What Is a Chartered Accountant (CA) and What Do They Do?

Chartered Accountant (CA)

Investopedia / Mira Norian

What Is a Chartered Accountant (CA)?

A chartered accountant (CA) is an international accounting designation granted to accounting professionals in many countries around the world, aside from the United States. In the United States, the equivalent to the CA designation is a certified public accountant (CPA).

Key Takeaways

  • The designation of chartered accountant is granted to accounting professionals in many countries around the world, aside from the United States.
  • The equivalent to the CA designation in the U.S. is a CPA.
  • CAs typically focus on one of the following areas: audit and assurance, financial accounting and reporting, management accounting, and applied finance or taxation.
  • Some chartered accountant institutions have reciprocity agreements with the U.S., whereby if they pass certain exams, they can work as CPAs.

Understanding a Chartered Accountant (CA)

A CA credential typically proves that its holder has the qualifications to file a business's tax return, audit financial statements and business practices, and offer advisory services to clients.

On a day-to-day basis, CAs and CPAs perform very similar tasks.

Chartered accountants claim to be the first accounting group to form a professional body, in 1854 in Scotland. Today, there are many organizations that such accountants belong to across the world, including the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.

Different countries impose different rules and regulations on the process of becoming a CA. For example, in New Zealand, prospective accountants must complete a recognized academic program such as a three-year bachelor's degree or an accredited master's degree covering accounting and business topics. Then candidates must complete a practical experience program and, finally, a CA program. These programs train candidates in modern accounting methods.

In Canada, people who wish to become chartered professional accountants must complete an undergraduate degree with coursework in business and accounting areas. Then they can enroll in a professional education program for chartered professional accountants.

In most cases, CAs focus on one of four areas: audit and assurance, financial accounting and reporting, management accounting and applied finance, or taxation. Depending on their area of focus, CAs may handle one aspect of a company's business, they may oversee all of a company's accounting needs, or they may work as freelance CAs who handle accounting matters for multiple clients. Chartered accountants work both in the private and public sectors.

Chartered Accountants (CAs) vs. CPAs

The main difference between CAs and CPAs is that the CPA is a designation used in the United States, while CA is used in many other countries. Around the world, the CPA abbreviation can refer to different types of accounting professionals. For example, in Canada, a CPA is a chartered professional accountant; in Australia, a CPA is a certified practicing accountant.

Members of Chartered Professional Accountants Canada, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, and Chartered Accountants Ireland have a reciprocity agreement with the United States. If these CA professionals pass a test, their qualifications can transfer to the United States, where they may work as CPAs.