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What Is a Certified Management Accountant?

Certified management accountant

A certified management accountant (CMA) is a finance professional who is experienced in financial decision-making and has a strong understanding of accounting principles. Having the certification or designation of “CMA” shows that the accountant is skilled in managing corporate finances on top of their accounting duties, such as organizing and summarizing financial data. 

In this guide, we’ll go over:

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What Do Certified Management Accountants Do?

Certified management accountants, or CMAs, are financial decision-makers, often working for large businesses or governments on strategic financial planning. CMAs may also advise a company on investment management and risk management. 

“A significant advantage of the CMA is the emphasis on strategy and management,” says Nikki Awuma, CMA at RealTruck.com. “In other words, not only putting together and managing accurate financials, but gleaning valuable insights and actionable data from the financials.”  

The day-to-day of a certified management accountant can sometimes be similar to any other type of accountant: You spend a lot of time tracking and reporting financial information. However, CMAs also play a bigger role in the management of a company as a whole. 

“The roles and responsibilities a CMA might be assigned include general ledger work and entries, reconciliations, month-end close process, financial reporting, financial planning and analysis (FP&A), variance analysis, risk management, internal controls and more,” Awuma says. 

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Where Do Certified Management Accountants Work?

Due to how broad their skillset is, CMAs can work in a wide variety of industries. While they typically work for large organizations or governments, CMAs can specialize in education, manufacturing, insurance, communication, or even finance. Most companies can benefit from having someone to look at the finances and make decisions based on the data. 

Certified management accountants can also work in a consulting role. For example, the Big Four accounting firms (Deloitte, KPMG, PwC, and EY) may have CMAs on staff to help advise companies on things like restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, and cost accounting. 

Certified Management Accountant Job Titles

Having a broad skill set often means having a range of potential job titles, too. Some of these titles include: 

  • Private accountant
  • Corporate accountant
  • Managerial accountant
  • Cost accountant
  • Industrial accountant

How To Become a Certified Management Accountant

Education

Gaining a CMA license requires a bachelor’s degree. While having a degree in accounting, finance, or a related field may be useful, it’s not necessary. Some schools offer programs specifically for the certified management accountant career path or special courses to help you prepare for the CMA exam. 

Like most accountant certifications, in order to qualify for the CMA exam, you must have a few years (two or more) of work experience in accounting. So, having a degree in a finance field can help you get that work experience before taking the CMA exam. 

Certification

The CMA certification is offered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). Qualifying for this certification involves having a bachelor’s degree, passing an exam, and having work experience in management accounting. Additionally, you must meet continuing education requirements to maintain your certification. 

The CMA exam tests your knowledge of 12 core areas, including strategic financial management, financial planning, and performance management. 

Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants and auditors overall have an average annual salary of $83,980 across all designations and industries. However, CMAs may see slightly higher salaries because of their management skills. 

In fact, according to a 2021 survey by the Institute of Management Accountants, the median salary for CMAs was 58% higher than non-CMAs. 

>>MORE: Check out some of the highest-paying jobs in finance

CMA vs. CPA Designations

The most well-known certification for an accountant is the CPA or Certified Public Accountant designation. While a CMA focuses on strategy and management, CPAs primarily focus on summarizing and reporting financial information, handling taxes, and doing audits of a company’s finances. 

 Certain careers in finance require a CPA license. On the other hand, CMA licenses are rarely required but can be a great option for people with an accounting background wanting to move up the ladder. 

“If someone were to tell me that they wanted to be a [Chief Financial Officer], [Vice President] of Finance, or Corporate Controller, I recommend the CMA track over the CPA,” says Awuma. 

>>MORE: Learn if finance is the right career path for you

Skills for Certified Management Accountants

Outside of accounting and management skills, a certified management accountant needs to have: 

  • Communication skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Attention to detail
  • High level of comfort with Excel
  • Ability to read financial statements

You can start learning the skills you need for a career in accounting with Forage’s accounting virtual experience programs