Accountant, CPA or chartered accountant? What’s the difference?

Accountant, CPA or Chartered Accountant? What’s the difference?

For many years chartered accountants enjoyed special privileges under the law. Some time ago, chartered accountants lost their exclusive right to set accounting standards. In addition, chartered accountants had their monopoly on auditing companies taken away from them as part of the reforms brought about by the global financial crisis. Professional bodies that authorise auditors must now be registered by the Financial Markets Authority.

There are now three main accounting bodies in New Zealand when once there was one. 

  • The oldest professional body was called the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants. Recently their members voted to merge with their trans-Tasman colleagues at the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia (ICAA). The combined body is now called CAANZ. Members use the initials ‘CA’ after their names. Chartered Accountants have their own act of parliament, and only chartered accountants may call themselves ‘chartered’.
  • CPA Australia is the other big membership body for accountants in Australasia. This body was once called the Australian Society of Accountants. Its membership numbers dwarf those of the Chartered Accountants with well over 160,000 members worldwide. This body has been very active in New Zealand in recent years and is building its membership quickly. Some of the “Big Four” accounting firms have been active in promoting the qualification. Members use the initials ‘CPA (Aust.)’.
  • The only remaining wholly New Zealand based body is the Accountants and Tax Agents Institute of NZ (ATAINZ) which has less than a thousand members. They use the initials MATAINZ.

Of the three, CPA Australia and CAANZ both have set a very high bar for entry. They require their members to

  • hold an accounting bachelor’s degree such as BAcc, BBS, BMS, BBus or BCom.
  • complete a rigorous three year post-graduate course of study complete with multiple exams.
  • have three years of relevant practical experience.

This means that most accountants who carry the CPA or CA qualification will have studied for at around six years in order to earn the designation. As such, CPAs or CAs have a higher level of accounting education and experience.

Membership of ATAINZ does not require a bachelor’s degree and can be supplemented by industry experience.

Offering services to the public

Further rules exist if members wish to offer services to the general public. For both CPA and CA, members will need to apply for a Public Practice Certificate. In the case of CPA, another examination on public practice is required along with attending a residential course.

Professional indemnity insurance is also mandatory for both CPA and CA public practitioners. This insurance covers claims by clients for breaches of professional duty or negligence resulting in financial loss. This is a significant benefit for clients who use CPA or CA members.

CPAs and CAs in public practice must also have policies and procedures in place to cover quality control, complaints and disciplinary procedures. Both have regular independent practice reviews to monitor compliance and quality within the practice.

No such requirements exist for ATAINZ members.  There are no professional exams and no separate designation for their members in public practice. There are no requirements to hold professional indemnity insurance and no reviews. There is, however, a disciplinary process.

All three bodies also require their members to complete a set number of hours of continuing professional development each year. This is essentially on-the-job training such as attending tax seminars, professional events or reading pertinent articles.

Mutual Recognition

Both CPA Australia and CAANZ have mutual recognition agreements with international professional bodies abroad, as well as with each other.

This means that New Zealand members can transition to membership of organisation in other countries around the world. In addition, CAs can join CPA Australia, and vice versa.

You can see a list of mutual recognition agreements held by CPA Australia here.

So what does all this mean and why does it matter to you?

The first thing to note is that the time when all accountants were “chartered” is long gone. There are deeply held views as to why either CPA or CA is superior to the other but much of this is based on affiliation.

One of the key things for clients is that only the professional bodies above have approved advisor status with the Inland Revenue Department (IRD). This means that the IRD are satisfied with:

  • the organisation’s ethical standards
  • the minimum academic qualifications for members
  • the level and depth of ongoing technical tax training
  • satisfactory disciplinary procedures.

In return, members of any of these professional bodies are protected by non-disclosure provisions when giving their clients tax advice.


Only CPA Australia and CAANZ are accredited by the Financial Markets Authority to authorise auditors and audit firms in New Zealand.

ATAINZ is not accredited to authorise auditors.

Anyone can call themselves an accountant

Most Commonwealth countries require accountants to belong to professional bodies when providing services to the public. This is not the case in New Zealand. Anyone can call themselves an ‘accountant’. As such, there are a large number of ‘accountants’ who are not members of any professional body. They may not even hold a bachelor’s degree in accountancy or have any relevant education or experience.

Whilst this is perfectly legal, we think this is wrong and doesn’t protect the public. Non-affiliated accountants do not have to invest regular time in ongoing professional development and there are no disciplinary procedures. Most will not carry professional indemnity insurance.

We urge you to ask what professional membership a public accountant holds.


Disclosure: Generate Accounting holds a Public Practice Certificate from CPA Australia.