Accountants who choose to become a CMA, or certified management accountant, will have a more focused set of accounting skills, which may lead to jobs that are more specialized and higher paying than the typical accounting position. The CMA certification is offered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and you'll need to hold an IMA membership to be a part of the CMA program. Specifically, the CMA focuses on preparing accountants for working in corporate finance and strategic roles, and those who pass the CMA exam and earn CMA certification will often have more credibility in the eyes of potential employers. This is because they need to study for and pass the CMA exam (including questions on professional ethics) before they gain the credential, even if they already have work experience as accounting professionals and hold a degree from an accredited college or university. Furthermore, due to the increased automation of many types of simple accounting jobs, it’s even more important for accountants to gain skills focused on strategic thinking and corporate growth objectives including planning, budgeting, and forecasting in order to stay ahead of the curve. Taking the CMA exam and even paying the one time entrance fee, IMA membership fee, and other CMA exam fees can definitely be worth it.
What Is a CMA (Certified Management Accountant)?
Becoming a CMA will provide a type of specialized accounting certification that prepares CMA candidates in management accounting for strategic corporate finance and leadership roles within their organizations. Given a CMA’s focus on top-quality training in financial planning business decisions, strategic management, policy creation, and internal controls that are based on financial data, CMA holders have a wide range of financial management job prospects. Generally, reports and analyses produced by CMA holders are expected to go above and beyond generally accepted accounting principles to provide advice and a complete view to those leading a company and allow leaders to make the best decisions possible within their industry.
What Does a CMA Do?
An accountant with CMA certification job will be an enhanced version of a typical position in management accounting and they will most often be found working for a private company. They will be responsible for preparing a corporation’s important financial statements, making sure that the income statement, balance sheet, and statement of cash flows are properly completed and ensure that the corporation’s finances are in good standing. However, given a CMA’s training in strategic business decision making, another part of a CMA’s daily responsibilities is preparing insightful management reports to their organization’s highest-level decision-makers. Since most C-suite and Senior Vice President-level management will not have time to comb through individual line items in their organization’s financial statements, the CMA’s job will be to pull out the important pieces of financial data, such as performance metrics on specific projects or departments, as well as returns on investment decisions for new products or services. The CMA will then combine this data into a report for management to be able to make smart, strategic decisions about the future growth trajectory of their organization. It's because of their involvement in the decision-making process that the CMA program and exam includes questions on professional ethics. This certification can give you access to the upper echelons of business and bypass years of professional experience, though you will still need to have spent a good deal of time as a finance professional and already solidified your career in accounting. Given the CMA’s use of computers and spreadsheets for most of their job responsibilities, they will typically work in the company’s headquarters on a daily basis and not experience a lot of work travel.
Education Requirements to Become a CMA
- Degree Necessary
The CMA exam is administered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and requires all those who want to become a CMA to hold an IMA membership. All examinees must also hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college and have at least two years of professional experience (consecutive) in financial management, cost management, or management accounting before becoming CMA certified. The Institute of Management Accountant's membership fee costs can range from $39-$230 a year depending on whether the accountant is an academic still taking their management accounting or financial management courses, young professional, or professional. A student or academic who joins the IMA are offered discounts on the cost of the CMA exams (they must still pay a one time entrance fee, but it is less) and programs.
- Subject Focus
The CMA focuses on two main subject pathways, both focusing on some aspect of financial management. The first part of the exam focuses on financial planning, performance, and analytics. Subjects covered by the exams include external financial reporting, budget forecasting, performance management, cost considerations, internal considerations, as well as technology and analytics. Although the subjects tested are interrelated and you likely took courses on them while attending school, examinees will still need to study quite a lot of material to prepare. The second part of the exam focuses more on traditional, corporate finance function-related topics. These topics include the financial statement analysis, financial decision analysis, corporate finance, risk management, corporate investments, and ethics.
The exam to earn the CMA designation is split into two parts covering 12 core competencies. Examinees must take the exam and pass both parts within three years in order to become a CMA and receive CMA certification. Each half of the exam is four hours long, and examinees will need to answer 100 multiple choice questions and two essays over a total of eight hours of testing. Each year, there are three testing windows that examinees can register for depending on their personal availability and how quickly they feel prepared. These windows are January 1 through February 28, May 1 through June 30, or September 1 through October 31 of each year. If examinees fail the exam, they can resume their exam prep and take the exam again the next testing window, up to three times per year. Candidates should register for the CMA exam at least two months prior to the testing period when they expect to take the exam, as they will not be able to register for a seat in the current testing period.
How is the Certified Management Accountant Exam Scored?
The CMA test is scored on a range of 1-500, where a score of 360 or better is passing. Students must answer correctly at least half of the 100 multiple choice questions per section before they are able to move onto the essay questions, otherwise, they will need to retake the exam. Candidates’ answers will be weighted: multiple-choice questions will account for 75% of the final score and the essays will account for the remaining 25%. Luckily, the CMA program does not deduct any points for incorrect answers; candidates will simply not receive any points for that question. The CMA exam uses a computer algorithm to grade multiple-choice questions, but a CMA expert grades the essay portion, which will focus on the clarity and knowledgeability that examinees show in their written answers. Test takers will receive their scores 42 days from the last day of their exam month. This means that whether a test taker took the exam in early January, mid-January, or late-January, they will receive their score around the same day in March. Candidates wanting to receive their scores by a certain date could still consider taking their exams later in the month to put in a few extra study days.
