If you’re looking for a career in accounting, then the CMA qualification may be a perfect fit for you.

Specifically, the Certified Management Accountant qualification, known as the CMA for short, is issued by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), which is based in the US. As such, the CMA is typically known as a US qualification, but it’s worth noting that the CMA is internationally recognised, so management accountants in the UK can also study for the qualification as well.

Globally, there are over 70,000 members of the IMA in over 100 countries, so if you do decide to pursue the qualification, you’ll be in good company with thousands of other people!

What Does A CMA Do?

Before deciding whether the CMA is the right qualification for you, it may be worth knowing a little more about the type of people who generally undertake the CMA.

Generally speaking, the CMA is a qualification for management accountants.

Typically, management accountants work for a single company and will prepare and analyse financial data for that company. The insights that a management accountant can provide ideally help the company’s management to make well-informed and rationalised business decisions.

Some typical tasks that a management accountant may perform include:

  • Preparing financial statements for a company, perhaps on a quarterly basis;
  • Preparing periodic cash flows;
  • Budget analysis; and
  • Communicating financial data and its implications to department heads who don’t work in finance.

Management accountants also typically liaise with other members of a company’s finance team.

Note that the role of a management accountant differs from other positions in the accounting and finance world, such as an auditor. An auditor’s job, for example, is to review a company’s accounts to assess a number of things, including whether they are materially correct and not materially misstated.

However, it’s not solely management accountants that work towards becoming a CMA. For instance, a variety of other positions may contain people who are CMA qualified, such as:

  • Financial controllers;
  • Cost accountants;
  • Financial analysts;
  • Treasurers; and
  • Chief Financial Officers.

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Management accountants with a CMA qualification are often valued by the businesses that employ them.
Management accountants with a CMA qualification can provide real insight into the inner workings of businesses. (Image Source: CC0 1.0, geralt, Pixabay)

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What Exams Do I Need To Pass To Become A CMA?

If you think that the CMA qualification may be right for you, it’s important to be aware of the various requirements that you’ll need to meet before you can achieve the qualification.

For example, you will have to meet requirements such as:

  • Having a current IMA membership;
  • Meet the relevant professional experience requirements; and
  • Complete both parts of the CMA exam.

For a full list of the requirements, please refer to the CMA’s website.

When it comes to the examination portion of the requirements, the curriculum of the CMA is broken down into two separate parts.

Part One is concerned with “financial reporting, planning, performance, and control.” Part Two, on the other hand, looks at financial decision making.

Overall, it should take around a year to a year and a half to complete both parts of the CMA, although you’re allowed up to three years to complete both parts’ examinations. This means that it should be possible for most candidates to find the time to fit the study demands of the CMA around their work and social life.

While the exams are by no means a walk in the park, the IMA notes that there is a 50% pass rate worldwide, which means that the exams are passable, provided you put in the time to study, develop good exam technique and have the aptitude for the materials taught.

Good preparation is always key when it comes to passing an exam; to that end it would be beneficial to engage a finance tutor.

If you try to study regularly, keep yourself motivated by thinking about the benefits that a CMA designation could have on your career, and remember that you won't be studying forever, then you may find the process of preparing for the exams less stressful.

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The CMA is highly regarded as a qualification in the US.
Whether you decide to study the CMA qualification may depend on where in the world you would like to work. (Image Source: CC0 1.0, n3otr3x, Pixabay)

Is The CMA Qualification Right For Me?

In the accounting and auditing profession, there are a number of different qualifications, each of which brings its own benefits. Therefore, doing your research to understand which qualification will suit your specific circumstances is really important.

For instance, there is another qualification that management accountants based in the UK like to pursue, which is issued by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).

When it comes to choosing between studying for a CIMA qualification or the CMA, it can often be a difficult decision to take. This is because both have been around for decades, and both are internationally regarded and can often improve your career prospects and earning potential.

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However, while each qualification carries its own recognition, there are a few instances when a CMA may be preferable over a CIMA and vice versa. For instance, where you’d like to work in the world may influence whether you see the CMA or the CIMA as more preferable.

If, for example, you see yourself working in the UK for the vast majority of your career, then the CIMA qualification may be preferable to you.

However, if you’d like to work over in the United States, then the CMA may be just what’s needed. Ultimately, it will depend on your own personal circumstances, and which qualification you think will best give you the knowledge and skills to succeed throughout your career.

Note that this dilemma doesn't just appear when thinking about whether to take the CMA or CIMA qualification. In fact, some prospective candidates also find it difficult to choose between the CPA and the ACA or ACCA. As above, completing the CPA exam and meeting the other CPA membership requirements is more commonly a route seen in the United States, while those planning on working in the UK tend to study towards the ACA or ACCA.

Do you know how to put your CPA qualification to good use?

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A picture of a calculator. Often, a CMA is expected to be good with numbers and able to use a calculator.
Many CMAs have solid numerical skills. (Image Source: CC0 1.0, Luiz-Jorge-Artista)

Are There Other Qualifications I Should Be Aware Of?

There are plenty of accountancy or business qualifications out there, such as the:

  • CPA;
  • ACA;
  • ACCA; or even
  • An MBA.

As a result, it can be really confusing if you’re looking at entering the accounting or auditing sector, as it can be difficult to decide which qualification is the best.

Ultimately, when it comes to deciding between a qualification such as the ACA and the CMA/CIMA, it is worthwhile thinking about the kind of career that you’d like to follow. If you think that you might want to become an auditor, or work for one of the “Big 4” professional services firms – Deloitte, KPMG, PWC, or Ernst and Young, an ACA qualification may be better than the CMA.

However, if you know you’d like to work within the area of management accounting, the CMA may be preferable, as the syllabus is more focused on this line of work than the ACA, which is wider in scope.

If you do have any questions about which qualification(s) could be worthwhile for you, it may be worthwhile talking to your careers adviser at school or university if you do need any extra advice.

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It may also be worthwhile noting that most qualifications also require an element of continuing professional education (CPD) even once you have become a member of that respective organisation or body. The idea behind having CPD is that you keep your knowledge and skills up to date, for example with matters such as changing accounting policies.

It's also likely that, as part of your pathway to membership of these bodies, you'll have to learn about ethical behaviours or ethics more generally.

Ultimately, the choice of which qualification - if any - you'd like to pursue is a matter of your own personal choice, but often people who want to work within the accounting, business or finance industries find that relevant qualifications can help boost their career prospects and future earning potential.

As a result, if you feel as though you would like to ultimately have a career in an area such as management accounting, but want to check that your numerical and accounting skills are up to par, it may be worthwhile hiring a tutor from Superprof to help ensure that your knowledge is where it should be.

Regardless of whether you're currently studying at school or university, Superprof has a range of tutors across subjects such as mathematics, economics, business, and accounting, who can provide a variety of questions and test examples to help put you through your paces and give you the knowledge you need to succeed.

It’s just a case of entering your postcode to find a tutor that is local to you if you would like to have individual or group accounting tuition online or in person. Alternatively, if you would prefer the convenience of studying from home, there are also tutors that are willing to work with you remotely to achieve your intended learning outcomes.

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A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.