What Is the CMA Certification? Certified Management Accountant Certification.

What is the CMA certification? Great question! It’s the Certified Management Accountant designation or the CMA certification. And it’s is one of the top professional accounting credentials available today. The CMA is awarded to people who fulfill the standards of education and experience. However, CMA candidates also have to pass a rigorous exam, in addition to satisfying the IMA’s requirements. The CMA requirements are set forth by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).

Let’s dive deeper into the CMA certification and what a CMA does.

Understanding Management Accounting

Management Accounting is more than just adding and subtracting numbers. While it’s true that there is math involved, management accountants are expected to assemble raw data, organize it, and then conduct often complicated analyses that transform raw data into useful information. In short, they make sense of all the numbers so that an organization can better reach its goals and improve its finances.

An accountant’s skills will be useful in a variety of situations, which is why most accountants will choose a specialty field or niche. One branch of accounting that is most useful to business organizations is management accounting. Businesses large and small all need accounting help, and this is where management accounting comes in. This type of accounting focuses specifically on gathering, analyzing, and interpreting data for the business. Then they will communicate that data and explain the analysis to management to aid them in decision making for the organization.

What Does a CMA Do?

Now that you understand management accounting, you may be asking what does a CMA do? Your role as a CMA is to perform financial analysis and financial planning, such as forecasting and budgeting, internal control, professional ethics, as well as reporting within an organization. Some tasks and duties might include:

  • acting as a mentor and supervising lower-level accountants within the organization
  • identify opportunities for investment management in the organization
  • making presentations for senior management
  • preparing financial statements like balance sheets, cash flow statements, and income statements
  • arranging funding and financing options
  • creating strategies that improve and manage internal and external risks
  • monitor and administer compliance

These are just some of the common, basics tasks and duties of a CMA. Depending on your experience levels and what organization you work for, your tasks could vary.

High-level tasks CMAs handle daily:

  • Planning and Budgeting
  • Cost Management
  • Performance Management
  • Profitability Analysis
  • Financial Reporting
  • Investment Decisions
  • Internal Controls

Again, these are just some of the most common jobs that a CMA can do, but it’s certainly not an exhaustive list of what one might do with a CMA certification.

Why Is the CMA Certification In Demand?

So, why do some accountants want to get their CMA certification? Just like the CPA, the CMA is a globally recognized certification. This means it is highly respected, and it opens up a lot of great opportunities within the management accounting and financial management industries. When you look at the investment compared to the potential return, you can see why so many candidates decide to pursue the CMA. Some CMA benefits include:

  • more job opportunities
  • higher income
  • increased skills and abilities within the accounting field
  • heightened respect within the field
  • greater job security

You can look at spending around $2500 plus 300 hours of study time for the CMA exam, which sounds like a lot but in comparison to other similar programs is not. The CMA exam will lead you to the highly coveted CMA certification program and open up a door to potential earnings of a six-figure CMA salary. Having this certification also gives you an edge over the competition and will help you get better jobs and get promoted within those jobs more frequently.

Where Do CMAs Work?

So, accountants can find work with non-profits and with individuals, but those are usually considered different types of accountants and may or may not require a CMA. You can find CMAs working commonly in the following industries:

  • Finance
  • Construction
  • Transportation
  • Educational Services
  • Mining
  • Insurance and Real Estate
  • Communications and Utilities

Does this all sound like something that might interest you for a career path? If so, you’re going to need to know how to get your CMA certification. It is a process that requires a financial and time commitment, so it’s important to research and be sure it’s something you’re fully committed to before you sign up. Let’s explore the steps to getting your CMA.

Getting Your CMA Certification

To obtain your CMA certification, you need to qualify under the strict guidelines from the IMA. The IMA has requirements to ensure those who hold the certification have genuinely earned it and will continue to uphold the standards set forth by the IMA. It all begins with doing your research and deciding this is right for you. From there, you will need to:

  1. Pass both parts of the CMA exam within three years of joining the CMA program
  2. Have the required education – a bachelor’s degree or professional certification within 7 years of passing the exam
  3. Obtain the work experience – 2 continuous years of professional experience within 7 years of passing the exam

Your work experience needs to be in management accounting and/or financial accounting. Internships will qualify as long as they are in these fields. If you’re planning on getting or already did earn a Bachelor’s degree or some type, meeting the education requirement should not be difficult. The parts that provide the biggest challenge to most candidates are passing the exam and getting the required work experience.

Taking the CMA Exam

Taking the exam is a big part of the CMA certification. Without passing Part 1 and Part 2 of the test, you cannot get your certification, even if you meet the other requirements. This is why it is so important to candidates who are seeking the credential. The CMA exam is given in two different parts. You must pass both parts within the time frame allotted to get your CMA certification. The IMA provides you with three years to complete the exam. So, for most people, this is more than enough time to study, schedule, and pass both parts of the CMA exam.

Each part of the CMA has: 

You are given four hours of test time for each part of the exam:

  • 3 hours for the MCQs
  • 1 hour for the essays

A quality CMA review course and study plan will be essential to passing the exam and on the first try.

Maintaining the CMA Credential Over Time

Once you have your CMA credential, you also need to keep it active. It’s not a do-it-once-and-then-forget-about-it type thing. Rather, you will need to maintain the high standards that the IMA has in place for CMA holders. This means you have to demonstrate your commitment to staying current in the field.

Maintaining your CMA credential means holding 30 hours of approved continuing education (CE) per year with at least two of those hours in ethics education. You also need to maintain your IMA membership (requires paying dues). You do not, however, have to retest once you have successfully passed the CMA exam.

Keeping your IMA dues current and getting your required CE is a benefit to you as well because it allows you to stay up to date on the latest trends and changes in the industry. This allows you to do your job to the best of your ability and even to outshine the competition.

What Can You Earn with CMA Certification?

How much money can you earn with your CMA certification? This is a question that many graduates have, and for good reason. Getting your CMA certification is a big investment of time and money and it makes sense that you would want to know what your return on that investment will be. You will, however, qualify yourself for potential hire by a Big 4, and set yourself up for a six-figure salary when you get this certification.

According to the Institute of Management Accountant’s (IMA) U.S. Salary Survey, CMAs make 47% more than professionals without the CMA or the CPA in the U.S. 

Now that you know more about the CMA certification, you can decide if this is a credential you want to pursue. Should you decide to go for it, there are many tools and CMA review discounts available to help you study and prepare properly. Ultimately, this is a booming industry that will always have a need for more CMAs so if you decide to do it, you can rest assured it will be a smart choice.

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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