CMA vs. CIMA: Key Differences for Aspiring Accountants

Below we will examine the key differences between two popular management accountant qualifications in CMA and CIMA.

If the interplay between data, statistics, technology and influencing key business decisions within the field of accounting really interests you, you’ve probably considered a career in management accounting. 

However, certified management accountants must have valid qualifications that allow them to practice in the field of accounting and finance legitimately.  

In this article, we will examine the difference between two popular management accountant qualifications and provide you with some guidance about which one would be a better match for you.

If you’ve been trying to make a decision between CIMA and CMA or are just starting your research, you will benefit from giving us 5 minutes of your time. 

What is a Certified Management Accountant?

First, we’ll briefly look at what a management accountant does - for those who don’t know and then we’ll jump right into the comparison.  

Financial accounting differs from management accounting, but sometimes those new to the accounting field think they are the same thing. So, let’s clarify:

A financial accountant is responsible for gathering financial data, preparing accurate financial statements, forecasting costs and revenue, managing tax payments and conducting internal audits. 

A management accountant works with senior officials in the company and will investigate and use the internal data relating to company products and services to make important business decisions. Helping the management team to make good business decisions allows the management accountant to contribute to making the business more profitable.

Let’s use an example. Say you are working for Google. This is a business that most people are familiar with. As an MA, some key questions you might answer are:

  • What is the revenue growth across the Google product catalogue?  More specifically, what is the revenue being generated from the use of Gmail?
  • How many paid users does the Google Drive product have, and what is the expected increase in this trend over the next 12 months? 
  • Does Google continue to provide some free storage? Could the amount of storage deter people from signing up for paid services?
  • Does the product Google Maps make any money from businesses, or is it facing losses?
  • Is the Google search engine still the biggest income earner, or is there another product gaining popularity?

You can see from this example that you would have to collect a vast amount of information from the company databases and analyse that data to make critical business decisions. Understanding advanced aspects of the accounting field and how businesses operate would be key skills and knowledge that an MA would need. 

A careless mistake would cause the company to incur massive losses and it is for this reason that global accountancy bodies regulate the accounting profession. They do this by providing up-to-date and critical skills in the form of qualifications to professionals who want to work in public and private enterprises. 

Two sought-after qualifications that major accounting firms and large companies look for is the CIMA and CMA qualifications. We will now continue by examining the difference between these two respected qualifications. 

Image courtesy of AICPA and CIMA

CIMA Qualification

Under the rigorous control of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, students can achieve a globally recognised certification. This professional qualification is most popular in the UK and commonwealth countries but is growing in popularity elsewhere. 

This UK-based course blends management accounting, advanced financial reporting, relationship management and financial strategy into one comprehensive qualification helping you to deliver exceptional performance in an ever-evolving and fast-paced business environment. 

Entry requirements

The nice part of CIMA is that you do not need to attain a financial degree or diploma before joining this qualification. You can start at the beginning on the certificate level - it will just take you longer to qualify. 

Having said that, if you do have an accounting qualification with a recognised provider in the UK or elsewhere, you may be eligible to skip certain objective exams on the operational and management levels of the qualification. 

The CIMA Global website provides an exemption calculator to check your exemption status. We also have a useful free guide to CIMA Exemptions, which you can read here.


To give you a quick idea of some qualifications that qualify for exemption:

  • A previous qualification in Accounting at a Master’s level
  • A previous qualification with another professional body that is recognised by CIMA
  • Membership with the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT)
  • Graduation from a degree programme recognised by CIMA
  • A qualification on CIMA’s list of accredited programmes

Qualification Structure

The qualification has 4 levels, namely:

  • Certificate level - has three objective tests, a case study and a module on professional ethics to attain the certificate in business accounting. This is an introduction to financial management skills and business management.
  • Operational level - has three objective tests and a case study to achieve a diploma in management accounting
  • Management level - has three objective tests and a case study to achieve an advanced diploma in management accounting
  • Strategic level - has three objective tests and a case study to achieve the CIMA qualification in full and receive the CGMA designation. 

Unless you have exemptions, you will be required to write all 12 objective exams and complete the practical experience requirements (PERS). If you do have exemptions, you may be able to bypass several exams. For instance, if you are a CA, then you can register to complete the CIMA Gateway Exam and if you are accepted, you will have passed over 11 exams. 

This makes the CIMA qualification extremely flexible in nature and allows professionals with a wide scope of learning and experience to attain the qualification. But how long will it take?

Each of the levels can take around 12 -18 months to complete, but most students are able to complete it within 3 years.

Objective Tests

They are 90 minutes long, computer-based and can be taken any time during the year.  

