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How to Become a CMA: 10 Steps to Getting Certified

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This guide outlines how to become a CMA, detailing each step required to earn this globally recognized credential. With over 100,000 certifications awarded in more than 150 countries, the CMA certification, offered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), signifies a professional’s mastery in management accounting and financial management.

Unlike the CPA, which concentrates on public accounting and auditing, the CMA program is tailored for professionals aiming to excel in corporate finance and management accounting. It is an ideal path for those looking to enhance their careers in these areas.

From education to taking the CMA exam, let’s look at each step aspiring certified management accountants must take to meet the CMA certification requirements.

Key Takeaways

  • Educational Requirements: CMA candidates must complete a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, with flexibility in academic backgrounds.

  • Professional Experience: Professional experience of at least two years in management accounting or financial management is required, which can be gained before or after passing the CMA exam.

  • Certification Process: The CMA program includes steps like joining the IMA, enrolling in the CMA program, preparing for the exam (often with external CMA review courses), taking the exam, and applying for certification.

  • Certification Maintenance: To maintain the CMA certification, professionals must fulfill continuing education requirements, renew their IMA membership, and adhere to ethical standards.

  • Global Recognition: The CMA certification, offered by the IMA, is a globally recognized credential signifying expertise in management accounting and financial management.

Step 1: Understand the CMA Certification

CMA certification is a globally recognized credential that signifies mastery in management accounting and financial management. The IMA has tailored the CMA designation for professionals seeking to advance their careers in financial planning, analysis, control, decision support, and professional ethics.

What is the CMA Certification?

The CMA program equips professionals with the skills necessary for strategic financial management and organizational decision-making. It covers areas such as strategic management, risk management, and investment decision processes, setting it apart from other financial certifications.

The CMA certification validates financial accounting and strategic management expertise, which is essential for roles like financial analyst and chief financial officer (CFO).

Benefits of Becoming a CMA

  • Higher Salary Potential: CMAs often command very high salaries due to their specialized skills.

  • Global Recognition: The CMA credential is recognized internationally, enhancing career opportunities worldwide.

  • Career Advancement: The certification opens doors to senior positions in financial management, performance management, cost management, and strategic planning.

  • Professional Growth: The CMA program promotes continuous learning, ensuring professionals stay at the forefront of management accounting.

Step 2: Join the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)

The IMA supports management accounting professionals with these benefits:

  • Access to the discounted exam rates: Membership is required to register for the CMA exam at a discounted rate.

  • Educational Resources: Members receive discounts on CMA study materials and courses, as well as access to webinars, research, and publications.

  • Networking Opportunities: Connect with a global network of over 100,000 professionals through local chapters, online forums, and international events.

Process of Joining the IMA

  1. Application: Begin by completing the membership application available on the IMA website. You’ll need to provide personal and professional information.

  2. Membership Type: Choose the appropriate membership type. IMA offers several categories, including professional, academic, and student memberships, each with different eligibility criteria and benefits.

  3. Payment: Submit the required membership fee. Fees vary based on the membership category and possibly your geographical location.

Step 3: Complete Educational Requirements

The IMA mandates that CMA candidates must possess at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Unlike some professional certifications that require a degree in a specific field, the CMA certification allows for flexibility regarding the candidate’s major. This inclusivity acknowledges the diverse skill sets needed in management accounting and allows professionals from various academic backgrounds to advance their careers.

Candidates must submit proof of their education through the CMA certification process. This typically involves sending official transcripts directly from the educational institution to the IMA. For those still in the process of completing their degree, provisional entry into the CMA program is possible, with the requirement that the degree be completed within seven years of passing the CMA examination.

Step 4: Gain and Document Professional Experience

To qualify for the CMA certification, candidates must complete two years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management. This experience, which can be accrued before or after passing the CMA exam, must be completed within seven years.

Eligible roles encompass a wide range of positions, including but not limited to financial analysis, budgeting, strategic planning, cost management, and roles that involve management information systems, financial management, or auditing. These positions must be in the public or private sectors, highlighting the CMA’s flexibility and relevance across industries.

Candidates must detail their job responsibilities, outlining specific tasks, projects, and the proportion of time dedicated to activities relevant to management accounting and financial management. This documentation is crucial for demonstrating alignment with the CMA’s competency requirements.

Step 5: Enroll in the CMA Program

After joining the IMA, enrolling in the CMA program is your next significant step toward certification. The registration process for aspiring certified management accountants includes the following:

Paying the CMA Entrance Fee

Begin your CMA journey by paying the entrance fee through the IMA website. This fee grants access to the CMA program and varies based on your IMA membership status, serving as a prerequisite for exam registration.

