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CGMA vs CMA Designation: Which Is Better for Your Career?

cgma-vs-cmaThe AICPA and CIMA joined forces in January 2012 to establish the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation. So now, there’s a new certification in town. If you’re trying to decide if it’s right for you, then it only makes sense that you’d compare it to the CMA.

Now that CMA has a direct competitor, how can we choose between CGMA vs CMA? The first step is to get all the facts and see how the two stack up against each other. You and only you can make the final decision about which exam and certification is right for you, but I hope to be able to give you enough information to make that decision by the end of this page.

Are you ready? Alright, let’s go!

CGMA vs CMA: History

First, let’s take a look at the history of each designation and how long they’ve been around. The CGMA designation was created only a few years ago while CMA has been around for more than 40 years.

Having said that, CGMA is backed by the AICPA and CIMA, the world’s largest associations for public accountants and management accountants respectively. In fact, for now, at least, CGMA is targeted only to their existing members (and especially US CPAs). Existing members do not have an issue as long as the CGMA stays “affiliated” with their associations.

According to the IMA, the certification demonstrates your command of the critical accounting and financial management skills, including:

  • Financial planning
  • Analysis
  • Control
  • Decision Support
  • Professional Ethics

So, usually, the designation that has been around the longest would be the most highly respected. In the case of CGMA vs CMA, it’s not as clear-cut because while the CGMA is new, it is backed by organizations that have been in the industry since the very beginning. However, the AICPA and CIMA are in the process of creating a new accounting association to support the CGMA designation.

To understand better which is right for you, let’s look at the details and requirements of getting each designation.

CGMA vs CMA: Eligibility and Requirements

CGMA is restricted to members of AICPA and CIMA only. For AICPA members, they need to demonstrate practical management accounting work with 3 years of relevant experience. The definition looks very broad as it covers management accounting in all types of entities, such as businesses, corporations, and government. Internal audit is also included.

For those who had a stint with public accounting, it is good to know that 1 of the 3 required years can be substituted by public accounting (which I assume for the means external audit).

CMA is not restricted to members of IMA but anyone can join the institute with a bachelor degree in any field. After passing the CMA exam, candidates need to accumulate two consecutive years of relevant experience. The range is very broad: public / non-public accounting, budget preparation, information system analysis, financial management, management consulting, research and even teaching can be accepted.

For both designations, you can get your experience pre-approved by emailing the administrators.

CGMA vs CMA: Program Structure

Since January 2015, there is a qualifying exam consisting of case studies for the CGMA. You can check out the latest development of this new test here. In the past, you were able to “buy” into this designation. CIMA members would automatically qualify. All you had to do to get the title was fill out a form and pay the fee. While this all changed in 2015, it’s very likely that most certificate holders currently were people who got into it with this old policy.

CMA has a structured program in which candidates must pass the 2-part CMA exam, covering cost accounting, internal control, and financial management. After passing the exam and fulfilling the experience requirements, candidates can obtain the certification.

CGMA vs CMA: Syllabus

The CGMA exam tests the areas of strategic and risk management and financial strategy highlighted in the CIMA Professional Qualification Syllabus. The link to the syllabus outline there will show you the CGMA Competency Framework and this is what the exam is built on.

CGMA Syllabus

The knowledge, skills, and behaviors within each area of the CGMA Competency Framework knowledge areas are:

Technical skills

Financial accounting and reporting; cost accounting and management; business planning; management reporting and analysis; corporate finance and treasury management; risk management and internal control; accounting information systems; and tax strategy, planning, and compliance.

Business skills

Strategy; business models; market and regulatory environment; process management; business relations; business ecosystems management; project management; and macroeconomic analysis.

People skills

Influence; negotiation and decision-making, communication; and collaboration and partnering.

Leadership skills

Team building; coaching and mentoring; driving performance; change management; ability to motivate and inspire. Digital skills; information and digital literacy; digital content creation; problem-solving; data strategy and planning; data analytics; and data visualization. These remain underpinned by ethics, integrity, and professionalism.

CMA Syllabus

Candidates for CMA certification must complete all required examination parts.

