A Certified Management Accountant is an accounting professional specializing in financial management and reporting for organizations. The CMA certification establishes that someone is expert in financial accounting and strategic business management. As a result, the CMA focuses on business decision-making as opposed to audit, tax, or general accounting. Here’s how they’re certified and what they do.
Certified Management Accountant Defined
Certified Management Accountants seek the certification to help advance their careers, earn promotions and get higher pay. Their ultimate goals are often high-level corporate jobs such as chief executive officers, chief operating officers, or chief financial officers.
CMAs are experts in corporate finance and management accounting. Their particular niche is using financial and accounting data and knowledge to inform business strategy. As the Institute of Management Accountants puts it, “CMAs can explain the ‘why’ behind numbers, not just the ‘what.’”
The CMA is overseen by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), a century-old New Jersey-based association with global reach. The CMA certification existed for 40 years. About 70,000 have been awarded to date.
Getting a Certified Management Accountant certificate is a lengthy and challenging process. Applicants must complete a four-year bachelor’s degree, typically in accounting, business or finance. They also have to work for two years in a professional capacity (though candidates don’t need to complete this work requirement before sitting for the exam).
Finally, CMA candidates have to pass a two-part exam. One part is on financial planning, performance and control. The second test covers financial decision making.
As of January 2020, the CMA places more emphasis on technology and analytics and professional ethics and decision analysis. As a result, it no longer contains test material on internal auditing, off-balance sheet financing, bankruptcy, and tax implications of transfer pricing.
Overall, the two revised tests cover a dozen competencies almost equally.
Part one tests knowledge of financial planning including performance and analytics; external financial reporting decisions; planning including budgeting and forecasting; performance management; cost management, internal controls and technology and analytics.
The second part examines candidates on strategic financial management; financial statement analysis; corporate finance; decision analysis; risk management; investment decisions; and professional ethics.
The two tests run for about four hours each. About half the test-takers pass. But that’s including those on second or subsequent attempts.
Cost of Getting a CMA
Time is the biggest investment required of a Certified Management Accountant candidate. In addition to four years for a degree and two years of experience, the IMA advises budgeting 12 to 18 months to complete both tests.
That includes 150 to 170 hours of study for each part of the two-part test. Consequently, IMA gives candidates up to three years to complete both parts of the test.
The cost to apply for the CMA certification is $250. Plus, each of the two test parts costs $415. In addition, CMA holders have to be members of IMA, which costs $245 per year. Also, the CMA maintenance fee is another $30 year. However, the association charges lower fees for students, academics and some others.
CMA holders also agree to follow the IMA’s Statement of Ethical Professional Practice. Further, they must complete 30 hours of continuing professional education each year. Of that, at least two hours must be dedicated to ethics.
CMA Certificate Holder Jobs
The Certified Management Accountant distinction is optional. Having it doesn’t give certificate holders any special powers or privileges.
However, a CMA can help people advance in business. The CMA career path often includes jobs such as cost accountant, corporate accountant, budgeter, risk manager, and financial strategist.
Above all, and unlike some other accounting certifications, the CMA has an international reach. It’s widely recognized around the world as a standard for excellence in accounting to support organization management.
There are many accounting certifications that are also worth consideration. Three stand out among others: Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and Certified Internal Auditor (CIA.)
First off, the CPA badge is the gold standard in accounting in the United States. It’s the only accounting certification that requires getting an actual license. CPAs are uniquely able to audit books of public corporations and represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service. CPAs are accounting generalists, as opposed to CMAs who are more focused on business.
Secondly, a CFA requires preparation similar to both the CPA and CMA certifications. People pursuing a career in investment and finance will need it more than other accounting designations.
Finally, the CIA designation requires significantly less education and testing than the other three. It is appropriate for people who want to focus their accounting careers on auditing.
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- There are important differences between finance and accounting. However, if you’re looking for someone to handle your taxes, a CPA has the edge on a CFP. If you aren’t sure if your taxes are complex enough to require an accountant, SmartAsset’s tax guide can help you calculate your taxes, your returns (or lack thereof), and your payday tax obligation.
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