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

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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

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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  • RPK says:

    I found this comparison really helpful. I am a Mechanical Engineer with 6 years work experience but in the near future I would like to work in the field of corporate finance and project management. Will CMA complement my degree in Engineering ?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi RPK, that’s great to know. Technically yes especially if you are aiming for something between your technical expertise in engineering and financial analysis. Project management would be the next move, and the skills learned from the CMA program is really helpful. In reality, big manufacturing companies tend to recognize CMA more than small local companies, at least for now. Hope it helps! Stephanie

  • vivek says:

    Can I do both Ca and Cfa?
    And which one is more beneficial for me in india???

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Sure you can, but there are consideration on the cost , money and effort you need to invest in. I would only go for those that is relevant to your career plans.
      I would also choose your career path first and then decide which qualification to pursue. Regards, Stephanie

  • T. Khan says:

    I am thirty years old with MPhil degree in mathematics. I am serving as a lecturer of mathematics for the last eight years, but I want to change my career as I am not satisfied with my job, and also I want to get a chance to settle in a developed country. I have read about both CMA and CFA but I am not sure which one can be good for me at this stage in my career. Can I switch at thirty and get a job after obtaining the certificate? Can I be able to open my own firm after ten to fifteen years? Which certificate will be good for me? Thank you.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi T. Khan, it’s hard for me to tell… anyone can launch their own firm but it depends on what you’d like to do. If you want to provide consulting services, you don’t even need any certifications. If you’d like to provide audit and tax services, then you must have a CPA license. It’s better to get at least 10 years of training in a CPA firm though. You can check out how to become CPA here: http://ipassthecpaexam.com/

      Regards, Stephanie

    • Chaitanya says:

      I think CFA will be better for you, I think you can score in quantitative section well and CFA gives a lot of opportunities in Finance. IMA CMA is also good because it takes very less time compared to CFA, so if you have 3-6 years go for CFA or if you have 2-3 years go for IMA. If you are good in statistics maybe you do not need to do any of these. Just read some books on Business Stats, Business/Managerial EConomy, Operations Management, Operations research and Actuarial books and apply for jobs in companies. Most of the companies like to have a good statistician on board, specially finance firms, Insurance firms etc.

  • jemal alakhverdov says:

    i am first year student of managemant in fatih university(istanbul,Turkey). i want to take extra qualification but i can’t decide which to take Cfa of cma
    can you help me?

  • Neelesh says:

    hi, I am mcom part 1 student (accountany) can I take both CPA and CMA at the same time with my mcom or among them which one is mre suitable m vry confused ……..

  • Aakriti agarwal says:

    Hey i hv just given my 2 yr bcom exams so whn cn i apply for cma nd is there any eligiblity required regarding cma cource?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Aakriti, I believe people generally need at least 3 years of bachelor degree, but you can email IMA and see if they provide any waivers. Good luck! Regards, Stephanie

  • Umair Sayeed Mapari says:

    What should I do to become a cfo of a company, cfa or cma because right now I have just given all papers of acca and I want to work and settle in dubai. Hope you answer my question real soon

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Umair, there are several ways to become a CFO of a company. You can go through the accounting route, promote to controller and then to CFO. Or you can be a finance / strategic person and get in as a banker for example. If it is a smaller company, option one is more appropriate because the CFO does need solid accounting skills. But for bigger companies either first or second option is possible because you can delegate accounting supervision to your controller and you see the big picture.

      With that the CMA and CFA help more on the second route but they aren’t really directly beneficial, because you don’t need any qualification to be a banker for example. For ACCA it helps in your first route if you work in a country that recognizes ACCA (UK and India for example). Hope it helps! Stephanie

  • Razaul says:

    I have completed MBA majoring in International Business and before that I completed MSc in Chemistry. I live in Bangladesh. After that I joined a commercial bank as a Management Trainee Officer and have already passed three years. I work as a credit analyst. Now I would like to do CFA in order to work as an investment banker in a multinational bank such as Standar Charted Bank, HSBC etc located in a developed country.

    Now my question did I take the right decesion to do cfa to be an investment banker in developed country?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Razaul, there are different jobs within investment banking. If you mean the one that is usually referred to as “investment banking” (i.e. corporate finance”, you don’t need any qualifications. I used to work in Morgan Stanley and I am quite sure of that.

      But if you are considering equity analysts positions in the research department for example, then CFA is very helpful, almost a prerequisite. Hope it helps! Internal transfer is relatively easy but you need to do a great job there, and also if there are positions available in the preferred office. Stephanie

  • Nina says:

    Hi Stephanie, I am about to start studying for CFA level2 exam in june 2017. It looks like CFA level2 Schwesers Textbooks will also serve as Textbooks for CMA part2 as well. After finishing CFA level2 schwesers books, I can simply test myself using about 1500 Gleim’s MCQs. You think it’ll work?

    However, I don’t have essay questions and answers for CMA part2. Does any prep company sell only esssay questions and answers separately?

    Thanks!

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Nina, many topics overlap but not all of them. After all it is a different exam. I wouldn’t skip the book altogether, but if budget is a constraint, you can certainly give it a try. Gleim mega test bank package includes the e-book, test prep (MC questions) and essay questions. Would that work? You can check it out here:

      https://ipassthecmaexam.com/go/gleimcma

  • Ivala says:

    Hi

    I want to know if I am eligible for the CFA exam my claim to fame is that I don’t have a university degree but have 15 years of setting up my own business and running it successfully.