  • Part 1: Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics (4 hours – 100 multiple-choice
    questions and two 30-minute essays)
  • Part 2: Strategic Financial Management (4 hours – 100 multiple-choice questions and two 30-minute

CMA Exam Syllabus

Part 1

Part 2

Content Areas

Coverage Percentages Content Areas Coverage Percentages

A. External Financial Reporting Decisions

15% A.  Financial Statement Analysis 20%

B. Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting

20% B. Corporate Finance 20%

C. Performance Management

20% C. Decision Analysis


D. Cost Management

15% D. Risk Management


E. Internal Controls 15% E. Investment Decisions


F. Technology and Analytics 15% F. Professional Ethics


How Is the CGMA Different from the CPA?

Nearly everyone is familiar with the CPA exam and designation. How does the CGMA differ from this, which is already a standard in the industry? The main difference is that the CPA has objectively scored formats like the multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and short cases called task-based simulations. The CGMA is one integrated, overarching case. It requires candidates to use long-form responses to only a handful of scenarios. Whereas, the CPA exam has multiple parts and hundreds of questions.

What Makes the CGMA Unique?

If there are already so many accounting certifications, why do we need another one? It’s important to take a look at what makes the CGMA unique. First, it is basically a large, strategy case study. It asks candidates to provide strategic analysis of options leading to recommendations, risk analysis, and the formulation of financial strategy. Case study examinations are important to the industry because they require the candidate to combine knowledge and skills across a variety of subjects.

CGMA vs CMA: Credibility among the Business Community

The CMA certification is fairly successful in the US (and very successful in selected parts of the world, e.g. China). However, its presence dwarfs in comparison to the AICPA and CIMA.

In addition, the CGMA designation is promising with strong backups, but much work is needed to build up its reputation. It is understandable that for the first few years, the focus is on building a critical mass of CGMA designation holders, but right now the quality is somewhat compromised by the fact that no effort is required to get this designation before 2015. And many people are still confused about how the CGMA is distinct from CIMA, or what the purpose in having both CGMA and CIMA is.

In the eyes of an employer, it is hard to respect something that can be bought and not earned, which is how people in the industry have looked at CGMA previously. While that is no longer the case (being able to “buy” it), the reputation is still being built.

Also, if the employer is a CMA, it is highly unlikely that he would prefer a CGMA vs CMA because the boss has a vested interest to support his own certification. It’s as if Harvard alumni will unlikely pick Stanford graduates over those from his alma mater if everything else is equal. So again, it pays to know your career path and what you intend to do with your certification to help you choose it. Chances are, the CMA is going to be your superior choice. Let’s look more into those career options.

CGMA vs CMA: Career Options

What kinds of jobs can you get with a CGMA? Theoretically, you can get any of the jobs you could get with CIMA. This could be any job within financial accounting or management accounting. Whereas, the CMA is focused more on management accounting. However, since CGMA is still new and growing in the industry, it may not yet be as helpful when it comes to getting a new job.

Now, what kinds of jobs can you get with your CMA? Well, the CMA is the gold standard of management accounting. Therefore, any jobs within management accounting are going to be available to you with the CMA certification. Some jobs you can get include:

  • Finance Manager
  • Financial Analyst
  • Financial Risk Manager
  • Financial Controller
  • Cost Accountant
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Cost Manager
  • Relationship Manager

The Ultimate Test for Career Options

The most practical way to find out about jobs and careers is to check out the online job database (e.g. monster.com, indeed.com) and search for positions that require CGMA vs CMA. You can analyze based on the number of jobs, and also the quality, geographic locations, and industries to determine which qualification is more suitable for you at this stage. This can really give you a solid picture of what is currently available to you in your country and region with each designation.

Furthermore, my thoughts are that CGMA will gain some traction once the qualifying exam runs for a couple of years, but it will never replace the CMA certification. The CMA is still the “gold standard” and likely to stay that way. It was here first, and is the most thorough. Whether there is enough demand for two management accounting designations remains to be seen. Right now, the CMA just makes more sense.

Here is a Summary in Video Format

If you’d like to see a summary of the things I’ve discussed here in this article, check out this quick video:

Now, you should feel much more informed regarding the CGMA vs the CMA. Have you made a decision on which is right for you?

Next Step

Now, if you’ve made your decision about which designation to get, what’s the next step? Here is some further reading to help you. And as always, feel free to ask questions if you can’t find your answers here.

In addition, you may also want to check out this info from our blogger, for firsthand experience by someone who has been there and some other links for additional reading on the topic.

From Our Blogger…

For Your Further Reading

More Discussions

Your thoughts and comments are most welcome! If you have any questions, concerns or feedback regarding the CGMA vs the CMA, please let us know. I always love hearing from the readers and your questions help me know what to write about next.

