CMA + CPA: Why accountants should pursue both
Continuing your education in accounting, a constantly changing field, can be a beneficial endeavor. As such, enhancing your skills and keeping your accounting proficiency high through an advanced certification is something that all accountants should consider for a variety of reasons.
A number of accountants choose to pursue multiple advanced certifications in the financial and accounting space. Pursuing one or more advanced certifications can help give you personal reassurance during uncertain economic times, as you’ll have a larger professional skillset to make your experience more versatile. Moreover, doubling down on accounting credentials—especially obtaining both your CPA license and CMA certification—can broaden your knowledge base of accounting concepts and skills, enhance your marketability and provide numerous other benefits.
What are these accounting credentials, and which career paths do they follow?
After you have earned your degree in accounting and spent some time in the accounting industry, you may want to pursue your CPA (Certified Public Accountant) license and/or your CMA (Certified Management Accountant) certification. Both can be invaluable when you are trying to further your career, but they generally follow unique career paths and are focused on different core areas of accounting.
- CPA: Following a path to the CPA license provides broader accounting training, as the CPA Exam tests on skills touching many different areas of accounting, from auditing to governmental. CPAs can work in government, private corporations or for themselves. Some CPA career paths include working as an auditor or tax preparer.
- CMA: The CMA certification is more highly specialized in the field of management and cost accounting, in comparison to the CPA license. If you decide to pursue the CMA certification, you are likely to delve into analysis, risk management and performance management and can work in roles spanning everything from financial analyst to corporate controller. Being a CMA can often entail making major financial decisions for a company.
How do the CPA license and CMA certification overlap?
A major benefit of continuing your accounting education is that you can enhance and develop the skills you’ve already utilized in the workplace; both the CPA and CMA can increase your depth of accounting subject matter knowledge. However, there are some important distinctions between the two. For example, after you pass your CPA Exam, you must also become licensed. The CMA, on the other hand, requires membership in the IMA (Institute of Management Accountants). Whereas the “what” focus of the CPA involves more accounting-specific training, the “why” focus of the CMA deals more with financial accounting as well as asset and performance management. Despite the differences, there are many ways that both credentials overlap and go hand-in-hand.
- Educational requirements: Although requirements may differ slightly between states, a bachelor’s degree is usually required before you sit for the CPA Exam. On the other hand, you can take and pass the CMA Exam while you’re completing your bachelor’s or master’s degree and have yet to graduate. Keep in mind that you need to have completed a bachelor’s degree to become a fully licensed CPA and fully certified CMA. Many candidates choose to start studying for the exams while they are still enrolled in school.
- Professional experience: Both the CMA and CPA require you to have professional accounting experience for completion —for example, two continuous years of full-time work or four years of part-time work is required to become a certified CMA. Becoming a fully licensed CPA requires varying professional experience requirements by state, typically asking candidates to complete a certain amount of work that is overseen by another licensed CPA. Fortunately, the job experience used to meet CPA requirements may also satisfy CMA experience, saving you time if you choose to pursue both.
- Exams: If you want the CPA license and/or CMA certification, you’ll need to sit for a challenging exam. If you’re looking to pursue both credentials, there’s some overlapping content in the exams in areas like financial reporting, internal controls and more. The 4-part CPA Exam (that can be taken over 18 months) covers Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Regulation (REG), and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC). The CMA Exam consists of two parts that must be completed within three years of each other: Part 1 is Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics, and Part 2 is Strategic Financial Management. Topics on external financial reporting decisions on the CMA Exam are similar to the financial accounting basics covered in the FAR section of CPA; but, it’s important to note that the CMA Exam tests these topics in more depth. Studying for one of these exams can help you master the material for the other exam. Becker offers CPA and CMA Exam Review to help you prepare for both exams.
- Continuing education: To maintain your status as a CPA or CMA, you’re required to accumulate annual continuing professional education, or CPE credits from classes, seminars, webinars or other formats. CPE is meant to keep accountants’ acumen strong and make sure they are up to date with the newest industry changes. Many CPE courses can satisfy the requirements of both credentials, and cover topics that are applicable to both roles. Becker offers a variety of CPE options to help fulfill these CPE requirements for CPAs and CMAs.
- Cost: Both the CPA and CMA credentials require upfront costs, which include application and exam fees, as well as exam preparation fees. The CMA also requires IMA membership fees but offers discounts to students and other cost-sensitive groups. The CPA and CMA both require monetary investment but can be well worth the initial cost.
Doubling down on certifications
As obtaining multiple accounting certifications is an investment in your career, having both a CPA and CMA may benefit you and your career aspirations in a number of ways. With dual certification, your company may consider you more qualified for higher-level senior positions, as top personnel at firms often pursue both credentials. If you’re hoping for a movement on the career ladder, having double certification can set you apart from other candidates who are applying for the same role, whether internally at your company or for a new role – the two three-letter designations by your name can help you stand out in a stack of resumes.
Having both designations indicates that you are dedicated to the accounting profession and passionate about bettering your accounting knowledge and workplace. Maybe your goal is to become a CEO or CFO. Both of these roles require more expertise than a traditional accounting role requires, and having your CPA and CMA can give you that extra authority to be considered for one of these roles.
Both of these advanced certifications are highly respected and can earn prestige from your colleagues and peers. Being a Certified Public Accountant is a recognition of your mastery of all things entry level accountants should know. Having a CMA, in particular, is global acknowledgement of your expertise in accounting and can even open the door to international opportunities. Your professional network will know that you are adept in both of these areas, as you were able to fulfill the requirements of both. When you’ve earned both certifications, you demonstrate a proficiency and passion for the accounting industry, as well as a versatility in your accounting wheelhouse.
Becker’s CMA subject matter expert, Susie Duong, PhD, explains why accountants should pursue holding dual certifications.
“For current CPAs, CMA training can open doors to careers in different sectors, including corporate, government or non-profit and in roles spanning from financial analyst to treasurer, all the way up through CFO. For those who are already CMAs, the CPA training equips accountants with in-depth knowledge on essential accounting, tax and business law topics. Overall, obtaining both the CPA and CMA credentials can benefit accountants in the long run by broadening their horizons, differentiating them from peers and impacting the course of their careers.”
Earning both the CPA license and CMA certification can be a beneficial undertaking and can pay off in a number of different ways. If you’re ready to take the next step professionally, pursuing both the CMA and CPA can be the right place to start.
Ready to kickstart your accounting career? Becker offers powerful CPA and CMA Exam preparation tools to help you be in the best position on exam day. Explore Becker’s CPA Exam Review and CMA Exam Review to get started.