Might be redundant now but firstly to answer Tom's questions:
1. Most difficult to complete is the ACA, it's more in depth than the others, wider in scope yet technical. Quite a few of the graduate intake in the big4 give up a 1/3 of the way through
2. Most respected in consulting. Again it would be ACA but it's much of muchness viewed in isolation to work experience. Recruiters will respect the commitment, dedication and the technical rigour required to complete this, but your work achievements is what will stand you apart.
3. Most relevant for consultants. CIMA for a generalist understanding of finance and management - it's a great all-round qualification and will not compromise your social life as much. If you're deeper into financial services consulting, would like to move into financial roles, IBs, etc then this could be viewed as a bit 'light' but experience will count more on the long run.
1. The ACA, ACCA has long been associated with dry accounting, CIMA to be racier, a bit fuzzy, about strategy and the fun stuff. Both are limited opinions.
2. The ACA, yes you will have to get your head around Debits and Credits, tax and other dull stuff and some exams will make you think why this is happening to you. But the core part is a lot more rounded, will bring in elements of management and strategy, business valuation, etc a lot is focused on report writing and more about advisory. For a long time the qualification has been used as leverage to work in all sorts of fields from banking to industry roles. It is tuff and that’s part of its allure, but at the end you will know what you’re talking about rather than making it up as you go along.
3. ACCA. Similar in its approach to finance to ACA. Has been trumpeted in the past for being recognised abroad yet this is simplistic. Like any other employer previous work experience will count far more – they’ll mainly be interested in the fact that it’s a CA qualification. It’s usually associated with industry (ACA with service firms) and goes slightly into less depth than the ACA. You can easily convert your qualification to cover the ACA once qualified which I think goes to shows that differences are not that big between the two. Yet some snobbery – justified or not - remains from the ACA camp.
4. CIMA. If the ACA has been considered the backbone of British finance for ever, CIMA is the rising star of an alternative approach. It is a lot more diverse that the other 2, it won’t go into as much depth, yet that might be a good thing unless you’re focused on the financial side of finance (if that makes sense?). It’s a great qualification and well recognised in the UK – it won’t take away as much of your time as the other 2 but that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park.
Hope that helps,