Becoming a Certified Management Accountant? Here’s What You Need to Know

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Earning the certified management accountant certification means you are officially a CMA. Learn how to prepare for the certification, get started in corporate finance, and more.

[Featured Image] An accountant studies on a laptop in an office.

Becoming a certified management account, or a CMA, is a process that involves earning certification through the Institute of Management Accountants, or IMA. You’ll need a bachelor’s degree and professional experience in financial management, among other requirements, to be eligible for certification, but it’s well worth your time if you plan on a future in corporate financial management.

Holding a CMA can boost your earning potential, move you into upper-level management positions, and build the reputation that comes with the CMA certification. It’s also an internationally recognized credential that carries recognition globally.

What is a certified management accountant? 

A certified management accountant is a financial professional who has earned the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification from the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). A CMA typically applies in corporate finance or managerial roles in business under various job titles, including corporate accountant, financial analyst, cost accountant, risk manager, industrial accountant, controller, CFO, and other related jobs in financial management.

CMAs help an organization’s senior professionals make strategic decisions about a company’s future based on financial data and information, which can help an organization set long-term plans and better allocate finances. A CMA may also make financial decisions for a company if working in an executive position. 


A CPA, or a certified public accountant, handles tax preparations, audits, and financial matters for individuals or small businesses. A CMA is similar in that both a CPA and CMA handle finances, but a CMA also manages finances that lead to better decision-making for a company. A CMA prepares financial documents and reports used to make strategic decisions and manage the finances of an entire corporation or business. The main difference between what a CPA and CMA does is financial management. A CPA does not manage finances for a company or make decisions. 

Some of the certified management accountant requirements and those needed to become a certified public accountant are similar. Both careers require certification. Both a CPA and CMA must earn a bachelor’s degree and have several years of professional experience to be eligible for certification. However, a CPA must obtain licensure, whereas a CMA does not need to. 

What do certified management accountants do?

A certified management accountant uses financial data and financial statements gathered both internally and externally to better manage a company’s finances, create strategic business plans, assess risk, find investment opportunities, and more. The goal of a CMA is to plan for the future of a business while monitoring and managing the financial health of the business now. CMAs may work with other accountants, managers, or stakeholders in a company to compile financial plans and create financial strategies. 

Typical duties and tasks 

Most duties and tasks of a CMA involve gathering financial data, analyzing data, and making decisions based on findings. Depending on where you work as a CMA, you may present findings to senior-level management or other stakeholders, or you may be the one making decisions and implementing financial strategies to improve the overall financial health of the company for which you work. 

Most CMAs will: 

  • Analyze data for performance improvement 

  • Use financial insights to make strategic business decisions

  • Assess and analyze financial risk for a company and present findings

  • Set, track, and maintain budgets for a company

  • Identify opportunities for financial investments that would be beneficial to a company

  • Set long-term financial goals based on risk assessment, financial opportunities, and relevant data

  • Prepare financial reports (profit/loss statements, assets, cash flow statements, tax documents, etc.)

  • Align financial operations with a company’s objectives and goals. 

Common work environments 

Certified management accountants work in environments requiring financial planning, managing, and decision-making. The need for CMAs spans a number of industries, from manufacturing to transportation and construction to real estate. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 30 percent of financial managers work in the finance and insurance industries [1]. Financial managers also report working in professional, scientific, and technician services, management of companies, the government, and manufacturing. 

Where you work may depend on your experience in finance, your education, and overall qualifications and skills. Most CMA professionals work in an office, sometimes as part of a company's financial department, as full-time employees. 

Job outlook 

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a very optimistic job outlook for financial managers, which includes certified management accountants. The Bureau estimates this profession will grow an average of 17 percent from now until 2031. These projections equate to about 71,300 new jobs being added annually over the next decade [2]. 

A few possible reasons for this promising job outlook could be globalization, increased need for risk management, and need for expertise in managing cash flow for large corporations. 

Five reasons to consider getting certified 

Getting certified can propel your career in finance or accounting into the field of financial management. Expect more opportunities in your career, a potentially higher salary, and the reputation of being a certified financial professional. Getting certified has many benefits. 

Develop new skills 

Careers in financial management require a new set of skills that general financial professionals may not hold. CMA certification will teach you critically important skills like risk management, investment decisions, forecasting, professional ethics, cost management, budgeting, and financial statement analysis.

As a certified management accountant, you need to understand and analyze a company's internal and external financial landscape. This means staying on top of changing market trends and using financial data to make decisions that would benefit a company’s financial stance. To be able to have this insight and confidence, you need a specific skill set. CMA certification teaches financial planning, performance, and analytics as well as strategic financial management.

