There is often confusion around the exact differences between a Chartered Accountant and a General Accountant, and how they can help you or your business. In this article we will look at the technical differences as well as other factors that should be considered when deciding on the type of Accountant.

The technical difference between a Chartered Accountant and a General Accountant.

A good analogy to use is a familiar medical scenario. You awake one morning and are feeling decidedly under the weather. Your first step is to visit your Doctor or General Practitioner (GP). Chances are you have been going to them for many years and they know you, your history, what works for you and what doesn’t. They have a good deal of industry experience and have seen many different cases, allowing them to offer a solution to your problem more often than not. On the rare occasion, they will refer you to a specialist who has focused on a specific area of expertise. This is much like the General Accountant and the specialist Chartered Accountant.

If we look at the course material that a General Accountant (GA) vs. a Chartered Accountant (CA) studies at University level, the only difference appears in the third year of study where the CA course looks into Financial accounting and Taxation & Estate Duty in more detail than what the GA does. When the General Accountant and the Chartered Accountant are busy with their articles, the Chartered Accountant will then specialise in Auditing or Financial Management.

What does this mean to you? Well, if you are looking for an individual accountant to assist you with the financial side of your business, a good choice would be to go with a General Accountant as they can provide you with all round good advice. However if you already have a general accountant in your workforce and you are looking to expand, you may find the specialist service of a Chartered Accountant useful to fill a specialised role.

When choosing between a Chartered Accountant and a General Accountant, the choice is very much about the person.

The most important point when selecting an accountant is not the qualifications or certificates but the ability combined with the experience of the accountant.  The majority of accountants and chartered accountants do exactly as they were trained to do, they know the rules in their field, understand how to comply with the law and compile their records accurately. But do they understand business? Do they understand your business? This is really what sets any accountant, whether chartered or not, apart from the crowd. Can they take the basic rules of accounting and apply them to your business so you become larger and more profitable? This, therefore, is the vital selection criteria when selecting any accountant, what can they do for my business? When you find an accountant with vision, the qualifications and certifications are really only the cherry on top.

Experience blurs the line between Chartered accountancy and general accountancy

Another interesting point worth mentioning is that the lines between a chartered accountant and general accountant tend to blur with industry experience. Often as accountants move between positions, they gain valuable experience in different areas.  This often means that your general accountant will be required to specialise in areas such as Auditing while your Chartered Accountant may find themselves taking a more general overall approach to accountancy. All good accountants will take the time to keep abreast of new developments in all aspects of accounting and therefore keep increasing their knowledge of the overall picture as well as the specifics.

What to look for when selecting an accounting firm vs an individual accountant?

There are a number of deciding factors when choosing between an accounting firm and an individual accountant, the important points to consider are:

  • Personal attention
  • Value

Personal attention

In order for your business to succeed, you will always need personal attention on the financial side of your business. Someone to understand where your business is going and can advise on how to get it there. Finding the right individual accountant can often provide this but they may not be able to offer the value that an accounting firm can. On the flip side, if you have a small business, approaching a large accounting firm can often be costly and leave you with very little feedback on how to guide your business. It is therefore a delicate balancing act when selecting the correct option for you and your business.


If you select the correct accounting firm that will provide you with personal attention, then often you will receive increased value from this. The reason being that an accounting firm will often contain a number of staff, all with specialised roles. There will be someone to maintain the vision for your business, a number of people to complete your financials, a tax specialists, etc which all mean that you are receiving added value while not necessarily paying any more than you would for an individual accountant.


We hope that this article has shed some light on what is often a mystery for most people, i.e. the difference between a chartered accountant and a general accountant. While we highlighted some of the technical differences at a university level, the main factor for success when choosing a type of accountant is rather the unique vision and ability of the accountant to ensure you that they understand your business and offer you the advice and guidance to allow you and your business to succeed.

Cape Town Accountant Brett Dirmeik is a registered member of the SAIPA. Dirmeik Consulting offers fixed, competitive rates and as it is a boutique Cape Town accounting firm, you can be sure of the personal attention you require. Contact us today on 021 421 4444.


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