CGMA vs. CMA: Why The CMA Makes More Sense (Right Now)

73390627_thumbnailNot a day goes by that we aren’t asked us about which accounting credential is “the best.”

There is an alphabet soup of credentials out there—and determining the right one for you requires knowing what you’re interested in (and good at). Today, we’re comparing credentials for management accountants—the CGMA vs. CMA.

A Short History: The CMA

The CMA stands for Certified Management Accountant and is offered by the Institute of Management Accountants, or IMA. The IMA has been in existence since 1919 and the CMA credential has been a consistent and growing force in accounting since the 1970s.

According to the IMA, the certification demonstrates your command of the critical accounting and financial management skills, including:

  • Financial planning
  • Analysis
  • Control
  • Decision Support
  • Professional Ethics

This makes the CMA certification especially attractive to professionals seeking to work in a variety of logistics, analyst, management and executive roles. There are currently more the 80,000 CMAs worldwide, according to the IMA.

The CMA Exam

The first CMA exam was offered in 1972. Today, it is a two-part, timed computer-based exam. Each part is four hours in length and consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and two 30-minute essays testing cost accounting, internal control and financial management topics.

Candidates must register to take at least one exam part within the first 12 months of entering the CMA program and must complete both exam parts within three years.

After passing the exam and documenting a minimum of two years’ experience in management accounting requirements, candidates can obtain the CMA certification.

Learn more about taking the CMA Exam.

A History: The CGMA

The CGMA, which stands for Chartered Global Management Accountant, has a much shorter history and has yet to develop as strong of a reputation. It was created in 2012 through a partnership between the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), which administers the CPA Exam, and the Charted Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), Europe’s largest organization of management accountants.

Originally, members of the AICPA or CIMA could acquire the CGMA designation for a $150 fee and a three years of claimed management accounting experience. There was no qualification exam, so it was an easy add-on for anyone with a CPA or ACMA/FCMA (i.e. an AICPA or CIMA member).

However, the AICPA and CIMA are in the process of creating a new accounting association to support the CGMA designation.

The CGMA Exam

Launched in January 2015, the CGMA exam is a three-hour computerized case study that requires you carryout three to five management accounting tasks. You are given a data set and industry information (via download) about a hypothetical organization seven weeks prior to your test date. During the exam, new information may be provided that will change the scenario and require you to adapt your answers. Each task must be answered fully in the allotted time.

The AICPA currently offers a range of test prep and study aides for sale.

Our Verdict:

As it stands, we’d recommend the CMA designation over the CGMA for serious management accountant. Because of the established reputation of the CMA, this designation is recognized more by employers and management accountants.  with its new association and a beefed-up exam, the CGMA may be worth a second look. You can always add the credential if/when it becomes necessary. Right now, a CPA or CMA is more than enough for most accountants.

With its new association and a beefed-up exam, the CGMA may be worth a second look.  As the CGMA continues to develop its curriculum, it will likely be an exam to strongly consider in the near future. You can always add the credential if/when it becomes necessary.



    CGMA is issued by Association of International Certified Professional Accountants of United States of America (“Association”) wherein CIMA (40%) and AICPA (60%) are owners. Association has over 600,000 CPA, and F/ACMA members and students.

    Examination is conducted in complete compliance with CIMA manner at the moment. AICPA or CIMA title has to be displaced before CGMA such as CPA CGMA or F/ACMA CGMA.

    Apart from the aforesaid, I am of the opinion that CGMA, CMA, F/ACWA, F/ACMA… are all similar credentials. Only the candidate’s experience, confidence and competence that count.


    Association of international certified professional accoubtants “The Association” appears to be the umbrella body for CIMA and AICPA in issuing CGMA. As such, parties to the comparison appears “IMA vs The Association” and “CMA vs CGMA”, bearing in mind that there are more than 600,000 American qualified certified public accountants, British qualified chartered management accountant and students standing behind across the globe.

  • George Jones |

    CGMA is basically a deceptive and misleading designation that does a great disservice to the public, in the sense the overwhelming majority of all those who hold the designation now never took an examination. Perhaps in a search for more revenue streams, the AICPA created a designation to compete with the CMA, which does require a rigorous examination and has been around a long time. Of course, who has the time or inclination to study for a certification that is likely of little value – the solution, give it away for a nominal fee, get the market hooked on it, then start to require the examinations that proves competency…all the while not having any way of letting the market know who bought the designation vs. those who actually took an examination. How nice it might be if the sold the CPA designation without the need to take an exam, how confident would you be in your CPA? Because of this, which is a very surprising tactic from a profession that touts to serve the public interest, the CGMA designation warrants little respect or serious consideration.

  • Warren Miller |

    Your statement of “equivalency” says, in essence, that a bucket of diamonds (the CMA) is equivalent to a bucket of crap (CGMA). You should have your head examined. For three full years, the CGMA was test-free: If you had a credit card that could handle a charge of a few hundred bucks, voila! You could be a CGMA. That’s just crazy, not be mention irresponsible. But it’s also just one more example that AICPA is an organization led by ethically-challenged pygmies.

  • Warren Miller |

    Bingo, George. You absolutely nailed it. AICPA specializes in creating annuity stream of revenue by issuing test-free “designations.” It did it, first, with the CFF (Certified in Financial Forensics) credential in 2008 and again with the CGMA in 2012. For their first three years in existence, neither of these required taking a test.

    To anyone who finds no fault with this sleazy, slimy, grossly misleading practice, I pose the following question: What do you think would happen to the American Medical Association if it created a medical specialty that could be obtained by any physician whose credit card could pass muster?

    There would be people going to jail, and rightly so. That needs to happen with Melancon & Co., the epitomes of accounting sleaze.

  • Global Accountant |

    To pass CIMA

    You have to pass certificate level, operational level, managerial level, strategic level , and then the strategic case study

    It is after you achieve the above, when you get considered for the CGMA designation

    You can not say it is free , yet one has to pass AICPA or CIMA before accessing the CGMA designation..and am sorry that a CMA can not buy CGMA even if you try by all means ..that alone speaks a lot . Good luck Mr CMA

  • Matt |

    I think you missed every comment prior to yours. The testing standards currently in place for the CGMA are not the question or being touted as poor in comparison to the CMA. The issue is the the CGMA was given out in exchange for cash ($150) without any real testing for 3 years. This is a huge period of time considering its only been around for 5 years total. I was seeing this designation on a few CPA’s and controllers resumes…at this point I need to determine when someone received the designation to determine its true value because if they received it in 2012-2015 its worthless and if its in 2016, it could be worthless depending on when it was issued exactly.

  • Matt |

    Having said that, the CPA and CMA are fantastic credentials that are different as they should be. The CMA is focused on the core management accounting practices and really expands into some of the controller functions. In my opinion its great for manufacturing, construction and even service industry based work. Where its going to struggle is in some of the corporate accounting areas. It also does cover the majority of the publicly traded company issues or concerns. But this is all standard knowledge.

    Also, I really like the difficult standardized exams taken in parts. It shows dedication to the career path.

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