Study Resources and Preparation for the Exam
The CMA exam is packed full of financial information, and exam-takers should start studying early to ensure the highest possibility of success even if you feel that your work experience or other accounting certifications have prepared you for it.
Below are some tips and resources to help with studying for the CMA exam:
- Start early:
Not only does the exam contain 200 multiple-choice questions in total, but candidates are also tested on 12 core subject areas. As such, it’s a good idea to start studying for the CMA early to ensure that you have enough time to thoroughly digest all the exam topics.
To build productivity, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and strategize; create yourself a study plan to ensure that all topics are thoroughly covered. If you’re planning to sit for the CMA exam a year from now, for instance, it may be prudent to learn the material for one core subject a month. Proper planning and following a schedule will ensure that you are progressing smoothly.
- Improve concentration:
Reduce distractions by finding a quiet study space or using productivity apps to reduce the amount of interference that you experience while you are studying. This will reduce the amount of total study time and improve productivity.
- Ask friends and family to pitch in:
Let your loved ones know that you are preparing for a very important exam that will help guide your career. You could ask a loved one to help out with chores like walking the dog or making dinner. You may also study with friends who are also looking to pursue the CMA.
- Take a CMA review course:
Investing in a top-quality review course will help you study the specific knowledge necessary to excel in the CMA exam. This will help save time and reduce stress, allowing you to test-run with practice questions and exams before the big day. Students with an IMA membership may be able to find discounts on a CMA program or prep course costs.
- Available review resources include
Wiley CMAexcel Review Course: This is the only official exam preparation materials for the CMA exam endorsed by the IMA. The Platinum package includes unlimited access to 66 hours of video instruction, official IMA Learning System Textbooks, more than 5500 multiple choice questions, and more than 120 essay prompts until you pass the exam.
The CMA exam has been around for almost 50 years and is well-known within the accounting world to be a tough exam. The average pass rate for each part of the exam from 2014-2018 was just 43%, so candidates will need to prepare well before they look to sit for the exams. Compared to the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification offered by the AICPA, another popular accounting certification, the CMA has a lower pass rate, but also will tend to earn more late-career, with CPAs translating to a 15% salary enhancement over non-CPA holders and CMAs translating into a 63% earning premium over other non-CMA holders. While the CPA exam is longer, with 16 hours of examinations across four sections, the pass rate is around half or better. CPA candidates will only have 18 months to pass all four parts of the exam, while CMAs have three years.
In order to sit for the CMA exam, candidates will need to invest around a thousand dollars up front, not counting for study materials. For people with an IMA membership and professional status designation (usually this refers to accounting practitioners with several years of experience) the CMA program fee will total $250 for the CMA entrance fee and $415 per part for the Exam Fee (for a total of $830). Students and academics are granted a slight discount to sit for the CMA, with the one time entrance fee costing $188 and the exam costing $311 per part (for a total of $622). This is in addition to any IMA membership fees that must be paid annually and any review or study materials that you purchase. The typical CMA review package will also cost anywhere between $700-$1700, with the Wiley official Platinum Package costing $1440. It also might be good to note that your IMA membership can get you discounts on hundreds of hours of continuing education and, since you'll need around 30 hours of conintuing education every year, that could end up being a very big deal.
CMA Careers & Salary
- Where Might You Work?
Given the business and financial strategy focus of the CMA, certification holders have a wide range of employment options. All types of organizations will need strategic planning for their finances, so CMAs will be able to find gainful employment when working for both private and public companies, as well as government agencies.
- Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field of accountants and auditors will grow at a rate of 4% between 2019-2029. While this rate is not as high an increase as some job types, it’s as fast as the average job growth in the economy and is a good indicator of economic health given that most organizations will need to employ accountants. Thus, the field is competitive and has good prospects for wage growth, which is also particularly true for CMAs who have highly specialized certification within the field of accounting and those who continue to gain work experience, which is known to increase wages, and who keep up on their continuing professional education. Compared to the median annual wage of $71,550 for accountants, the average CMA earned a salary of around $89,400 in 2019. As the demand grows in general for accountants, those with CMA certifications will likely also see wage appreciation.
CMA holders have a wide variety of career prospects both in national and international businesses. Some common positions that they may take on, as well as the average earnings for each of these positions, are listed below.
- Management Accountant:
Management accountants will focus mostly on financial planning and strategy, ensuring that financial data can be translated into risk-adjusted decisions. Management accountants will work closely with senior management, translating financial data into key observations.
Average salary: $60,200
- Senior Financial Analyst:
Senior financial analysts will typically focus more on market trends and microeconomic impacts on internal balance sheets. This role will require attention to detail, with work typically focused on analyzing the financial projections of investment projects to ensure that businesses are earning a strong return on investments.
Average Salary: $81,100
- Cost Accountant:
Cost accountants will focus on helping businesses maintain sustainable costs. Daily tasks will include preparing capital account, asset, and liability entries and documenting financial transactions to support making financial recommendations based on areas where a business can minimize costs.
Average Salary: $53,800
- Accounting Manager:
Accounting managers will oversee systems operations of accounting departments, ensuring that the procedures used by the accounting team are correct and conducive to data analysis.
Average Salary: $72,200
- Corporate Controller:
Corporate controllers will oversee functions to ensure that areas like billing, accounts payable, accounts receivable, and budgeting are properly run. Some common job tasks include preparing the company’s annual budget, coordinating external auditors, and working on internal and external financial statements.
Average Salary: $99,450
- Management Accountant: