CTA, CPA and CA: what’s the difference and what should you study?

Many people embarking on or making the transition into a career in tax aren’t sure what formal learning or qualification will help them the most. What’s best in the short and long term? What qualifications are most recognised by potential employers? What’s the difference between them?

Chartered Accountants use the postnominals CA and Certified Practising Accountants use CPA. While all accountants require an understanding of tax, a Chartered Tax Adviser is highly specialised and well-versed in tax and all its workings. Chartered Tax Advisers, using the postnominals CTA, include tax advisers, tax lawyers, academics, and practitioners working primarily in the tax space.

Each of these designations represents high ethical standards as well as measurable experience, knowledge and skills. They also all require you to meet CPD requirements, have a current membership of the relevant organisation and adhere to their code of conduct in order to maintain your professional designation.

Should I study the CPA, CA or CTA designation? 

While CPA and CA are more general accounting and finance qualifications, CTA differs in that it’s a deep dive into the world of tax. It’s specially designed to develop important skills including:

  • key tax compliance requirements, principles and processes knowledge
  • managing complex tax compliance affairs and planning issues
  • tax planning and advisory skills across the different tax specialisations.

Whether to obtain a CTA , CA or CPA is a big decision to make as it represents a significant investment of time and effort. Which to choose depends on your goals.

An accountant’s role is one of the most diverse in the finance industry. Accountants must have an understanding of and demonstrate competency in common areas of tax advice, but it is just one of many areas that they must cover. Their working knowledge of the tax system and tax law may not be as complete as that of a tax specialist when it comes to providing expert tax advice to clients.

Tax specialists – and in particular those who have achieved Chartered Tax Adviser status – have studied and worked with specific areas of taxation in detail. This focus provides the ability to examine their individual client’s circumstances for opportunities that may be missed by someone without this greater depth of knowledge.

Many professionals holding CA or CPA qualifications find they are working increasingly on tax so obtain the CTA in addition to existing qualifications, to gain specialist tax skills and expertise and put themselves at an advantage when it comes to career progression.

“I found the CPA course, qualification and designation, to be a very broad spectrum of qualification and experiences, whereas the Chartered Tax Adviser qualification is very much honed into tax advice and providing quality. It’s considered the pinnacle of tax knowledge."

Jacko Potgieter, CTA, CPA, Associate at Cheesman Applegarth & Partners

Where can the CTA designation take my career? 

Tax practitioners utilise their knowledge of law, administration and accountancy and draw on refined communication and interpersonal skills. They work with companies and individuals, to understand their circumstances and address problems and challenges to develop the most appropriate tax strategies. The complex, diverse and dynamic nature of taxation means that practitioners quickly develop areas of specialist knowledge. The main areas of specialisation are corporate, personal, international, superannuation and trusts and estates.

If you’re looking to specialise in any of these areas, a study program dedicated to tax may be the right choice for you. The Chartered Tax Adviser, or CTA, designation is renowned internationally as achievement of the highest level of professional standards in tax.

How can I become a CTA?

To become a Chartered Tax Adviser, you need to complete the CTA Program, a highly practical course equipping you with in-depth tax advisory skills. The CTA Program comprises four subjects:  

If your tax career is already well underway, and you have already completed study at another institution, you may be eligible for recognition of prior learning, meaning you can progress directly to CTA3 Advisory.

This unique subject develops expertise in the:

  • interpretation and application of relevant taxation legislation, cases, guidelines and procedures to specific client taxation issues
  • adoption of a commercially appropriate approach to the client’s situation, drawing on a variety of informational sources to formulate advice
  • application of analytical, problem-solving and technical skills to varying situations and determination of alternative solutions
  • evaluation of potential alternative solutions and provision of logical, reasoned support for the conclusions and advice provided
  • effective communication of conclusions to add real value to the client’s business

What else can I do with a CTA qualification?

Once you’ve gained your CTA qualification, by completing two additional subjects you will have met the requirements for the Graduate Diploma of Applied Tax Law.

The CTA designation also provides eligibility for 6 units of credit, in recognition of prior learning, towards a Master of Tax from the University of New South Wales. 

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