    On the sideline I am also an investor in equity markets and soveriegn Bonds , Real estate, foreign exchange and commodities I am an avid reader to improve my knowledge and skills through self education. Once upon a time I was an aspiring student of Mechanical Engineering but drop out and ventured into professional life to salvage the family business. So far my learning on investment is self taught. I would like to learn Investing through a structured formal course. Can you tell me if I am eligible to enroll for CFA programme? Thank in advance.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      hi Ivala, thanks for your note. It’s great to hear from a successful entrepreneur! You can qualify for the CFA exam. If you don’t have a degree, it can be substituted by 4 years of experience, which you certainly have.

      The potential bottom line is the experience requirement — normally one needs to work in relevant field for 4 years to get the designation. I am not sure if CFAI will count your experience, so it is better to check with them first. I understand that taking care of own portfolio doesn’t count, but if your work for your company involves lots of financial analysis, it could be considered. Again, please check with CFA Institute before proceeding. Good luck!

  • Ivala says:

    Thank you Stephenie for your reply.

    Your advice well noted.

    A bundle of thanks once again.

    Kind Regards

    Ivala

  • Rebekah says:

    Hi,
    I have been looking into ta king the CMA or CFA but not sure which one will benefit me the most. I want to get into a role as a financial analyst. Right now I work as a risk analyst and I also have experience preparing financial statements. I am getting into cost and budgeting analysis as well now and really enjoying that. Can you give me some guidance which exam would be more beneficial to take? I wouunderstand have taken my CPA but I don’t have enough accounting credits and I don’t want to go back to school. I majored in finace in college. I am registered in series 7 and 27. I am not sure I want to be in the investment world anymore. I would like to switch over to manufacturing or preferably, Healthcare.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      It really depends on the career path you want to take, Rebakah. If you aren’t interested in investment, then don’t go for the CFA. It’s a LOT of studying. CMA certification makes more sense in your case. Regards, Stephanie

  • Laxman says:

    HI I am Laxman . I have completed my B.com and i am working in Infosys for the past 9 yrs. Can i go to CFA

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Laxman, you can (because it is open to anyone with any bachelor degree, or with 4 years of any experience). But please make sure this is relevant to your future career before you jump in. It can easily take 900 hours (and likely more) to get it done. More info here: http://financeresume.net/

  • Ravi Tej Gogulamanda says:

    Hi,
    I’m Ravi. I graduated post secondary qualification in Commerce and graduated my Masters in Psychology and Personnel Management. Been into banking sector for the past 9 years. Now I’m looking forward to immigrate. To be a global competitor, I am equipping myself with PMP. In addition to PMP , what do you suggest me to acquire, CMA or CFA. I would love to continue my career with the same domain, finance. Also would prefer to Manufacturing and Health care.
    Regards.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Ravi, may I ask what type of work are you in at the bank? CMA should work for general management accounting, but for CFA it’s more on the financial side esp for fund and asset management. So I am not sure how it fits in manufacturing and health care…

      Anyway, it’s great that you are going for these global certifications. I would say CFA (if it fits your area of interest) is more prestigious globally. But even that wouldn’t guarantee a job in a specific country. Just want to set a realistic expectation 🙂 Regards, Stephanie

  • nive says:

    Hai I completed b.com I can choose CMA USA because I completed fountain icwa I’m trying inter group 1 i want to work abroad its useful CMA USA course if complete

  • CMA PROSPECT says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    The CFA certification requires us to have 4 years of work experience but is it possible to aquire the work experience after you’ve cleared all the exam parts? And do you know the best review system to clear the CFA exam?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hello! Yes you can definitely accumulate the experience after the exam (or during the exam).
      The CFA exam fees include a book which is generally called the CFA curriculum, but according to a study, around 70-80% of candidates do get supplementary materials. Schweser is more popular because it’s more established, but I personally like Wiley more. You can check out the pros and cons here: http://financeresume.net/best-cfa-study-material/

  • Bret says:

    Hi,

    I’m a CPA in the Philippines, and Im sitting for the CFA Level 2 exams few weeks from now. I’m panning to take the CMA exams, part 2, during the Sept to Oct testing window and part 1 in the Jan to Feb testing window.

    I have registered in the CMA exams already. I plan to study after the CFA lev 2, that gives me only 2 months to review for part 2. I have read blogs saying part 2 of the exam is more closely related to CFA exams.

    Anyone here who has the same situation?

    Any advise?

  • MinhNguyen says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Currently I am working as equity and bond analyst for a mutual fund. I have been pursuing CFA designation and will take level 3 exam in the next several days.

    In the long run, I wish to move to private equity (as analyst/invesment officer and get involve directly with the operation of companies0 instead of mutual fund, and been wondering whether CMA can add value to my profile/competency

  • orm ICMA-Australia. says:

    Dear Madam, recently ICMA-Australia introduce their CMA program in India. I never heard about this certification before. I have checked various websites, blogs and job portals. None mention about CMA from ICMA-Australia. I want to know about your opinion on Australian CMA. Is it just wastage of time or has value in market ?

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