What Is a CMA?

As an aspiring accountant, you’re probably considering not only your education options, but what your path after graduation will entail. Chances are good that you’ve heard of the CPA, or certified public accountant, certification. This is among the most popular certifications accounting professionals seek, because it qualifies candidates to submit reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission and because it can greatly increase an accountant’s earning potential. However, there are other certifications that you might not have heard of, like the CMA, that could prepare you for management roles in the field of accounting.

The Basics of a CMA Credential

The CMA, or certified management accountant, certification prepares accounting professionals for career advancement into management accounting positions. The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) awards this global credential to business professionals – in the field of accounting and beyond – who demonstrate competence in both financial reporting and financial decision-making.

Requirements for a CMA Designation

Like CPAs, aspiring CMAs should first earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting (or a related field, like finance or economics). Unlike CPA candidates, though, candidates for a CMA don’t need to spend five years in college instead of four just to complete extra semester hours of study. While CPA candidates must typically meet a minimum number of years of experience before they can pursue the credential, the degree is the “only component needed to be eligible to pursue a CMA,” Rasmussen College reported.

Earning a CMA credential requires a passing grade on both parts of a two-part exam. Part one tests a candidate’s financial reporting skills and knowledge, while part two evaluates the candidate’s strengths in financial decision-making. Each exam part takes approximately four hours to complete, with 100 multiple choice questions and two half-hour essay questions, the IMA reported.

What You Can Do with a CMA Certification

Accounting and finance blog The Constant Analyst calls the CMA “the least understood, but possibly most relevant credential available to accounting and finance professionals today.”

The CMA designation is a particularly good path for candidates who want to work in a private company. Manufacturing firms are the companies that most commonly hire CMAs, according to The Houston Chronicle, but these professionals also find employment in other industries. Accounting manager, cost accountant and controller are among the most commonly held positions for CMAs, but any position that includes external reporting and cost or manufacturing accounting can make use of a CMA’s skills.

As you pursue an accounting education and career, you might wonder which professional designation is the right choice for you – the CPA, the CMA, or something else. The certifications aren’t mutually exclusive. Some accounting professionals prefer to earn both a CPA and CMA credential to indicate to employers that they have both sets of skills, while others know that they want to pursue only public accounting (and seek a CPA) or only private accounting (and earn an CMA). Generally speaking, the most valuable certification depends on what you want to do with your professional life.