How is professional certification such as the CMA worth it in building your career? When will you see a tangible benefit — right after passing Part 1, Part 2? Or not until you get the certification? These are important questions that many people have before going into the CMA exam or that path in their career. How do you know if becoming a certified management accountant is right for you?
Many of you have asked similar questions before, and it’s time for me to address this with a detailed post. Let’s deep dive into the CMA certification, what it takes to get it, and how it benefits you in your career growth.
I have seen coaching classes, especially those from overseas, that “oversell” the value of CMA certification in their home countries. They do this because they want to get people convinced and signed up for those coaching classes. You may see zealous claims like:
“Career prospects shoot out of the roof with this qualification!”
“The title can land you a job right away.”
Be wary of these. In my opinion, no degree or certification can guarantee a job. Having a certification like the CMA can definitely help you secure a good job or a better-paying job, but it’s important to be cautious of big promises.
Don’t get me wrong — I fully respect Certified Management Accountants (or else I wouldn’t be running this site), but in reality, its value varies in different countries and industries. You may have heard all about how the CMA will help you in careeer growth, that it will help you get a better job, and that you will make loads of money from it. However, you may be surprised to know that this isn’t always the case. There are different factors involved – two big ones being the country and the industry you are in.
If you know that the CMA value varies by country and industry, how can you know where to get the most value from your certification? The answer could be an integral part of deciding whether or not the CMA certification is right for you. To begin, let’s look at the CMA value in the United States. CMA US jobs are available, and the certification is most recognized here.
Given this is a US qualification, CMA is the most recognized in the United States. CMA USA job opportunities are all over. This extends to US subsidiaries outside of the US but only if they are run by American supervisors who know about the CMA. In other words, if it is a big regional office and they have a local hiring team, I am not sure if the CMA title is that useful.
Second, you need to consider the industry. What makes the CMA qualification stand apart from the other accounting certifications is the heavy focus on planning, costing and analysis. This type of more sophisticated costing methodologies is more commonly used and valued by manufacturing companies because they have products and inventories to take care of.
In contrast, in a service-oriented company, the analysis is much simpler because no physical product is involved. The skillset gained from the CMA program is still useful; it’s only that companies value less of it.
Third, you may also want to look into the size of a company. Small-medium sized companies probably don’t need a professional specialized in management accounting and costing. If they have one headcount, I bet they prefer a CPA.
You will find a lot more opportunities in big companies and especially among the Fortune 500. A sizable number of senior management in strategic planning, accounting and finance are CMAs. These people want to help their fellow certificate holders and will be much more likely to hire you if they know you are also a CMA.
Is the CMA worth it in China? Here’s another country where people ask this question. I get a lot of questions about the CMA in China recently since it has grown more popular there. The simple answer is yes. If this is the career path you wish to take, the CMA certification could be a great choice.
China is probably the next favorable place for those with a CMA title. Since the launch of the Chinese version of the CMA exam, the number of candidates and CMA holders has exploded and it has now a well-known certification in the country. It also helps that a management accounting qualification doesn’t exist locally, so there are no other alternatives. If you aspire to work in China, the CMA title is a good investment.
Based on the latest data in 2015, an “average” IMA member in China is 33 years old with 10 years of experience in the current field of work. The gender of the respondents is 54% (men) and 46% (women), and the percentage of women is much higher than that in the Middle East, and even in the US.
You can learn more about the CMA salary level and trend in China if you plan to take the exam in this country.
The next hot spot is the Middle East. CIMA is also very strong there, so it is not as attractive as, say if you live in the U.S. or in China. Having said that, if you look up online job postings, there are companies that specifically look for CMA certificate holders in the Middle East, so the potential is there. Many of these are big multi-national companies with some manufacturing capacities with headquarters in the US.
If you are interested in this type of companies, you are good to go. Is the CMA worth it in the Middle East? I’d say yes.
Accountant basic salary in UAE and Qatar has the highest average compensation at US$56,000 and US$48,000 respectively. Egypt has the lowest at US$6,800. Overall, the basic salary in Middle East region enjoys strong and steady growth with a CAGR of 24% from 2010 to 2015.
Where in the Middle East are the most people registering with the IMA? Among the Middle Eastern countries, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have the most number of IMA members, representing 12%, 7% and 4% of total survey respondents respectively. If you’re interested, you can learn more about the CMA in the Middle East to make your final decision.
There is also an increasing number of candidates from India. The CMA is an up-and-coming qualification in India, which means that you have the first-mover advantage. At the same time, however, this also means opportunities are still quite rare.
