Certified Management Accountant (CMA) Guide

What is the CMA certification?

The Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification is a professional credential that is highly regarded in the fields of management accounting and financial management. This certification is offered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), and it emphasizes the importance of advanced accounting skills, financial planning, analysis, control, decision support, and professional ethics.

Why get the CMA certification?

Before earning my CMA, I felt like I was stuck in a technical accounting role. The CMA program broadened my perspective, teaching me how to analyze financial data from a strategic standpoint. Now, I can confidently present financial information to leadership and translate complex numbers into actionable insights. The CMA certification has been instrumental in my career advancement, allowing me to transition into a management accounting role with a significant salary increase. It’s a valuable credential that demonstrates not just technical skills, but also the ability to think strategically and contribute to the overall business goals.
  • Career Advancement – The CMA certification is recognized globally and opens doors to more advanced career paths in management accounting, corporate finance, and beyond.
  • Higher Earning Potential – CMA certification can lead to higher salary potential. According to IMA’s annual salary survey, CMAs earn nearly 50% more in median salary and 55% more in median total compensation than non-certified professionals.
  • Professional Recognition – Holding a CMA credential signifies that an individual possesses a high level of proficiency in management accounting skills and is committed to continuous improvement and ethical practice.
  • Global Opportunities – As a globally recognized qualification, the CMA can provide opportunities for employment around the world.
  • Professional Network – CMA certification grants access to a professional community of like-minded individuals, offering networking opportunities, professional development, and access to industry insights.

How to become a certified management accountant

Meet the Educational Requirements

You must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university or hold a professional certification recognized by the IMA.

Join the IMA

You need to become an active member of the IMA, which involves paying an annual membership fee. Membership provides access to IMA resources, networking opportunities, and discounts on exam and entrance fees.

Pay the CMA Entrance Fee

After joining the IMA, you must pay a CMA entrance fee to enter the CMA certification program. This fee covers the development and maintenance of the CMA exam and support services.

Satisfy the Experience Requirement

Before or within seven years after passing the CMA exams, you must complete two years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management. This experience must be continuous and verifiable.

You will need to submit a description of your job(s) to the IMA, and your experience must be verified by your direct supervisor or someone familiar with your work.

Prepare for and Pass the CMA Exams

The CMA exam is divided into two parts (each part consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and two 30-minute essay questions):

  • Part 1: Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics
  • Part 2: Strategic Financial Management

Exams are administered by Prometric and can be scheduled during designated testing windows (January/February, May/June, and September/October).

Continuing Education

To maintain your CMA certification, you must complete 30 hours of Continuing Professional Education annually, including at least 2 hours in ethics.

The CMA exam

The average pass rate for the CMA exam is ~50%. The IMA doesn’t release official figures on pass rates but data from forums suggest the pass rate is around this level.

Exam Format

The CMA exam is divided into two parts, each focused on a core area of knowledge:

  • Part 1: Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics
  • Part 2: Strategic Financial Management

Each part of the CMA exam includes:

  • 100 multiple-choice questions which you have 3 hours to complete.
  • Two 30-minute essay questions that involve typical business scenarios.

Exam Cost:

  • IMA Membership Fee: Depending on the type of membership (student, professional, academic), fees vary, typically ranging from $39 to $245 annually.
  • CMA Entrance Fee: $250 for professionals and $188 for students/academics.
  • Exam Fee: $415 per part for professionals, $311 per part for students and academics.

These costs do not include preparation materials, courses, or potential retake fees.

Topics Covered

  • Part 1: Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics
    • External financial reporting decisions
    • Planning, budgeting, and forecasting
    • Performance management
    • Cost management
    • Internal controls
    • Technology and analytics
  • Part 2: Strategic Financial Management
    • Financial statement analysis
    • Corporate finance
    • Decision analysis
    • Risk management
    • Investment decisions
    • Professional ethics

Scheduling Your Exam:

First, you must join the IMA and pay the CMA entrance fee. After these steps are completed, you can register for the exams. The CMA exams are offered in three testing windows throughout the year: January/February, May/June, and September/October.

Exams are administered through Prometric testing centers. You can schedule your exam date and location through the Prometric website once registered and approved.

Preparing for the Exam:

The IMA offers an official CMA Learning System, which includes textbooks and practice questions. Many candidates also use third-party review courses that provide lectures, additional practice questions, and study plans.

Given the breadth of the material, creating a detailed study plan is crucial. Most candidates spend at least 150-170 hours studying for each part of the exam.

Regularly completing practice tests is vital to familiarize yourself with the exam format and to assess your understanding of the material. Focus on both the multiple-choice questions and the essay portions.

Your CMA certification questions answered

Our career coaches talk to hundreds of individuals each year that are considering their options for advanced certifications. Here are some of the questions they hear about the CMA:

What makes the CMA certification stand out compared to other financial certifications like the CPA?

While the CPA certification focuses on public accounting, regulatory compliance, and taxation, the CMA is more geared towards internal corporate management and strategy. It emphasizes financial analysis, strategic planning, and decision support, which are crucial for roles in corporate finance and management accounting.

How long does it typically take to complete the CMA certification process?

The time to complete the CMA certification can vary, but most candidates complete the process within 12 to 18 months. This includes preparing for and passing both parts of the exam, depending on one’s study schedule and personal or professional commitments.

Can I pursue a CMA certification if I have a background in a field other than accounting?

Yes, you can pursue a CMA certification with a non-accounting background, provided you meet the educational requirements. Many professionals from finance, business administration, and other related fields find the CMA valuable for enhancing their strategic decision-making and financial management skills.

What are the total costs associated with obtaining the CMA certification?

The total cost includes IMA membership fees, the CMA entrance fee, and exam fees. These can total approximately $1,500 to $2,000, excluding preparation materials and courses. Costs vary by membership type (student, professional, etc.) and geographic region.

Which jobs value the CMA certification?

The CMA certification can significantly enhance your career opportunities helping you progress from junior roles to more senior and managerial positions including; financial controllerFP&A managermanagement accountanttreasury manager and finance manager. It can also lead to higher managerial roles over time, such as VP of Finance and CFO.