What is CMA? The Definitive Answer to an Important Question

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What is a CMA? If you have ambitions to be a leader, not just in accounting but in financial management and business strategy, you should understand the role of a Certified Management Accountant.

The CMA certification is granted by the Institute of Management Accountants, an international body with a long history of ensuring members meet high professional standards. Successful candidates have a proven skill-set in areas like budgeting and forecasting, risk management, corporate investing, leadership, and even IT and analytics.

As a CMA, you can achieve a lot in your career. You’ll find many people in C-suite or executive-level positions hold the designation. The certification has the reputation of belonging to ambitious, driven business leaders.

Earning a CMA certification is no small feat. Candidates must be IMA members, have a four-year degree, pass the rigorous two-part CMA exam, and earn two years of work experience.

I am a CMA and have helped thousands of CMA candidates pass the CMA exam. I understand the ins and outs of this prestigious certification, and I know firsthand what the CMA can do for your career.

Read on to learn more about exactly what a CMA is, what a CMA does, career opportunities, and earning potential.

Originally published on July 20, 2019, this article was updated and republished on June 15, 2021.

What is a CMA?

what is a cma

A CMA is a highly qualified accounting professional who can take on leadership positions in many kinds of businesses. On a day-to-day basis, people who have obtained a CMA certification may use their accounting and financial management expertise to make important decisions and drive business strategies.

Unlike public accounting—where a CPA will focus heavily on compliance, taxes, or auditing—a CMA can work in consultative capacities and exercise leadership in high-level positions. As a finance expert, a CMA will have an important voice, whether it’s in a boardroom or steering an accounting department.

Most commonly, people who pursue a CMA will go after management positions or executive roles in all types of businesses.

What Does a CMA Do?

The work a CMA does can include corporate finance, management accounting, corporate governance, technology, and strategy teams within an organization.

In these positions, the role of a certified management accountant is to analyze data from various sources and construct ways for the organization to improve performance. This often involves diving deep into the numbers for internal review and budget analysis to identify opportunities for investment.

What a CMA does is not only prepare but also analyze all types of financial statements like profit and loss, cash flow statements, and balance sheets. They also act as mentors to entry-level accountants and often lead accounting teams.

A CMA is qualified to provide insight and develop business strategies, as well as work with senior management to execute these strategies. Ultimately, a CMA can be responsible for leading a company to financial strength and growth.

What are Common CMA Roles?

The CMA designation can open many doors. Unlike a CPA, who typically performs tax and audit work, a CMA has a broad range of job roles they are qualified to perform.

Here are a few examples of what CMA job titles can include:

  • Cost or Corporate Accountant
  • Accounting Manager
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • VP of Finance
  • Financial Strategist
  • Corporate Controller
  • Staff and Sr. Accountant

These are just a few of the roles you can hold, and you can find more in our in-depth article on CMA careers. The best part is these roles can be held in any number of interesting industries.

Differences Between CMA and CPA

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First, a CMA is not the same as a CPA. The main difference between the CPA and CMA is that a certified public accountant is focused on things like taxation and auditing, while a certified management accountant focuses more on strategy and the business side of finance and accounting.

A CPA typically performs audits and tax work, while a CMA is an expert in strategic and financial management.

Part of what makes the CMA certification so beneficial is the skills you acquire. As a CMA, your critical skills allow you to support small and large businesses, while your practical skills offer higher earning potential and offer businesses greater credibility.

These skills help you advance up the corporate ladder, and are in demand.

Benefits of CMA Certification

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If you are looking for diverse career opportunities, then earning your CMA certification is a must. More and more businesses are seeking out people with a CMA because of their unique skill set, and they are rewarded financially.

A typical certified management accountant’s salary is higher than that of accountants without the designation, making it a lucrative option for career advancement. According to the latest IMA Salary Survey, on average, a CMA will earn 30% more than a non-CMA peer.

Perhaps one of the most significant advantages of earning your CMA is that it is a globally recognized certification. Simply put, by earning your designation, you are opening up doors to new and exciting careers all over the globe.