Further Reading: 

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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Leave a Comment:

Robert Hanway says October 12, 2015

I have nothing but utmost respect for those in the UK and elsewhere who have had to write papers and pass exams to obtain their CGMA. They are the real deal. In the U.S., many took the offer from the AICPA and wrote a check to obtain their “credential.” The real-deal people get lumped in with those who were not required to earn the credential. In my mind, the meaning of the CGMA is compromised. It’s as though you now have to ask–did you have to pass an exam and/or write papers for that certification, or did you apply for it and make a payment for it? This reminds me of being a child, buying a certain brand of cereal and mailing in the boxtops to get the prize.

I think those CGMA holders in the U.S. had to have an application filled out and evaluated as well in order to make a case for having sufficient work experience. Some candidates probably have the skills, and some don’t–there is no objective way to know. I can think of some CPAs who jumped at the chance of not having to study in order to obtain a credential that can be appended to their names–they were gleeful! To me, their purchased credentials are laughable and highly misleading.

Finally, there is an exam for CGMAs, and that’s a step in the right direction. I don’t know if I’ll take the exam having obtained a CMA and the CFM. The CMA was a five-part exam when I passed it, but the CFM, which was essentially the same as the CMA exam, had only one additional part to pass. Twenty years after obtaining the CMA, I took the one-part CFM exam and passed it. Still, I had to study for that CFM, and I learned some new things as I studied. Maybe only time will weed out the real CGMAs (who have to pass exams and/or write papers to earn the credential) from those who bypassed the effort (but eventually retire).

In the end, even credentials are not a substitute for perspicacity, experience, or probity. I’ve read the arguments about pushing the CGMA–they droned on and on. To obtain a CGMA* without some sort of test still seems akin to getting a medal without winning (or placing) in an event, winning a championship, or producing a product, service or other form of output that is truly laudatory and meritorious. I can’t help but think that there are some who should place an asterisk next to their CGMA*. That is how baseball reacted to Roger Maris hitting 61 home runs in 162 games when Babe Ruth hit 60 HRs in a 154-game season; Maris’ record required an asterisk.

In the fields of mental health and social work, I see a legitimate value in encouraging those who have mental and physical challenges that a lot of us don’t have–they face obstacles and some social oppression that we don’t have to cope with. I’ll give them a medal for effort without any qualms. Yes, such individuals tug on my heart strings and are spurred to work harder to develop themselves when they are “caught doing something right (or good).” Such individuals feel empowered by the acknowledgement and will strive to raise their own bars of personal effort and achievement.

A lot of us are born with sound minds and bodies, and we’re privileged enough to choose to apply ourselves in order to contribute, compete, or excel. As a former college athlete, I practiced, studied film, lifted weights, and ran to increase my strength and speed. “Muscle implants,” which would only “look impressive,” would have been useless, and anyone attempting to fool the coaches or teammates with implanted muscles would probably have been exposed as a phony, humiliated, or seriously injured because they didn’t belong on the field to begin with.

Certifications conferred without passing a requisite test of skill provide no additional value because the bearer did not have develop or strengthen any skill sets–no effort was required–it’s that simple to me. When I meet somebody whom I suspect of not earning a credential that could’ve been paid for, I have to wonder a little about the substance and probity of such an individual. When I played ball years ago, I didn’t like phonies, and I didn’t hesitate to deck one in practice–just to make that point. Phonies are unreliable, untrustworthy, lazy, won’t/can’t give 100%+ in practice or games, and lower the bar of physical and mental discipline that a team needs in order to win–reasons enough for me to send the message: “Be real, go hard, or get off the field.”

I earned my credentials; however, I’ll never claim omniscience–I still don’t know what I don’t know after almost forty years. There are CGMA and CITP holders who essentially purchased their credentials without passing an exam. How will they stack up against a professional who has real experience and can successfully challenge the competence of the individuals who only have their purchased credentials? I wonder when someone will have the audacity to “sell” a product to challenge the CFA credential and claim an equivalent knowledge base; the slope here is slippery-where does it end?

Aside from those who have passed a test to obtain a credential without having the experience to be competent in the field represented by their credential, there are those without any credentials who have extensive experience, integrity and may also be exceptionally gifted intellectually. It’s almost as if we can wind up where we were when there were no credentials. Which credentials are “credible?” Who would you want on your team?

