Public Financial Accountant).
Students can purchase text books/web access themselves and fund their way through the qualification.
Alternatively CIPFA runs its own training centres around the UK and employers that are funding students through the qualification will generally pay for both attendance and examination fees. In this instance it is necessary for individuals desiring to study to apply for any training roles, as employers advertise the posts.
Where do CPFAs work? – In short the opportunities are numerous.
  • Central and Local Government, many Finance Directors and often Chief Executives are CPFAs (The Warwick Business School in conjunction with CIPFA recently ran a programme to train senior Civil Servants as CPFA's)
  • Accountancy Firms/Consultancy Firms, especially those with interests in audit and infrastructure.
  • Audit Bodies such as the National Audit Office and Audit Commission.
  • Higher and Further Education
  • The National Health Service
  • The Private Sector
(Organisations in the above sectors will each have some form of graduate training scheme)
Further information can be found on the CIPFA website at
Our expert:
Alex Vaughan