Whether you want to work in private accounting for a small business, or something bigger like a multinational corporation, your skills are in demand. You can also work in public accounting, for the government, a not-for-profit, or at an academic institution.

What Does a CMA Earn?

If you are looking for a financially beneficial career, then becoming a CMA will definitely be appealing to you.

What a CMA earns is higher than average. Besides higher base salaries, CMA roles offer above-average benefits and perks, which include things like flexible spending accounts and ample health and life benefits.

According to the IMA salary survey in 2021, the overall median base salary for a CMA in the USA was $105,000, and the overall median total compensation was $118,500. These compensation numbers have been rising significantly each year since 2018.

That’s more than enough to offset the CMA exam cost, as well as the cost of taking a CMA prep course.

The IMA’s salary survey found the benefits of what a CMA does for career prospects extend beyond higher salaries. It found that 88% of respondents believe their certification created more confidence, better job performance, and the ability to move across different areas of business.


How to Get a CMA Certification

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If all of this sounds appealing, there are a few basic steps you need to take to become a CMA:

  1. Become an IMA member.
  2. Study for and pass the CMA Exam, parts one and two.
  3. Finish a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent professional certification) from an accredited school.
  4. Complete the CMA work experience requirements.
  5. Apply for and be granted your CMA certificate.

As a CMA, you will also have to maintain your certification through yearly continuing education credits.

Certified Management Accountant Requirements

So the question you may be asking yourself is, “How long does it take to become a CMA?” Great question.

Becoming a CMA requires time and dedication. CMA certification requirements include a 3-4 year bachelor’s degree and acquiring two consecutive years of relevant work experience.

Whether you earn your work experience before or after taking the exam does not matter; however, you cannot become a CMA without passing the CMA exam.

The CMA exam consists of two parts, which are made up of 100 multiple choice questions and 2 essay scenarios. You can sign up to take the test on one of the several CMA exam dates that are scheduled each year.

So how hard is the CMA exam? Unfortunately, it’s certainly not an easy test.

The global pass rate for the CMA exam in 2020 was 45% for both parts. While slightly discouraging to some, with the right CMA review course, you can absolutely pass the CMA exam on your first try.

Is the CMA Right for You?

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Deciding whether or not to take the plunge and become a CMA is a personal decision. One that is based on your individual preferences and desire to advance in your accounting career to executive roles.

So, what does the CMA mean to you?

For many, it is the chance to develop unique financial and strategic management accounting skills, earn a respectable salary, and gain access to new and exciting career opportunities.

Interested in learning even more about what the CMA certification is, and why it’s right for you?

Make sure to take a look at our bestselling complete CMA coaching combo!

Drop your comments in the section below!

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4 Comments on “What is CMA? The Definitive Answer to an Important Question”

  1. Dear Nathan,

    I hold a bachelors degree with a specialization in marketing. I have taken finance and accounting in college. I am not an accountant and do not work in finance. My work experience was mainly in sales. Is the CMA certification a good move to switch careers to finance? Will it help me reach managerial positions outside the finance and accounting fields?

    Would appreciate your advice.

    1. Hi Usama,

      For switching to a career in accounting/finance, accounting knowledge is fundamental. Without it, it’s practically impossible to pass the CMA exams and become a CMA.
      The CMA certification is designed for professionals who are aiming to pursue a career and stay competitive in the management accounting field. People with CMA skills and qualifications are essential, however, in all types of organizations. CMA careers are typically longer and have ample opportunities to grow, even when switching between companies.

      My program includes a textbook to help professionals like you transition into the accounting field and pass the CMA exam. For all the details you’re welcome to click on the following link: https://cmaexamacademy.com/product/premium-cma-coaching-combo-part-1-part-2/

      For more information about possible career paths you might find the following article useful: CMA Careers: Your Guide to High-Paying CMA Roles

      I hope this helps. Let me know if have any other questions.

    1. Hi Menka,

      Thanks for reaching out. Check out here everything my coaching course includes and how it can help you pass the exam and get your CMA certification 🙂

      To learn more about the steps to earning your CMA designation, have a look at this roadmap.

      Let me know if you have any other questions, Menka 🙂

      Thank you,

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