Noticed some interesting comments here - I am an ACCA based student as are the majority of the firm I work for and I feel perhaps there are a few members of the institute making the replies here!
ACCA is a fantastic qualification to achieve and just as respected as it’s intitute counterpart - infact the institute have recognised this as well and will accept ACCA members with 5 years experience in practice into the institute with no extra exams. The ACCA however does not do this as far as I know.
The examination technique between the two bodies is slightly different. The ACA require a 55% pass mark on their exams, but have a number of open book examinations (such as a book of th ISAs), the final exams you are allowed to take in whatever books you feel are approprate to the case studies. The first few stages of the ACA also have multiple choice questions.
The ACCA, require a 50% pass mark, but allow no books into their examination. The examinations are split into 2 parts, Section A which will be a long written question, and section B with tend to be four 25 mark questions with the option of answering two of four.
Furthermore, if you have achieved the AAT qualification the ICAEW will allow you to sit top up papers of 1.5 hours each, rather than fully fledged exams. Both bodies offer exemptions for relevant degrees.
The ACCA requires 3 years worth of relevant experience in the accouting field, but to gain a practicing certificate it has to be practice based experience. Without this practicing certificate you cannot be an RI and sign off audit reports etc.
I would suggest that anyone should consider where they want to go with their career. If they want to stick in the UK then go ACA, if they want the option of a more global horizon then go ACCA.
If you are qualifying in a firm that labels themself as “Chartered accountants” or “Chartered Certified accountants” you should consider carefully the option as the partners in a firm have to be weighted towards the ICEAW or the ACCA to retain the use of that title.
In reality though, all of the regulatory bodies regularly consider merging together so one day we all may fall under the same wing.
There is a lot of talk about the big 4 - They will recognise any official regulatory body - Last year they were pushing the ICAS qualification, the year before ACCA - they change their mind more times than the weather and are looking for quality of person with experience, not with the ability to pass a set of exams.