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CMA after CPA: Worth the Effort for Another Designation?

cma after cpaCMA after CPA? Should you do it? If that sounds like alphabet soup to you, bear with me. These are two very popular, prestigious accounting certifications, and in this post, I will answer a reader’s question regarding them. I think this will also help you if you consider the same certifications or get one after the other.

I got an email from fellow reader Sarah last week on whether a CMA certification makes sense after getting her CPA. Honestly, it’s a really great question, and I can see how other people like Sarah may be wondering the same thing. Here is my answer. I thought some of you would be interested to find out.

My View on CMA After CPA

Hi Sarah, thanks for your note. This is an interesting question and a very good one. I guess the most value-added benefit of a CMA certification for an existing CPA is how he/she is equipped to work in management accounting, particularly the costing area. Either the CPA qualification or the external audit job doesn’t cover much on management accounting, and CMA can fill the gap.

Different industries seem to value the CMA certification quite differently as well. For manufacturing companies where costing and inventory analysis is critical, there tend to be more CMAs in the company; therefore, the certification is more valued.

The CMA is understandably less recognized in service-oriented companies where costing analysis is less important.

In theory, the knowledge we learn through the CMA program is applicable and important to all industries, but the above is my observation in a real-world situation.

If you’re just coming off the CPA, the CMA will be much easier for you to prepare for. You will already be familiar with the CPA’s sections BEC and FAR. You will also find that the CPE requirements on these certifications overlap in many areas, so you can keep your costs down when it comes to maintaining each.

The Difference Between CPA and CMA

To fully understand whether or not you need the CMA after the CPA, you also need to understand the difference between the two certifications. Here is how the syllabus between the two stacks up. This will help you see how the CMA might be easier to take right after the CPA and also where the CMA covers more details that the CPA does not. (And remember, too, that the CMA exam only has multiple-choice questions and essays, whereas the CPA Exam also has task-based simulations.)

The following chart shows the overlap of topics between the CMA and CPA exams. The weighting in overlapped areas can be quite different, so please use this for general reference only.

CMA Part 1 Topics

Where It Appears in CPA Exam

 External Financial Reporting (15%)  FAR / REG (Tax Implications)
 Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting (30%)  BAR
 Performance Management (20%)  BAR
 Cost Management (20%)  BAR
 Internal Controls (15%)  AUD
 Technology and Analytics (15%)  Spread throughout the CPA Exam

CMA Part 2 Topics

Where It Appears in CPA Exam

 Financial Statement Analysis (20%)  FAR / AUD (Analytical Review)
 Corporate Finance (20%)  BAR
 Decision Analysis (20%)  BAR
 Risk Management (10%)  AUD (possibly Audit Risk)
 Investment Decisions (10%)  BAR
 Professional Ethics (15%)  AUD

You can learn more in CMA vs. CPA: Which Qualification is Better? There is much more to look into, such as costs, time investment, career projections, etc. However, the syllabus is key for determining if you should get the CMA after the CPA. This shows us where content overlaps and how the two certifications and exams differ.

Are There Any CPA Exemptions for CMA?

The CPA requirements are more than sufficient for the CMA program qualification, so there is no problem with eligibility. Regarding whether you can waive any part of the CMA exam, CPA exemptions have been limited since the format changed from a 4-part to a 2-part exam. Realistically, it is hard to expect one can waive an exam part when there are only two.

So, you can take the CMA after the CPA, and it will probably be easier to do so while the info is still fresh for you. But you will have to take both parts of the exam.

From Public Accounting to Management Accounting

The CPA is a very prestigious and thorough certification. Completing it is a great accomplishment and means you will be ready for a successful career in public accounting. However, many people who get their CPA license find that their interests change over time. As new opportunities arise, you might find that you want to get a new certification or switch your focus.

If you have your CPA and you still enjoy working in the field of public accounting, then you may not need additional certifications. If you’re happy doing audits and financial reporting, your CPA will be more than enough to get you through this type of work.

However, if you feel like you want to move into the areas of management accounting tasks like cost accounting, financial analysis, or risk management, then you may want to consider getting your CMA after the CPA. Let’s look at why CPAs use the CMA to work in management accounting.

Why CPAs Can Use the CMA to Work in Management Accounting

If you’re considering the CMA after the CPA, it can be an asset if you plan to work in management accounting. This is because the CMA specifically focuses on more aspects related to management accounting. It will help you master specific areas and skills like the following (as they relate to management accounting):

  • Financial planning
  • Analysis
  • Control
  • Decision support
  • Professional ethics

As they relate to management accounting. The CPA covers things like auditing and taxes, but a CMA won’t use these very much (or at all). If you’ve already gotten your CPA, then you have the basics of management accounting, but it doesn’t dive all that deeply into it. This is when taking the CMA after the CPA can be an asset.