I think that, in the end, the only way to really know about anyone is to work with that person and then determine if that person is “the real deal” or someone who is merely adept at “looking good.” Thus far, I’ve met only a couple of CGMA holders whom I respect genuinely even if they didn’t have to pass the CGMA exam in order to obtain their certificates.

There is a point in your career when you’ll see both “types” and realize that credential-bearing individuals are not necessarily all that they hold themselves out to be. You may revel in your association with the “real” individuals who know what they’re doing, recognize their shortcomings, embrace integrity, and remain eager to push themselves to continue learning and developing. If you encounter in an environment where trust, respect, and competence appear compromised, your only recourse may be to walk away with some sadness and disgust.

Bob Hanway, CPA, CMA, CFM, CIA, MBA

    Stephanie Ng says October 12, 2015

    Hi Bob, thanks for your very detailed and insightful sharing! Yes, I absolutely agree with you. The CGMA has introduced an exam similar to that of CGMA in 2015, but I doubt if anyone is taking it. If people are interested they would have “purchased it” (as you said) before 2015 when they were able to do that.

    I guess it’s pretty hard to attract people to sign up for a new designation so the AICPA/CIMA had to offer a big bait. The question is, if it’s so hard to attract people, why create yet another one? The official answer can be found on their webpage. The cynical answer is more revenue, bigger membership base and a way to knock out a competitor. Could be a combination of both. Cheers, Stephanie

chris says December 23, 2014

i will appreciate any insights from my learned colleagues (CIMA and CGMA colleagues)

    Stephanie Ng says January 1, 2015

    Certainly it would be nice to hear thoughts from other fellow readers and their friends.

chris says December 23, 2014

Starting my gateway route for CIMA begining january. any insights please. i have an MBA but with an engineering first degree.

    KD says February 12, 2015

    I am studying for the Gateway exam during the May window. Maybe we can be study buddies. georgio89athotmail.com

Mike says November 2, 2014

I am about to sit the CGMA Gateway exam (November 2014), which will allow me exemption from 5 papers, 6 exams and 2 case studies. If I pass, I will then have to sit 3 Strategic level exams and complete a case study. I can sit this exam, and gain the exemptions because I have my MBA. I do not have my CPA.

What you say is true for current CPAs, but if you are not a CPA, I assure you a substantial amount of effort is required, and the curriculum is robust. I have had to order all my study materials from the UK, and will have to fly to DC to take the exam (as it is only offered in 6 locations in the US). I believe starting in May 2015, they will be offered at hundreds of exam centers.

My case is extreme. My wife is from the UK, and I want credentials that have some weight over there, should we ever move there. So I doubt few currently take my route.

I am advising all my friends that are CPAs to get the credentials now, while there is no effort for them. I am easily a couple of thousand dollars in with exam fees, study materials, a flight and a hotel stay, not to mention the hours of study time. …and once I pass this exam, I am not done.

On a final note, if you see the CGMA letters behind someone’s name without CPA as well, then realize that considerable effort went into getting those letters.

    Stephanie Ng says November 3, 2014

    Hi Mike, thanks a lot for your sharing and especially on your perspective. I have a lot of respect to you and other candidates who go for the CGMA through studies and exams. I am seeing this more in the business community perspective that, at the moment at least, I am not sure if I will recognize a qualification that can be “bought” pretty much.

    Your point of someone with CGMA but not MBA behind their names is a very good point, I’ve never thought about that. I hope that the recruiters will be smart enough to notice as well. In any case, once the CGMA requires an exam on its own effective 2015, I (and likely others) will change our views.

    But then, if you don’t mind I asking, why not go for the more established CIMA qualification? Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought CGMA and CIMA is a complete duplicate in the UK.

    All the best to your exam! Stephanie

    KD says December 5, 2014

    Thanks Mike. I am thinking about going the same route as you. I have an MBA too but believe the CGMA adds some global recognition to your credentials. Please lets keep in touch as i have some questions about the process at: georgio89[@]hotmail.com.

    Thanks in advance.

Edwin Yau says July 13, 2014

Too much fussy debate. I am a CPA CA ACMA that are beyond doubt well accepted as a taxation and public accountant, and management consultant Too many letters after one’s name would confuse the general public and clients, and would simply become a letter collector. I would imagine that one in business is to use CGMA only after tne name, if engaged in global leadership, strategic and general mangement, and management accounting occupation or level of responsibility..

    Stephanie Ng says July 16, 2014

    Thanks for your comment Edwin.

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