Stronger earning potential 

You will likely see a boost in your earning potential after a CMA certification because you can now give added value to a company. The skills and proficiencies you now hold as a certified management accountant are very valuable to companies, as most companies need assistance and expertise in financial decision-making as they grow and thrive. Beyond earning a raise, you may be eligible for higher-paying positions in upper management. You may also be able to negotiate for higher pay with the CMA credentials. 

The 2021 IMA Global Salary Survey Report found that a certified management accountant's salary in the US is 58 percent higher median total compensation than a non-certified management accountant. This survey also found that those who work in top management positions and hold the CMA earn 64 percent more in median base salary versus non-CMA employees at the same level [3]. 

Career advancement 

Career advancement and increased career opportunities are among the top reasons people earn the CMA certification. Holding the CMA can be the qualification you need to move into better-paying positions, holding job titles in upper-level management and beyond. Holding a CMA certification may make you eligible for job titles such as financial analyst, corporate accountant, senior account, or chief financial officer. 

Increased career versatility 

Beyond the job title you earn, holding a CMA certification can also expand your duties and responsibilities in the field of financial management, which can add to your career versatility. Because the CMA certification is internationally recognized, holding the CMA certification also presents opportunities to work in international markets or other countries.

Greater credibility 

The CMA certification is a highly respected credential that carries a lot of respect from potential employers. Better job prospects are expected for those carrying the CMA credential while also earning respect and recognition. You will typically find employers better trust your knowledge, intuition, and decision-making when you’ve gone through the CMA program process. 

How to become a certified management accountant 

To become a certified management accountant, you must pass the CMA exam. To be eligible to take the exam, you must meet the required educational prerequisites, gain professional experience in financial management, join the certifying board of IMA, and enroll in the CMA program. After meeting these requirements, you’re eligible to take the two-part exam. Once granted certification, you need to maintain your certification per IMA requirements. 

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree or related professional certification. 

For eligibility to enroll in the CMA program, you need a bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting, or a related field. In some cases, a professional certification in a related field from an accredited program is sometimes accepted in lieu of a bachelor’s degree. 

2. Gain at least two years of relevant professional experience. 

You need to be able to demonstrate employment for at least two consecutive years in financial management or management accounting to be eligible to earn your CMA certification. This experience needs to have occurred no more than seven years prior to applying for the certification. Internships are not sufficient to fulfill the requirement of professional experience. The IMA provides a list of qualifying professional experiences on its website. 

3. Join the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). 

Eligibility for the CMA certification also includes joining as a member of the IMA, which is the organization that certifies management accountants. Membership is a requirement and must occur prior to enrolling in the CMA program. There are membership fees you will pay. 

4. Enroll in the CMA program. 

Enrolling in the CMA program involves paying a program fee separate from the membership and exam fees. The price is $280 for professional members of the IMA and $210 for student or academic members [4]. You enroll online via the IMA website. Be prepared to have documentation of educational and professional experience ready to submit. As part of your program, be prepared to spend time studying for the exam. Enrolling in the CMA program means you have access to members-only study guides and resources that can help you prepare for the exam. You have three years to complete the program. 

5. Complete both parts of the exam. 

Once enrolled in the CMA program, you’re ready to sign up to take the exam. You can find exam dates on the IMA website. The exam is only offered during certain times of the year. Once you select a date, pay the exam fee and register to take the exam at a testing site or remotely.

The exam has two parts. Part one will cover financial planning, performance, and analytics, while part two will cover strategic financial management. Each section includes 100 multiple-choice questions and two essay questions. Scores are tallied between the multiple-choice and essay portion of the exam. Test results are usually emailed out six weeks from your test date. You can take exams online or at a test site. 

6. Maintain the certification. 

To maintain your certification once you have earned it, it’s essential that you complete 30 hours of continuing education annually. Two of those hours are required to be in ethics. Criteria for continuing education include a range of options from self-study programs, online courses, courses at colleges, or programs given by trade associations. 

In addition to continuing education credits, you must pay the annual IMA membership and certification fee to stay certified. Maintaining certification is important. Your name is listed on the IMA website under CMAs in good standing, which is helpful to share with potential employers. 

Next steps 

Take the next steps towards a career in financial management and begin the steps necessary to enroll in the CMA program. If you’re looking for a fully online course as part of your CE credits, consider Financial Markets or the Business and Financial Modeling Specialization, both of which are on Coursera. You can work at your own pace when enrolled in these courses, and they cover applicable and helpful topics for CMAs. 

Certified management accountant certification has many benefits, including higher earnings and increased job opportunities. If you see yourself working in the financial industry for years to come, this is the certification you need to move into higher-paying positions that may be the dream job for you. 

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook, Financial Managers, Work Environment,” Accessed January 23, 2023.

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