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CFP vs. CMA: Designations for Financial Advisors


You can identify the specialization of a financial advisor through the certifications that they hold. When looking for a financial professional, understanding the key differences between a CFP and a CMA can help you figure out which is best suited for your needs. A financial advisor with a certification can help you create a financial plan for your specific needs.

What Is a CMA?

A CMA, or Certified Management Accountant, indicates a professional specializing in financial management and accounting for companies. With this certification, the accountant demonstrates a deep knowledge of sound business management practices rooted in financial accounting.

As an expert in corporate finance, those with a CMA certification usually choose to take on this challenge with the goal of advancing their career through promotions and pay raises. In many cases, the end goal is to become a CEO or CFO of a company.

Unlike most other financial certifications, including a CFP, a CMA certification has international appeal. Across the globe, this certification indicates someone’s prowess for financial accounting at a management level.

CMA qualifications. Anyone pursuing a CMA designation will need to meet these five qualifications:

  • Must hold a four-year bachelor’s degree, usually in accounting or finance.
  • Must have two years of continuous experience in a professional accounting capacity.
  • Pass Part 1 of the CMA Exam which includes questions about financial planning, reporting decisions, budgeting, forecasting, cost management, and more.
  • Pass Part 2 of the CMA Exam, which includes questions about investment decisions, risk management, decision analysis, professional ethics, and more.

If you meet these requirements set by the New Jersey-based Institute of Management Accountants, then you’ll be considered one of the 70,000 prestigious professionals that have achieved this lofty goal.

What Is a CFP?

SmartAsset: CFP vs. CMA Designations for Financial Advisors

A CFP, or Certified Financial Planner, is a financial advisor with this higher level of accreditation. With their specialized knowledge, CFPs can help clients build a financial plan that works with the client’s money goals.

A few reasons to work with a CFP include making a plan around the following financial goals including paying for college, making your first home purchase, and saving for retirement.

A CFP certification is considered a much broader option. As someone looking for help crafting a financial plan, this is a useful certification to look for.

CFP qualifications. Anyone pursuing a CFP designation will need to meet these five qualifications:

  • Must pass a background check.
  • Must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college.
  • Must complete CFP coursework.
  • Must pass the CFP exam, including questions about communication, risk management, and professional conduct.
  • Must demonstrate 6,000 professional experience related to financial planning or 4,000 apprenticeship experience.

The lengthy process of becoming a CFP should give clients confidence. After all, your financial advisor had to wade through these vast financial education requirements. So, they should be able to answer your money questions.

These initial qualifications lead to a CFP designation. But the CFP must complete continuing education requirements to renew their certification every two years.

As of 2022, there are over 90,000 active CFPs in the U.S.

CFP vs. CMA: Which Is Right for You?

A CFP and CMA are both professional designations. With either option, you know that a professional has put in countless hours of work to achieve one of the top designations in their field. But which is the right choice for your situation?

Ultimately, the right choice boils down to your needs.

A CFP is the better option if you need help building a personal financial plan. A CFP has gone through an extensive educational process to learn the best practices for personal finance. If you need help building a financial plan for your future, then a CFP is a useful resource.

But if have specific accounting questions for your business operations, then a CMA is the right choice. Although a CFP may have some general tax advice to provide, a CMA holds a deeper level of understanding surrounding tax issues facing businesses. With the information generated by a CMA, you can make more tax-efficient business decisions.

So, those seeking personal finance guides should look to a CFP. But business owners with tax questions should consider finding a CMA to help.

Bottom Line

SmartAsset: CFP vs. CMA Designations for Financial Advisors

A CFP is a more commonly sought-after designation for personal financial decisions. But a CMA’s insights can guide businesses and organizations to make the most tax-efficient choices. So, take the time to consider your needs before searching for the right financial advisor.

Financial Advisor Tips

  • A financial advisor could help you build a portfolio to support your financial future.  Finding one doesn’t SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors in your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • CPWA and CFP are just two out of many certifications that a financial advisor can hold. Here are 10 common financial certifications.

Next Steps

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