  • Professional Members: Entrance Fee: $300, Exam Fee: $495 per part, IMA Membership Fee: $295.

  • Student/Academic Members: Entrance Fee: $225, Exam Fee: $370 per part, IMA Membership Fee: $49/$160.

Choosing Your Exam Parts

The CMA exam is divided into Part 1 and Part 2, which you can register for simultaneously or separately. This flexibility lets you plan according to your study schedule and personal commitments. You can take the exams in any order, depending on your readiness for each part.

Scheduling Your Exam:

Once registered, schedule your exam dates via Prometric’s online system. Prometric, the global provider of CMA exam testing, offers a broad selection of dates and locations. The three-year window from your program entry date to pass both exam parts provides sufficient time for thorough preparation.

Step 6: Prepare for the CMA Exam

While the IMA provides valuable study materials and resources, many candidates supplement their preparation with external CMA review courses. These external resources offer comprehensive study plans, practice questions, and simulations that mirror the CMA exam format, providing a broader range of preparation tools.

Some characteristics of high-quality review products include:

  • On-Demand Access: The ability to study at your own pace, accessing materials and lectures online anytime, anywhere.

  • Volume and Variety: Access to thousands of practice questions covering all areas of the CMA exam, allowing for extensive practice and familiarity with question formats.

  • Exam Simulations: Full-length practice exams that mimic the actual CMA exam environment, helping you build stamina and manage exam-day anxiety.

  • Video Lectures: In-depth video tutorials from experienced instructors explain complex concepts understandably.

  • Online Forums and Study Groups: Platforms where candidates can discuss difficult topics, share study tips, and offer moral support to each other.

  • Personal Coaching: Some CMA prep courses offer access to mentors or coaches who can provide personalized guidance, answer questions, and help overcome study hurdles.

Investing in high-quality review materials can significantly enhance your understanding of the exam content and improve your chances of passing.

Step 7: Take the CMA Exam

Successfully navigating the day of the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) exam requires a clear understanding of what to expect and adherence to specific exam policies and procedures. This preparation can significantly alleviate anxiety and position you for optimal performance.

What to Expect on Your CMA Exam Day

Arrival at the Testing Center: Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before your scheduled exam time. This buffer allows for any unforeseen delays and provides ample time to complete the check-in procedures.

Exam Format: The CMA exam is divided into two parts, each designed to assess your management accounting and financial management knowledge and skills.

Each exam comprises 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and two 30-minute essay questions. Candidates are allocated 4 hours (240 minutes) to complete each part, which includes 3 hours for the MCQ section and another hour for the essay section. The MCQ section must be completed before you can proceed to the essay questions.

During the Exam: Follow all instructions provided by the test center staff. Unauthorized materials, including notes, books, or electronic devices, are strictly prohibited in the exam room. Any cheating or violating test center rules will likely result in dismissal from the exam and further disciplinary actions by the IMA.

After the Exam: Once you complete the exam, you’ll receive preliminary results for the multiple-choice section. Official results, including your performance on the essay section, will be available within six weeks after the end of the month in which you took the exam.

Step 8: Applying for CMA Certification

After successfully passing both parts of the CMA exam and fulfilling the professional experience requirement, the next step is to apply for your CMA certification. This final step officially recognizes you as a Certified Management Accountant, allowing you to use the CMA designation professionally. Here’s how to complete this crucial phase:

Documentation of Professional Experience

  • Compile Documentation: Gather detailed records of your professional experience in management accounting or financial management. This should include job descriptions, roles, responsibilities, and durations of employment that align with the IMA’s standards.

  • Verification: Have your professional experience verified by a direct supervisor or another qualified individual who can attest to the accuracy and relevance of your experience. This verification serves as a testament to your practical expertise in the field.

Submit Your Application

  • Complete the Application: Access the certification application through the IMA website. Ensure all sections are filled out accurately, reflecting your educational background, professional experience, and exam completion.

  • Attach Required Documents: Upload the necessary documentation, including proof of your bachelor’s degree, transcripts, and verified experience records. Double-check that all documents are clear and legible to avoid processing delays.

  • Review and Submit: Before submitting your application, review all entries and attachments for accuracy. Once satisfied, submit your application along with any required fees associated with the certification process.

  • Confirmation: You will receive a confirmation from the IMA acknowledging the receipt of your application. This confirmation will also provide details on the review process and an estimated timeline for the issuance of your certification.