People who make the decision to take the CMA after the CPA could do so at any time. They may decide to do the CMA right after the CPA if they know from the start that they want both certifications. However, what is more common is that a person will work in the field with their CPA for some time, possibly years, then decide they want to go for the CMA later. Usually, this happens because their interests change, or they move into a more specialized type of accounting that the CMA would help them with.

When to Consider the CMA after CPA

As I explained above, you might decide to take the CMA after the CPA if you are transitioning from one job to another. For example, moving from public accounting into a corporate position might open a situation where having your CMA is useful.

Understanding the roles and the specific job responsibilities that people with each certification might do will also help you know when to consider the CMA after the CPA.

Benefits of CPA and CMA Combination

If you get both the CPA and the CMA certifications, you can say that you have what is called a “combination” certification. This is a lot of work, so it makes sense that there are benefits to this dual certification. First, it gives you the upper hand over others with just one of the two certifications. It is a competitive market these days, and you can put yourself at an advantage over your colleagues if you have both certifications.

In addition to the clout you earn by having both certifications and the “bragging rights,” you will get additional education that makes certain job tasks easier. There is more to it than just getting some new letters after your name. You will also be able to use the skills you gain from these certifications. This could allow you to get a promotion, work for a new company, or even do more while in business for yourself. There are many options and many doors that open up for you once you hold the certifications.

Being dual-certified is also very financially lucrative. Of the many benefits of the CPA and CMA combination, the potential salary is at the top of the list. In simple terms, you can stand to make a lot more money.

CPA and CMA Combination Salary

How much money can you stand to make with the CPA and the CMA? This is an important question for candidates considering both. There will be a significant time and financial investment to obtain both. What can you look to make in return once you hold both of these certifications?

The average starting salary for a CMA is around $56,590. The average salary for a CPA is $62,123. This can change from year to year and with how long you have been in a position, as well as how long you’ve held the certification.

According to the Institute of Management Accountants’ Annual Salary Survey, respondents in the 19-29 age category with both a CMA and a CPA earned 37% more than their non-certified counterparts.

What Else to Do After CPA?

What else might you want to do after your CPA? Is the CMA the only other option, or are there other certifications or qualifications you might consider?

One can consider taking an MBA. And some CPAs take the LSAT to pursue careers in tax law. For professional qualifications, here are a few other choices:

The CGMA Designation

AICPA has joined hands with CIMA to create a new designation called the CGMA. In the past, AICPA members didn’t have to pay for this designation as long as they fulfilled the experience requirements. But now, all candidates must go through the CGMA exam. This exam is developed by CIMA, involving in-depth case studies. The format differs from anything you see in US professional exams (be it CPA or CMA). In fact, I believe it looks more like a huge task-based simulation.

The number of CGMA exam review courses is limited, however. As a result, many candidates decide to stick with the US CMA exam for a management accounting certification.

The CFA Charter

Some professionals also want a dual CPA CFA qualification to show their expertise in accounting and finance. My husband John is one of them, which has proved helpful for his career. It takes a lot of effort to get another qualification, especially since it typically takes 4 years to pass the 3-level exam.

Unlike the CMA and CPA exams, the CFA exam has a specific timetable with only 2 exam dates each year. If you are interested in exploring further, it is best to check the calendar now and mark down the deadlines.

Here is a Summary in Video Format

If you like to learn visually, I also made a video summary to help you understand the details above.

Conclusions for CMA after CPA

In conclusion, does taking the CMA after the CPA makes sense? For some people, yes. As you can see in the info above, it has many benefits. No one can tell you if it’s right for you, so you need to gather all the information you can to make an informed decision on your own. You have a wealth of information to help you make your decision. Many people also find it very helpful to make a list.

For example, you could do a pros/cons list or write out all the reasons you think this certification will benefit you. Putting things into writing is a great way to solidify the ideas in your mind to help you come to the right conclusions.

When considering the CMA after the CPA, think about why you want it. Are you looking to learn more and improve your skillset, or are you just passing the test to say you have the license/certification?

Are you collecting certifications and letters after your name, or are you using the information that the certification signifies you know? There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer since people get certified for many different reasons. Your reasons are personal to you. However, considering those reasons and being really honest with yourself about them will help you determine whether or not you want to go for the CMA after the CPA.

In addition, it will help you determine if you should go for any of the other certifications mentioned above after the CPA.

Further Reading

Any Questions?

If you would like to continue the conversation or if you have any questions on CMA after CPA, drop a note below, and I’d love to discuss further.

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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