How to Decide Between Accounting Certifications-CPA vs. CMA

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Choosing a career as a certified accountant, as opposed to not receiving a certification, has the benefits of a higher salary, greater job opportunities and the chance to get paid for your talents as a number-cruncher. Certified Public Accountant and Certified Management Accountant designations are highly recognized certifications in the accounting field, but each has its distinct set of duties. The responsibilities of a CPA are broad and can range from auditing to performing tax services, while a CMA works more in the corporate setting managing employees.

Consider the focus of each type of accountant. A CMA generally deals more with business accounting analysis and strategy, as well as financial management in public or private businesses. A CMA focuses more on taxes and auditing.

Determine the best work environment for you. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that a CPA usually runs her own business or may work in a public accounting firm. A CMA can work in more a diverse setting—such as in an academic institution or a corporation—and may have the opportunity to travel abroad and use her accounting skills if she works in a multinational corporation.

Consider how quickly you want to earn an accounting certification and your state’s licensing requirements. An aspiring CMA must work for at least two years as a management accountant and hold at least a bachelor’s degree before sitting for the Institute of Management Accountants’ CMA designation exam. This exam contains four sections that cover working-capital policy, valuation issues, risk management, capital structure and financial statement analysis. The BLS states that a CPA receives his designation from the State Board of Accountancy after receiving a bachelor’s degree or completing 150 semester hours of college courses. Some states may allow you to substitute work experience as a public accountant in lieu of a college degree. In addition to coursework or professional experience, an aspiring CPA must pass the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ Uniform CPA Examination.

Consider the career outlook. According to the BLS, accountants will have faster than average job growth through the year 2018. When compared to other accounting designations, CPAs will experience the most demand for their skills as there will be an increased need for transparency, controls in financial reporting and more inquiries in company finances.


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Flora Richards-Gustafson has been writing professionally since 2003. She creates copy for websites, marketing materials and printed publications. Richards-Gustafson specializes in SEO and writing about small-business strategies, health and beauty, interior design, emergency preparedness and education. Richards-Gustafson received a Bachelor of Arts from George Fox University in 2003 and was recognized by Cambridge's "Who's Who" in 2009 as a leading woman entrepreneur.