Who gets a CMA and why?

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Is the CMA certification worth it?

The first question is, what does a certified management accountant (CMA) actually do? Well, as you might guess, the “management” part is crucial. Accounting knowledge is instrumental as well, but really, the CMA designation is for a variety of managers working in government, nonprofits or at corporations.

The CMA designation is a certificate program, not a license as is the CPA. Licensure and certification set an accountant (and that accountant’s résumé) apart from other applicants. Certification signals a higher level of commitment to the accounting profession, potentially qualifying you for your next-level positions. It says more about your preparation for taking the next step in your career than a bachelor’s degree alone.

Passing the CMA exam means you have proven you have the skills needed for management. You are able to construct a budget, perform and interpret variance analysis, have a base knowledge of international business, exchange rates, read and analyze financial statements and analyze the business environment around you. It signals to prospective employers that you are ready for more responsibility, which may come with a promotion and/or pay raise. The CMA is not just understanding accounting; it tests beyond accounting, into additional facets of business: management, production, marketing, finance, sales, international operations. If you are or you want to be a manager, responsible for other people, products or processes, you are a great candidate for the CMA.

If you are already working in some facet of business and have any type of business undergraduate degree, you probably have a great foundation to build on to take and pass the CMA exam. The following Q&A will help answer other questions you might have on how to get started.

What are the benefits of being a CMA?

A CMA designation is seen by many employers as a utility player because of the broad business coverage tested on the exam. If there are skills employers want that you may not currently have, studying for, taking and passing the CMA may give you a boost on the job market. Financial and managerial accounting, cost accounting, finance, management concepts, information technology and data analytics are just a few of the skills you may improve as you study.

Imagine your employer asks you for a budget for the next year to run your department or asks for an analysis of whether or not the company should invest in a new piece of capital equipment. These sorts of business problems are easily solved with managerial accounting and finance tools that are tested on the CMA exam. Studying for the exam will prepare you to answer the call for some of those special projects.

CMA designation job opportunities

Keep in mind that the CMA designation can be valuable in just about any industry, not just in public accounting. Here are just a few examples of careers with CMA designation job opportunities:

  • corporate controller
  • financial analyst
  • financial management
  • management accountant
  • senior accountant
  • financial risk manager
What’s the CMA Exam like compared to the CPA Exam?

Let’s talk about the CPA Exam first. In most jurisdictions, there are strict guidelines on the number and type of accounting courses a person must have taken at their college or university in order to even take the exam. It covers four broad and very different areas of accounting (Financial, Regulation, Auditing and Business Environment Concepts). After taking and passing all four parts of the exam, there are additional requirements that vary by state (or jurisdiction) for a candidate to become licensed.

The CMA Exam has only two parts, and the parts do overlap somewhat. There are specific undergraduate courses we recommend before you study for the CMA Exam (such as basic financial accounting, managerial accounting, cost accounting, finance and strategic management), the Institute of Management Accountants (the IMA - the organization that administers the CMA Exam) does not specifically require any course taken in college. In fact, you may take the CMA Exam before you graduate from college (and Becker can show you how!). Business majors, Becker’s CMA Review package is a terrific study aid for many of your business core courses. Accounting majors, our review package can really help you study for your business and many of your core accounting courses as well. Once you pass the CMA Exam, to complete your requirements for your certification you must complete your undergraduate degree and experience requirements.

I’m already a CPA. Will CMA designation be redundant?

First of all, congratulations on the CPA. And no, the CMA would not be redundant. In fact, we strongly recommend having both. Ever hear of the triple threat? It’s not just a basketball term. It applies here, too: an accounting major, a CPA and a CMA. Those three items on your resume make you very attractive to a variety of employers - and not just public accounting firms!  If two candidates are identical on paper in terms of undergraduate program, grades and experience, but one of them has their CMA designation, guess who’s probably getting hired?  That’s right - the candidate who went the extra mile. Having your CPA and CMA designation also is likely to increase your earnings potential immediately and over your career.

Do you have to get your CPA before you can get your CMA certification?

Definitely not, in fact we know a lot of undergraduates are really hesitant about taking the CPA after they have their degree. All they have heard from their friends who graduated before they did is how tough the CPA exam is, and they get a little nervous. The amount of material you study to be able to take each part of the CPA exam is massive. The FAR exam alone is like taking an exam over five or six accounting courses. Sometimes, recent graduates don’t have the confidence in what they know and they end up either never taking the CPA exam or trying one exam, failing, and never trying again. 

Remember, the CMA exam is only two parts with overlapping content. You can focus on the specific content and learning outcomes for each part outlined by the IMA. Study time for a recent (or current) student familiar with financial, managerial, finance and management can likely be measured in weeks for the CMA rather than months for the CPA. Studying for the CMA is much more manageable. People taking the exam can walk in with confidence—and their approved financial calculators.

The CMA is a great way to test the water and boost confidence. Even if you don’t pass the first time, now you know what to expect. You get what the review course is trying to do, and it’s an easier task now. It’s a welcome reminder: “I do have those skills, I can do this.”  And once you have passed both sections of the CMA exam, taking the Financial and Business Environment Concepts exams is not such a heavy lift because you have studied a lot of the same topics to take the CMA exam.

How much study time is required for CMA designation?

The more related undergraduate classes you’ve taken and the more recently you have taken them, the more prepared you’ll be and the less study time you’ll need. Even if you have only had managerial and cost accounting, you can still significantly shorten your study time. If you’ve had no accounting classes or if it’s been a while since you have taken any accounting and business classes, you’ll need more study time, but with a good review program (like Becker’s CMA Review) you can shorten that time significantly as we help you focus your efforts and give you plenty of practice.

Want to learn more about the CMA and CMA Exam? We encourage you to take advantage of our 14-day free trial. There are plenty of CMA preparation choices out there, but no one supports you on your journey quite like Becker. Our instructors break down the learning outcomes, support you with teaching videos, flash cards, multiple choice questions and essays with detailed answers, practice exams, textbooks and give you access to a world-class academic support team of CPAs and CMAs with years of accounting experience, all backed by the Becker Promise. Get out there and get certified!

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