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

CMA vs CFAFor accounting and finance professionals who want to pursue an additional qualification, CPA, CFA and CMA comes to mind.

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

For those with other background, CMA vs CFA is a more logical decision. Let’s take a look into that more closely.

CMA vs CFA in Terms of Career Choice

They are actually qualifications for very different career paths. CMA, which stands for Certified Management Accountants, are designed for accountants working outside of CPA firms. This essentially means 3/4 of all accountants working in various industry and corporate functions. 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 — those working in equity research, asset management, hedge funds and other types of investment management.

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 which qualification you should be aiming for.

When You Need to Consider CMA vs CFA

The only time you need to consider which qualification is more suitable is when you are uncertain which career path you are going to take. For example, you are about to switch careers, or that you are a fresh graduate and are open minded in terms of getting your first job.

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

CMA vs CFA: the Pro CMA Camp

1. Can Complete Within a Few Months

There are two parts in the CMA exam and it is designed to be completed within a year. This is probably the most attractive about the CMA exam in a practical standpoint.

Not only there are fewer exam sections, the exam content is also not as broad.

I met 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 exam is easier (note that CMA and CFA have similarly low pass rates), but the scope is a lot narrower.

2. Scheduling Flexibility

The CMA exam is 100% computerized. You can take the exam on any weekdays within the testing window, which is available 6 months out of the 12 months in a year. This is also one of the reasons why candidates can complete the exams quickly and according to their own schedule.

The CFA exam, on the other hand, has inflexible exam dates. The exam itself is held twice a year for the first level, and once a year only for the second and third level. The absolute fastest time to complete this exam is 18 months. Most take 4 years to get it done.

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 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 highly regarded in asset management and funds industry. If you are to pick this career path, getting the CFA is no brainer.

2. CFA Exam has Broader Coverage

Because the CFA exam covers a broader scope, it is applicable to a broader industry. This may help CFA charters open more doors.

3. CFA Institute has a Much Bigger Membership Base

The CFA community is 122,000+ strong, vs 70,000 for IMA members and around 20-30K active CMAs. CFA’s bigger membership base gives rise 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 take both qualifications. However, if this applies to you, the answer is yes.

All topics in CMA Part 2 closely relate to those in CFA Level 1. It is arguably a tad easier. These topics include Ethics, Corporate Finance, Economics, Financial Reporting and Analysis, Quantitative Methods, Investments, Derivatives, Fixed Income and Portfolio Management.

Here is a Summary in Video Format

Your Next Step

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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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