Globally there are many routes to becoming a certified management accountant. However, not all courses or certification programs are equal and so the choice of how to gain a qualification is a very personal one.
Do any amount of research on this subject online and you’ll soon discover that some certifications are more popular than others. The reasons for this vary from career opportunities to the requirements of the big four accounting companies.
In this article, we explore one option of many. We look at the qualification: Certified Management Accountant CMA.
With 40 000 active CMA members worldwide the numbers are less than that of CPA or CIMA, but more students are beginning to appreciate the benefits that CMA can offer them.
In recent years, the IMA which is the certification body for CMA, has seen an increase in students. Currently, IMA has a global network of more than 125 000 members in 150 countries that are in various stages of completing their CMA certification.
So what is this qualification all about and can you join the growing number of students that find CMA certification attractive?
Stick around to find out.
Who Are The IMA?
The Institute of Management Accountants has been around since 1972 and is the institution that owns and manages the CMA designation. They are headquartered in the USA (New Jersey) and provide services through four global regions, namely: The Americas, Asia/Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East/China.
They grant around 4 000 CMAs annually!
Overview of the CMA Program
The main driving force behind the CMA certification is to provide the industry with management accountants that focus on costing and providing companies with valuable data on which to base important business decisions.
Some of the areas touched on by management accounting certifications are:
- Strategic financial management
- Financial planning of large corporate entities
- Performance management
- Risk management
- Cost management
- Investment decisions
- Planning, performance, and analytics
- Auditing, budgeting, and forecasting
You can see from this list that the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) has an important function, establishing industry norms and ensuring the professional credibility of those practicing as certified management accountants.
One interesting feature of the CMA course is data analytics. Data science has exploded in the last decade and is set to become even more influential as the processing of financial and business data becomes faster and more efficient.
To be eligible for CMA designation, you must fulfill all of the following CMA certification requirements:
• Active membership in IMA
• Paid up CMA entrance fee
• You must have satisfied the education requirements (see below)
• You must satisfy the experience requirements (see below)
• Complete both CMA Exam parts
• Comply with the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice
The CMA professional certification is split into two parts and each part has six units. There are two exams which cover six units each and these are called Part I and Part II.
You must complete the qualification within 3 years of paying the entrance fee. The shortest time for those who have a bachelor's degree is 6 - 9 months, but the average completion time globally is 12 - 18 months.
Now the trick is to get yourself aligned with a tuition provider that will help you to achieve CMA in the shortest possible time, taking into account your personal ability to get through the course material and time constraints.
Courtesy of IMA
CMA - The In-depth Details
You will be required to pay the entrance fee before you sit for any exams. If you do not complete the exams for Part I and II within three years, all passed exams will expire and you will pay the entrance fee again.
The entrance fee gives you access to:
• The CMA support package
• Feedback reports on your performance
• The review of your educational and experience credentials
• Personalized, numbered certificate upon completion of all requirements
• Upon request, your employer will be formally notified of your completion of CMA
• Final score report upon completion of exams
In order to become a certified CMA, students must adhere to one of the following education requirements and must submit verification of qualifications within seven years of completing Part II of the CMA Exam.
1. Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, or the international equivalent as recognized by the CMA.
2. Verified certifications from other countries that do not require a bachelors degree. These can be found on the IMA website.
Work Experience Requirements
Candidates must complete at least two continuous years of professional experience in management accounting or financial accounting. This experience may be gained either prior to registration with IMA or during the seven-year grace period given to obtain all certified management accountant requirements.
This pertains to full-time employment or part-time employment. However, for part-time experience, you must work 20 hours a week and you will only be credited with 1 year for every 2 years part-time employment.
Qualifying experience consists of positions requiring judgments regularly made employing the principles of management accounting and professional ethics. Such employment includes, but is not limited to, the following:
• The ability to accurately prepare and audit financial statements
• Financial analysis
• Monthly, quarterly, and year-end close
• Auditing - both internal and external
• Corporate finance
• Budget preparation and reporting
• Managing general ledger and balance sheets
• Company investment decision making
• Corporate financial accounting
• Cost accounting and analysis
• Risk evaluation and risk assessment
• Data analytics pertaining to accounting and financial management
• The ability to control external financial reporting decisions
• Implementation and management of financial technologies
• Tax accounting, analysis, and planning
• Strategic management
• Sustainability reporting
• Teaching management accounting or financial management at the college/university level
These criteria are outcome-based and performance-based, as opposed to title-based since there are rarely any management accountant titles that cover all the same outcomes. Internships, Apprenticeships, trainee positions, and clerical positions within finance departments do not qualify as adequate experience.
