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CMA vs CFA: Which is Better? Overlap in Exam Content?

Are you considering the CFA vs CMA? After all, the CPA, CFA, and CMA come to mind for accounting and finance professionals who want to pursue additional qualifications.

The CPA is the most widely known accounting designation, but candidates need core accounting education and training to get the license.

Therefore, the CMA vs CFA is a more logical decision for those with other backgrounds. Let’s take a closer look at these options.

CMA vs CFA in Terms of Career Choice

Actually, the CMA and CFA qualifications are for very different career paths. The CMA, which stands for Certified Management Accountants, is designed for accountants working outside CPA firms. And since 3/4 of all accountants work in various industry and corporate functions, the CMA is a widely applicable certification. Furthermore, the CMA is most applicable for those who deal with cost and inventory accounting.

CFA, which stands for Chartered Financial Analyst, is a designation for finance and investment professionals. Moreover, accountants working in equity research, asset management, hedge funds, and other types of investment management might benefit from becoming a CFA.

As you can see, these careers don’t have much overlap. If you are working (or aspire to work) in either profession, you should be clear about the qualification you need.

When You Need to Consider CMA vs CFA

You only need to consider which qualification is more suitable when you are uncertain about what career path to take. For example, if you’re going to switch careers or are a fresh graduate, you need to think about your overall career direction.

If that’s the case, here are the pros and cons of the two qualifications.

CMA vs CFA: The Pro CMA Camp

1. Can Complete the CMA Within a Few Months

There are two parts to the CMA exam, which is designed to be completed within a year. This short timeframe is probably the most attractive aspect of the CMA exam from a practical standpoint. Specifically, CMA test windows are January/February, May/June, and September/October. So in theory, you could pass CMA Part 1 in January, CMA Part 2 in May, and then have your exam requirement finished in just a few months!

What’s more, the CMA exam has fewer sections than the CFA exam. Plus, the CMA exam content is not as broad. And people spend fewer hours studying for the CMA exam, too (an average of 300+ hours for the CMA vs 900+ hours for the CFA).

I know a handful of people who have taken both the CFA and CMA exams. Most find the CMA much easier to handle. It’s not that the CMA exam is easier. In fact, according to the IMA, the CMA exam only has a 50% global pass rate, on average. And actually, the CMA and CFA have similarly low pass rates, but the scope of the CMA exam is a lot narrower.

2. Scheduling Flexibility

The CMA exam is 100% computerized. Furthermore, you have the choice of taking the CMA at a Prometric Testing Center or remotely on your own computer. You can take the exam on any weekdays within the testing windows, which are available six months a year. This flexibility is another reason why candidates can complete the CMA exams quickly and according to their own schedules.

On the other hand, the CFA exam had inflexible exam dates prior to 2021. The exam was held twice a year for the first level and only once a year for the second and third levels. Now, though, more CFA exam dates have been added. In fact, CFA Level 1 is available four times a year, and Level 2 is available three times. Level 3, though, is still only available twice a year. The timing of the availability of sections affects the time it takes to complete all exams. For example, in 2024, you could pass Level 1 in May 2024 and Level 2 in August 2024. However, you’d have to wait until February 2025 to take Level 3. Therefore, you could pass the whole exam in less than a year, but most candidates take longer. According to the IMA, a typical candidate needs 4 to 5 years to pass the CFA exam.

3. Highly Relevant in Corporate Accounting

Every company requires an accounting team, but most don’t need a finance team. Therefore, it is safe to assume more people have a career that is relevant to the CMA exam vs the CFA exam. For this pool of candidates, they will definitely find the CMA exam easier.

CMA vs CFA: The Pro CFA Camp

1. Gold Standard in Finance and Investment Community

The CFA qualification is a must for equity researchers and is highly regarded in the asset management and funds industry. If you are to pick this career path, getting the CFA is a no-brainer.

2. CFA Exam has Broader Coverage

Because the CFA exam covers a broader scope, it applies to a broader industry. Therefore, the CFA charter can open more doors for successful candidates.

However, the CFA exam is also tough because of its broad scope. In fact, the CFA exam pass rates only range between 42% and 54%, depending on the part. Still, candidates who study with one of the best CFA review courses have a much better chance of passing on their first try. (AnalystPrep CFA Review is a good option to check out.) And heads up: the CFA exam dates are limited, so check them out before starting your CFA journey.

3. CFA Institute has a Much Bigger Membership Base

The CFA community is 170,000+ strong. On the other hand, the IMA has awarded about 100,000 CMA qualifications to date. Consequently, the CFA’s bigger membership base leads to better networking opportunities and more clout within the accounting and finance industry.

Is There an Overlap in the CMA vs CFA Curriculum?

Not a lot of people try to pursue both qualifications. However, if you’re thinking about them both, then yes, the exams have some limited content overlap.

All topics in CMA Part 2 closely relate to those in CFA Level 1. These topics include Ethics, Corporate Finance, Financial Statement Analysis, and Investments.

Furthermore, many candidates find CMA Part 2 to be a tad easier than Level 1 of the CFA exam.

Your Next Step

More Comparisons

Any Questions?

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About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites.

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