  • Certification Issuance: Once your application is reviewed and approved, the IMA will officially issue your CMA certification. You will be notified of this achievement through email, and you can then begin using the CMA designation professionally.

Step 10: Maintain Your Certification

Maintaining the Certified Management Accountant certification is an ongoing process that underscores a commitment to continuous learning, professional development, and adherence to ethical standards. The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) has established clear guidelines to ensure CMAs remain at the forefront of their profession.

Continuing Education Requirements

CMAs are required to fulfill 30 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) each year, with at least two of those hours focused on ethics. This requirement is designed to keep professionals updated on the latest practices, technologies, and regulatory changes in management accounting and financial management. CPE credits can be earned through a variety of activities, including:

  • Educational Courses: Participating in relevant courses offered by accredited institutions or professional organizations.

  • Seminars and Workshops: Attending seminars and workshops that focus on current issues in management accounting.

  • Conferences: Participating in national or international conferences related to accounting and finance.

  • Webinars and Online Learning: Engaging in web-based learning opportunities that offer insights into specialized topics.

  • Professional Reading: Some CPE credits can be earned through professional reading, provided it contributes to professional development.

IMA Membership Renewal

Annual renewal of IMA membership is mandatory for maintaining the CMA certification. This involves:

  • Paying Annual Dues: Keeping your membership active requires the payment of annual dues, which support the resources, advocacy, and professional development opportunities provided by the IMA.

  • Ethical Commitment: Renewing your membership reaffirms your commitment to the IMA’s Statement of Ethical Professional Practice, ensuring that CMAs adhere to the highest standards of integrity and professionalism.

Additional Considerations for Maintaining Certification

  • Reporting CPE Credits: When becoming a certified management accountant, you must keep accurate records of your CPE activities and report their credits to the IMA. The IMA may require documentation to verify CPE activities, so it’s important to maintain detailed records.

  • Networking and Leadership Opportunities: Active participation in IMA chapters and serving in leadership roles can also contribute to professional development. Engaging with the community offers networking opportunities and the chance to stay informed about industry trends.

  • Volunteering: Contributing your expertise to volunteer projects or committees within the IMA can enrich your professional experience and may offer additional CPE opportunities.

Applying for your CMA certification is the culmination of your hard work and dedication to advancing your career in management accounting. By following these steps and ensuring all requirements are met, you can achieve this prestigious designation and unlock new professional opportunities.

Conclusion

Achieving the Certified Management Accountant certification is a rewarding path that elevates finance and management careers, endorsed by the Institute of Management Accountants. This certification signals expertise in management accounting and financial management. Candidates enhance their career trajectory by completing educational requirements, gaining relevant experience, and passing the CMA exam. The journey demands dedication but promises significant rewards such as higher CMA salaries, global recognition, and career advancement.

CMAs maintain their certification by engaging in continuous learning, renewing their IMA membership, and adhering to ethical standards. This commitment ensures CMAs continue to lead in their field, blending strategic financial management with ethical integrity. Pursuing CMA certification is not just about obtaining a title but committing to lifelong learning and professional excellence.

FAQs

What is the CMA certification?

The Certified Management Accountant certification is a globally recognized credential that signifies expertise in management accounting and financial management. It demonstrates a professional’s ability in financial planning, analysis, control, decision support, and professional ethics.

Who offers the CMA certification?

The CMA certification is offered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), a global organization dedicated to empowering management accounting and financial professionals.

What are the benefits of becoming a CMA?

Benefits include higher salary potential, global recognition, career advancement opportunities in financial management and strategic planning, and continuous professional growth.

What educational qualifications are required for the CMA certification?

Candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. The degree can be in any discipline, and accreditation must be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or an equivalent foreign body.

Is there a specific major required for the CMA certification?

No, there is no requirement for a specific major. The CMA certification allows flexibility for candidates from various academic backgrounds.

How do I document and submit my educational qualifications?

Candidates must submit official transcripts directly from their educational institution to the IMA. For those still completing their degree, provisional entry into the CMA program is allowed, with the requirement that the degree is completed within seven years of passing the CMA examination.

What professional experience is required for the CMA certification?

Candidates must complete two years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management. This experience can be gained either before or after passing the CMA exam but must be completed within seven years of passing.

What are the main differences between the CMA and CPA exams?

The CMA exam has two parts that focus on financial planning, analysis, control, decision support, and professional ethics. The CPA exam has three core parts: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG), covering a broader range of accounting practices and principles, as well as one discipline section in the updated CPA exam.