Courtesy of IMA
To maintain your certificate, you need to complete 30 hours of continuing professional education each year and this must include 2 hours of Ethics training. If these requirements are not met and you are asked to provide proof, you may run the risk of losing your active IMA membership.
Professional bodies have the CPE requirements for a good reason - they maintain a high standard of professionalism and skills within the industry. Since the work involved in management accounting is highly specialized and mistakes can cause the loss of millions, you can understand why the IMA is strict about CPE.
For a practicing professional, there are so many CPE opportunities that this will not become a problem for you.
The entire curriculum is divided into twelve competencies. There are two exams which cover six units each and these are called Part I and Part II.
- Part I: Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics
- Part 2: Strategic Financial Management
Each of these exams is four hours in total and is made up of 100 MCQs and two 30-minute essay questions. Each exam consists of 500 points, of which you must obtain 360 to pass.
You have up to 3 hours to complete the multiple-choice questions. If you get done sooner, you can move on to the essay questions. However, at the end of three hours, the computerized exam will push you over to the essay portion.
As recommended by the IMA, you will need roughly 150-170 hours of study to pass each part. According to the 2021 IMA Global Salary Survey, you can get a $1 700 or more return on lifetime earnings for every hour of study time. They found that there was a 125% difference between someone with a CMA designation and someone doing the same work, but having no CMA. Numbers don’t lie.
CMA Exam Content Specification Outline
Effective 1 January 2020, the CMA issued an outline that represents the body of knowledge that will be tested in the exams.
We will examine some of that here, but if you want to see the full document, you can search the topic, ‘CMA Exam content specification outline’.
Courtesy of CMA Content Specification PDF
The percentages indicated the amount of focus that will be given to each topic and ‘Level C’ tells you that you will require all six levels of understanding to complete the question, namely: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
By way of example:
In Part I - you can expect that 15% of your MCQs will be from the external financial reporting decisions unit, etc. The essay questions test real-life scenarios based on a fictitious company and you will be expected to apply all six levels of understanding to produce actual financials and calculations.
Will the CMA give you an exam exemption if you’ve achieved a certain professional level? Good question. But the answer is NO. Since there are only two parts to this certification, the IMA assumes that a higher level of professional experience will favour you in passing the exam, but they will not exempt you from writing it.
Passing the Exams
When it comes to passing these two exams you have to be strategic. The pass mark is 75% for each part. This means that you need to balance the time you have in the exam and strategically focus on what will give you a 75% pass mark.
Meaning you have about 20% of the exam that you can give up. So you need to know what your strengths are and what they’re not. This will be the most helpful advice that you can get when it comes to the CMA exams.
In the areas of your core strength, you want to aim for full points and make peace with the rest. 50% of students that write these exams, don’t pass and this is because they have focused on getting full points in areas where they are not strong, giving up points when they run out of time.
How Can You Prepare For The CMA Exams?
The CMA course material is delivered via online courses. Find a service provider that is experienced and recognized for their ability to provide good quality material, on-demand lectures, webinars and practice tests. This will greatly increase your chance to pass the CMA exam.
Is The CMA Designation Worth It?
The CMA certification signifies you are a well-rounded accounting professional because it tests many skills.
It gives you the confidence to work competently in the field of management accounting. There are testimonials online from past students that will tell you the CMA designation made a difference to their career prospects and success.
The value of CMA for someone with an undergraduate degree and work experience becomes apparent when you think about how quickly 6,9 and even 12 months go by. Spending that time studying towards professional credentials that will add weight to your skills is time well spent.
The ability to work as a cost accountant, chief financial officer, financial analyst, or COO is greatly enhanced by professional certifications that are internationally recognized.
In terms of the professional credibility it will give you and the time that you can achieve the designation in, CMA is a really viable option. However, if you’re still unsure and want to compare CMA with other programs, we have a resource that will benefit you.
Can you achieve other designations after CMA?
Yes! There is no reason you cannot achieve CMA, then CPA and CIMA, or another combination, depending on the skills you need in your position. CMA acts as a great foundational certification and it combines very well with other designations. You may even be able to get an exemption for some of the units that were covered.
To Sum It All Up…
If you’re looking for someone to give you the important points of this article, here they are:
- The IMA is internationally recognized and has been around since 1972, providing the accounting industry with over 100K CMA members to date.
- CMA is taken seriously in the accounting and finance industry in the US and four other major regions around the world
- It can take you as little as 6-9 months to achieve the certification
- There are only two exams, covering 12 competencies
- You can register, pay your CMA entrance fee and be on your way as quickly as you can find a credible tuition provider
- This time next year you can have the CMA designation all wrapped up
By the way, we can help you with that tuition provider thing, getting you on your way even faster. So, if you just want to get on with it, contact us today and make use of our all-access pass.