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CMA IMA vs ICWAI: Which Certification is Better?

There have been some interesting debates on the merits of the CMA granted by the IMA (US) versus the certification from the Institute of Cost Accountants of India (ICAI, better known by its former name, ICWAI). Here is my attempt to compare the two. Your thoughts and comments are most welcome.

Institute of Cost Accountants of India (ICWAI)


ICWAI recently changed its name to the Institute of Cost Accountants of India (ICAI). This is an institute formed by an Act enacted by the Indian Parliament. The members are allowed to practice and conduct cost audits, excise audits, and VAT audits. Their members are active in both industry and public accounting.

Coverage of Knowledge Base

From what I gather from my Indian readers, ICWAI offers a rigorous program — in addition to covering the core strategy, management, and accounting, it also focuses on regulatory issues. This makes sense because, in India, accountants need to be knowledgeable on these matters given the many regulations that affect businesses.

Exam Structure and Years Required to Earn the Title

The minimum theoretical time to take the ICWAI and CA (including article ship) courses is 2 years and 4 years, respectively, assuming the candidate can pass in the first attempt.

ICWAI candidates get only two chances to sit for the exam during the year, and this inflexibility makes it a much longer process. On average, ICWAI/CA students take 5-7 years to pass their exams.

Passing Rates

The passing rate is not disclosed, but it is believed to be quite low.

Global Recognition

It is understandable that at the current stage at least, ICWAI is not much recognized outside of India. One of the reasons is that non-Indians neither have a convenient way nor incentive to go through the necessary steps to become an ICWAI member.

Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)

Coverage of Knowledge Base

The coverage of IMA is arguably less comprehensive — it focuses on cost accounting and financial management but not regulation, audit, or taxation. One important reason is that the CMA title is more strictly designed for management accountants, and general accountants go for the CPA.

Because of this, as well as the fact that the process is very exam-oriented, getting the US version is usually the quickest way for candidates anywhere in the world to get a “CMA title.”

Exam Structure and Years Required to Earn the Title

There are two parts to the CMA exam. Each part covers a considerable amount of materials, but the benefit is that you can complete the process much faster. It is quite normal that candidates can complete the exam within a year.

Also, the exam is computerized and therefore can be available any weekday within the testing window, which opens 6 months out of the 12 months in a year. The flexibility allows you to get fully prepared before attempting the exam and can choose to take the exam at a time when you are not as busy.

Passing Rates

The passing rate is low — 33% for Part 1 and 48% for Part 2. But given the low barrier of entry, I expect that many candidates do not have solid accounting knowledge and this tends to pull down the overall rate.

If you have a background in accounting or you are determined to study using effective review materials, you have a much higher chance of success.

Global Recognition

The CMA (US) enjoys good brand-name recognition both within and outside of the US, especially in the Middle East and China. The title is particularly useful if you aspire to work in these places in the future.

Check out this Video on the CMA exam for Indian Candidates


I have a few readers who are ardent fans of the ICWAI because of the intellectual challenges and rigorous program. However, if you are like most people who simply want the CMA title for the sake of credentials and global recognition, you could have an option between the CMA and ICWAI.

For Your Further Reading

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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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