Because of this, I recommend Indians to do deeper research on the demand for CMA certificate holders in their respective area.
There are also Indian candidates who go for the CMA because they find ICWAI (or CIMA) too difficult. While I totally understand the rationale, you might want to check out the value of the CMA title-specific in your area because getting it easier doesn’t mean that it is as useful.
Lastly, there are also a large group of candidates taking the exam in the hope to find a job in the US. Some are even told that CMA can land you a visa and a job right away.
Please don’t believe in that nonsense. In order to work in the US, most people need the H1B visa which is very hard to get (It is hard even before Trump became president). The most natural and easiest path is to arrange an internal transfer through your current employer. This is only possible if this company has a regional office or headquarters in the US, and that you have an excellent track record in the company. You can’t really land a job out of the blue in another country unless you have an amazingly unique skill set or amazingly strong network that leads you to that job.
This goes back to my point of looking for US-headquartered, manufacturing-based Fortune 500 companies in your area. You can learn more about the CMA in India if you think you may be interested.
Now let’s take a look at the ways that a CMA certification can help you in career growth. First, it is considered the “gold standard” of management accounting, in the U.S. and now spreading globally. This means it is recognized in a business environment as a measurement of your ability in critical accounting and financial management skills.
Secondly, it is the most global management accounting certification. We will touch on this later but for now, it is the largest in the niche, next to CIMA, and the most available across the globe. It is also the fastest growing across the globe. You will find CMA certificate holders in the U.S., China, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India, Jordan, and in many other areas (and growing).
Third, you can get a salary increase for holding the CMA certification. Let’s face it, the pay increase is the reason most people go for their certification in the first place.
Finally, the obvious but still important way that the CMA certification helps your career is that it ensures you have the knowledge and skillset to do your job correctly and efficiently. In short, it makes you a better worker.
Yes, you can always do that, but you cannot hold yourself out as a CMA. This means that the benefit of passing Part 1 alone is small. Same case for Part 2, and any time before you fulfill the experience requirement and become eligible for the certificate.
You can start looking for jobs as soon as you know you plan to take the CMA. In fact, many candidates start looking as a way of planning for their futures and just to see what is available out there. However, I advise against actually applying for jobs too early. If you have not taken and passed both CMA Part 1 and CMA Part 2, you cannot call yourself a CMA certificate holder.
Furthermore, you have to complete the other requirements by the IMA and actually receive your certification before you can claim the title. Therefore, if you are looking for jobs that require the CMA certification, then you won’t be able to apply for these yet.
Is the CMA recognized globally? This is another common question. If you are looking for a truly global accounting certification, this may not be the best choice for you. The CMA is still a US-based certification, despite being available in other countries now, due to demand.
Historically, it is hard for accounting qualifications (such as CPA and CA) to go global because each country has its own GAAP. A certification strictly for management accounting is possible, and that’s why the IMA and CGMA are competing aggressively to build upon that.
The CFA Institute has done an excellent job in this regard. They are now pretty much the only certification in finance and investment.
The Institute of Internal Auditor has also established itself as the only player in the internal audit niche.
Therefore, if you aren’t only looking for accounting certification, there are big global designations out there. You may not even need the CMA at all. Again, this is why it is so important to know your needs, and to do your research based on those needs. Just because it seems like everyone is hyping up a certification doesn’t mean it is best for you.
In conclusion, is the CMA worth it? It can be, depending on your career path. It is a highly respected certification for good reason and there are many benefits to obtaining it. However, it’s also growing globally in popularity and with that, comes a lot of hype. Do not allow hype to be a reason you get into something that may not be right for you. Always do your background research first and make the decision for yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured by those who may have a personal, vested interest in you signing up.
I hope this honest analysis hasn’t scared you from becoming a CMA. There are many benefits to becoming CMA certified, but I believe it’s important to give people all of the information and allow them to make their own informed decision about what is best for their lives and their careers. It’s important that you know your desired career path first before making a decision to dive into CMA certification since it is a big investment – financially and time-wise.
No one else can tell you the right choice to make for your needs. For your own benefit, please go through these important factors to maximize the CMA certification value for your career.
If you have any questions or stories to tell, please drop a note in the comment section. I’d love to discuss further with you. My goal for this site is to inform and educate on all things CMA-related.
If you decide the CMA is for you, then you may also be interested in signing up for my mini e-course to plan, study, and pass the CMA exam on your first attempt (click the link for details on the mini-course).
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.