Case Study Exams

Each case study exam is 3 hours long. They are computer-based and must be taken at specific times (February, May, August, November).


The full costs associated with the qualification are outside the scope of this article. However, we have an excellent resource that discusses the costs of the course in detail. 

Image courtesy of IMA

USA CMA Qualification

Offering a way for accounting professionals, primarily in the US, a chance to attain the certified management accountant designation. The IMA’s prestigious CMA certification has also become more popular in recent years around the world, with countries like India, China and the Middle East employing many CMA graduates.  

The CMA qualification has opened up an internationally recognised qualification to many who have a bachelor’s degree and want to join an accounting body that has weight behind it. 

Entry Requirements

The minimum entry requirement is a high school diploma (as per the US schooling system or the equivalent in other countries).

To receive a CMA designation, students will have to complete a bachelor’s degree from a recognised university or institution within 7 years of completing the CMA, if they do not already possess this level of education. 


There are certain qualifications in countries around the world that qualify as CMA recognised qualifications. These qualifications will allow you access to the CMA, even if they are not called a bachelor degree. For a full list of these exemptions, you visit the IMA website.

However, since the CMA course is only two parts, no waivers are given to students, i.e., you will have to write the exam for parts I and II of the course. 

Qualification Structure

The CMA USA course consists of two parts, covering 12 competencies.  

Part I - Financial planning, performance and analytics

The following competencies are covered under this part:

  • External financial reporting decisions
  • Planning, budgeting and forecasting
  • Performance management
  • Cost accounting
  • Internal controls
  • Analytics and technology

Part II

  • Strategic financial management
  • Financial statement analysis
  • Corporate finance
  • Decision analysis
  • Risk management
  • Investment decisions
  • Professional ethics

You can complete this qualification within 6-9 months, with a maximum of three years allowed to complete the full course. CMA considerably reduces the time it takes to earn a globally recognised qualification and attain CMA membership. 

Image courtesy of Canva/Studioroman

CMA Exam

Each exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and two 30-minute essays. Each essay question is based on a case study that simulates real-life scenarios. All exams are computer based. 

You can expect 10-12 essay types questions and calculations. You will have three hours to complete the MCQs and one hour to do the essay types questions. To pass the exam, you must earn 360 out of 500 points. 

It’s worth noting that the pass rate globally for Part I is 40%, and for Part II is 50%. This means that out of every 10 students, 5 achieve this qualification. 

Exam windows

There are three exam windows throughout the year and you can write either part I or part II during these windows.

  • Window 1 - January/February
  • Window 2 - May/June
  • Window 3 - September/October


The following fees are paid to the IMA professional body:

  • Entrance Fee
  • Membership Fee
  • Application Fee
  • Exam Fee

For updated information on these fees, you can access the IMA website. These fees exclude any tuition fees that are paid to a service provider. 

CMA vs.CIMA - Which should I Choose?

Now that we’ve examined the basics of the qualifications, we can move on to the part that most people are here for. 

Which one of these globally recognised qualifications will be best for you?

As much as we wish we could just give you a short answer, unfortunately, we can’t.

But we can try and help you by steering you in the right direction as you answer these questions for yourself.

Where do you intend to live and work in the next few years?

If you intend to remain in the UK for the foreseeable future and want to be recognised as a management accountant then the CIMA would be best for you.

If you are in the US and want to remain there, you can make good use of your bachelor's degree or equivalent in the US by registering for CMA and achieving membership in the short term. 

If you have your sights set on overseas companies and opportunities, then both are good options. However, if you specifically want to reside and work in China, India and the Middle East, you will find CMA a very attractive option. 

How long do you have to achieve registration with a professional body?

If you already have a degree in accounting or finance, then CMA is a great alternative. Since it takes only 6-9 months and gives critical skills and knowledge to work as a management accountant, you can go ahead and get on track with your career goals fairly quickly. 

If, however, you are already a CA or hold an executive position in finance and accounting, you may as well sign up to do the Gateway Exam for CIMA and achieve your CGMA designation within a few months. 

Some other factors you can consider are:

  • The requirements of the company you want to work for
  • Salaries earned by CMA vs. CIMA graduates
  • Career opportunities available for each qualification

A Final Word

And with that, we’ve come to the end of our article on this subject. We hope that you have received enough information to help you make your decision or, at the very least, get some ideas about how to proceed. 

Choosing a tuition provider that can support you in your studies is so important and we would advise that you thoroughly investigate tuition providers to ensure they have a proven track record in getting results for their students.  

VIVA provides high quality tuition to CIMA students for reasonable prices. You can get an all access pass now to all 12 award-winning courses today for £399! Join our expert tutors and get qualified without delay.

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