Accountancy & Financial Management

How to Become a Chartered Accountant in Malaysia

Attaining chartered accountant status can make a huge difference in your career progression through the accounting sector. But it will take a lot of work!
Jevitha Muthusamy
Editorial Writer
How to Become a Chartered Accountant in Malaysia

As an accounting professional, getting certified as a chartered accountant demonstrates to employers, clients, and the general public that you have the necessary training, skills and commitment to professional standards to do your job well.

The high standard of chartered accountant qualifications means you will have to work and study incredibly hard to achieve this title. Still, the benefits of becoming one will far outweigh the initial sacrifice! 

Why is Chartered Accountant Status Important?

You do not need chartered accountant qualifications to apply for and start working in accounting jobs as a fresh graduate. But you will, however, need them if you intend to advance further in your career as an accounting professional. 

In Malaysia, the term “accountant” is protected under the Accountants Act 1967. The quick summary is that you cannot offer your individual professional services or promote yourself as an “accountant” unless you are a full member of a professional accountancy body. That involves training and qualifying as a chartered accountant under one of those bodies. 

Large accounting and financial advisory firms require staff to hold relevant chartered accountant qualifications before they can be promoted to management positions. Likewise, publicly-traded corporations may only hire chartered accountants for senior accounting positions because of their need to project an image of financial compliance.    

In short, holding chartered accountant status will be key if you intend to climb the career ladder in this line of work – whether as an employee of an organisation, or striking out and starting your own accounting practice. 

Professional Bodies: The Basics

In Malaysia, there are several recognised professional accountancy bodies. These include local ones such as the Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA) and The Malaysian Institute of Certified Public Accountants (MICPA), as well as foreign bodies like ACCA, CIMA, CPA Australia, and ICAEW.     

You only need to attain qualifications with one of these bodies to be certified as a chartered accountant. The training that each body provides can cover all areas of accounting, or just training in one specific area such as management accounting. Obtaining membership entitles you to use the relevant body’s designatory letters after your name, giving you the appropriate prestige to advance in your career.

However, MIA is also the regulatory body that governs chartered accountant status in Malaysia. So in order to be recognised as a chartered accountant locally, you do still need to register for MIA membership regardless of which professional body you qualified with. If you qualified with a foreign body, don’t worry – this is purely a formality and you won’t have to sit for another set of exams again! 

How Do I Qualify as a Chartered Accountant?

Qualifying with a professional body usually takes anywhere from 3 to 5 years, depending on your level of commitment. They all comprise the following: mandated hours of training, a number of exams you must pass, and a required amount of relevant work experience in accounting (usually no less than 3 years). 

You do not need an accounting degree to attempt for chartered accountant certifications. However, having an accounting degree from a recognized local or foreign university usually exempts you from some of the required exams, thus shortening your training period. Be sure to check with your chosen professional body to confirm which exemptions you qualify for.

If you are aiming for chartered accountant status under MIA directly, you can actually skip the professional training and exam requirements if you have an accounting degree from a select list of local (mostly public) universities. However, you will still need at least 3 years of relevant work experience before you can qualify as a chartered accountant under MIA. 

Because you do need actual work experience to qualify with a professional body, most people opt to study for their qualifications and work at the same time. Large accounting employers will usually pay for your exam fees and give you study leave as a staff benefit. Make sure to check for those before accepting a potential job offer!  

Which Professional Body Should I Choose?

The short answer is: it depends on what your career goals as an accountant are.

More often than not, your choice of employer will determine which professional body you aim for. Established accounting employers will usually offer you a choice between which qualifications you can pursue, and the career pathways those may lead to. 

So if you are choosing between employers that offer different qualification pathways, you should carefully consider what your future career plans are, and not just focus on which one has the least number of exams you’ll need to pass! 

However, understand that no one qualification is “easier” than the other. Each professional body’s standards are monitored to ensure parity. The differences lie in the focus of the syllabus, the area of work in which you train, and how you obtain the training.

Lastly, if you are planning on pursuing accounting career opportunities either outside of Malaysia or at companies with multinational presences, you may want to consider getting qualified under a foreign professional body, as those certifications often transfer easier on an international level.