Accounting has been regarded as an acceptable career choice by traditional Asian parents. I remember my parents urging me take up the books (after it was apparent that I wouldn’t be a doctor or a lawyer) and being disappointed when I choose otherwise. Students choosing their future studies and those planning mid-career switches may be wondering if accountancy is a good and safe career choice as told by our parents’ generation.
Being an accountant can be a versatile career choice. Every business, across all industries and sectors, needs an accountant (or many) to help with the accounts and book-keeping. This means that an accountant can work in multiple industries and in businesses that range from small-medium enterprises (SMEs) to large multi-national corporations (MNCs).
As part of our salary guide series, we explore how much does an Accountant, Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Chartered Accountant (CA) earns in Singapore.
Accountant VS Certified Public Accountant (CPA) VS Chartered Accountant (CA)
The first thing to note about accountancy is that there is a difference between an accountant and a certified accountant (i.e. CPA or CA). In general, an accountant is a generic term that can refer to someone who graduated with an accountancy degree or is placed in charge of an accounting function in a company.
However, to be a certified accountant, the accountant has to meet certain qualification standards and pass the requisite examinations and standards set by a professional body.
In Singapore, the professional qualification and designation for accountants is Chartered Accountant of Singapore (CA Singapore). This is a change from the previous designation of Certified Public Accountant (CPA) of Singapore which was used before July 2013.
The CA Singapore qualification is developed by the Singapore Accountancy Commission (SAC) – a statutory body under the Ministry of Finance and administered by the Instituted of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA). It is also recognised internationally through Reciprocal Agreements with Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ), Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI), the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).
Additionally, to become a public accountant who is allowed to provide public accountancy services such as audit and reporting on financial statements, a CA (Singapore) must register with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) which also requires additional professional requirements.
You Need More Than Degree Qualifications To Be A Chartered Accountant of Singapore (CA Singapore)
In order to qualify to be a CA (Singapore), degree applicants must complete at least the 5-module professional programme which comprises 1 capstone module and 4 technical modules. They would also have to accumulate a minimum of 450 working days across 4 years of core work experience under the guidance of an Approved Mentor in an Accredited Training Organisation.
Internationally, there are other accounting professional qualifications, including CPA and ACCA. The CPA qualification is issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). This qualification is recognised in U.S. and by mainly US regional offices. The ACCA qualification is issued by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). Under the 2013 transitional arrangements of CA Singapore, existing ACCA members were allowed to take a pre-admission course to qualify by 31 December 2018. However, as there is no current reciprocal arrangement for these qualifications, members would have to take the same Singapore Chartered Accountant qualifications as degree applicants to be CA Singapore.
Members of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ), Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI), the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) are recognised under Reciprocal Agreements and would not have to take the Singapore Chartered Accountant qualifications.
How Much Does An Accountant Earn In Singapore?
Unlike professions in the public sector (i.e. teachers and nurses, accountants span across both the public and private sectors. This means that their remuneration is very dependent on the individual employer.
In general, the median gross monthly starting salary for a fresh accountancy graduate is $3,000 for a 3-year degree programme and around $3,000 to $4,405 for a 4-year degree programme from the local universities.
|Degree||Universities conducting the courses||Employment||Median Gross Monthly Starting Salary ($)|
|Three-Year Degree Programme|
|Bachelor of Accountancy||NTU||353||88.7||3,000|
|Four-Year Degree Programme|
|Bachelor of Accountancy||SMU||178||86.0||3,100|
|Bachelor of Accountancy||SUSS||76||81.7||3,000|
|Bachelor of Accountancy & Bachelor of Business||NTU||116||91.3||4,405|
|Bachelor of Business Administration (Accountancy) (Honours)||NUS||174||92.1||3,500|
To look at how much accountants can earn in their careers, we can also look at MOM’s wage data.
For both auditor and accountant, the median basic wage for the 25th percentile is about $4,200 to $4,260. At the 25th percentile, it is likely that these are more junior positions who would receive a corresponding lower remuneration.
However, the wage gap widens at the median and 75th percentile. This is not surprising because an auditor who can sign off on company audit documents must be a CA (Singapore) and meet the ARCA requirements to be a public accountant. This requires a higher level of professional qualifications and experience, and the job is remunerated accordingly.
An accountant earns a median basic wage of about $5,000 while an auditor earns a median basic wage of $7,144. For those who are on 75th percentile, possibly more senior positions, an accountant earns about $7,150, while an auditor earns about $15,917.
|Occupation||Basic Wage||Gross Wage|
|25th Percentile ($)||Median ($)||75th Percentile ($)||25th Percentile ($)||Median ($)||75th Percentile ($)|
|Accountant (excluding tax accountant)||4,200||5,083||7,083||4,230||5,170||7,150|
Source: MOM, Occupational Wages 2020
Note: Basic wage is before deduction of employee CPF contribution and personal income tax. It excludes employer CPF contribution, bonuses, overtime payments, commissions, allowances and other monetary payments. Gross wage refers to sum of basic wage, overtime payments, commissions, allowances and other regular cash payments. It excludes employer and employee’s CPF contributions, personal income tax, bonuses, stock options, other lump sum payments.
It Pays To Obtain Professional Qualifications
While MOM’s occupational wage data is a useful reference, every employer would pay differently and every employee has different performance which will affect the remuneration. Thus, we cannot expect to use the wage data to justify a salary increase from our employers.
However, there are some interesting observations from the wage data. The difference between gross wages (which includes overtime, commission and bonuses) and basic wages is quite minimal. Thus, accountants should not expect to be paid allowances, commissions or extra overtime pay.
The wide wage difference between accountant and auditor especially at the 75th percentile suggests that qualifications matter. An auditor must obtain CA Singapore qualifications as well as meet the additional professional requirements imposed by ACRA to provide public accountancy services, including audits. Top performers in accountancy may wish to consider pursuing additional professional qualifications that enable them to take on auditing roles that are better rewarded.
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