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Choosing whether to become a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) or CMA (Certified Management Accountant) is one of the first career decisions accounting students and professionals make—but why confine yourself to one or the other? For CMAs in particular, dual credentials can be extremely rewarding. Here are a few reasons why:

Double Up & Stand Out!

A 2018 Strategic Finance article titled Double Up & Stand Out! provides a 10-step plan for accounting students to pass both the CPA and CMA exams within nine months of graduation. The takeaway in the article is clear: earning both your CPA and CMA is a great way to immediately set yourself apart in the competitive fields of accounting and finance.

Even if you are certain you want to be a CMA and happy in your current position, adding the CPA license to your credentials will visibly place you ahead of the curve among your colleagues. If you are a student and have the opportunity to go for both simultaneously using Double Up & Stand Out! as a blueprint, even better. The authors of the article, Hargadon and Fuller, have boiled down their approach to nine steps while you’re still in school to earn your CPA and CMA in as little as six months after graduation. Ambitious? Yes. Doable? Double yes.

Real ROI

In any career, you get out of it what you put into it. Stronger credentials naturally command higher salaries, and CMAs who invest in the CPA license can see a significant return on their efforts. The IMA Global Salary Survey cites that professionals who hold both certifications earn 47 percent more than their non-credentialed peers, and the pay gap increases to 58 percent for professionals ages 30-39. Additionally, the 2019 IMA Global Salary Survey stated that CMA holders earn 57  percent more than non-CMAs in base salary alone. These statistics all reflect ongoing ROI (aka salary) potentially adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to your income over the course of your career.

Drill Down to the Details

CMAs typically serve management functions such as planning, control, analysis, ethics and decision support. CPAs, meanwhile, operate more within the finite details of producing the reports that CMAs use to make decisions. The two naturally overlap, which is why one person with both credentials can be particularly marketable (not to mention successful). If you don’t necessarily intend to cross over, that’s okay. Having the tools to do so if or when needed will still bring an extra dimension to the decisions you make for your career, the advice you give to clients, and the communication you have with peers.

“We emphatically advise our accounting students to distinguish themselves and become more marketable to prospective employers,” Hargadon and Fuller wrote. “One viable way for them to achieve distinction is to earn both the CMA and CPA credentials. This demonstrates that they have the varied skills and expertise needed in the constantly evolving industry, regardless of whether they end up in public accounting or in industry.”

Pave a Path to Management

If you’re a CMA with deep knowledge of the details that comprise the big picture, you are all the more equipped to make informed, confident decisions for your organization. For example, many C-Suite roles in finance require oversight of tax planning. As solely a CMA, you might not feel completely comfortable in this arena. As a CMA with a CPA license, you will be well-versed in tax strategies, auditing, regulations, etc.

Because many CMAs serve in leadership positions, the CMA who adds CPA to their resume perhaps gains the advantage due to the foundational training that CPAs receive. Keep in mind that you might also be competing with CPAs for promotions, yet another reason to consider dual certification.

The CMA and CPA Exams Overlap In Content Tested

By strategically scheduling and sequencing your coursework to align with the topics tested, you can prepare for both exams more efficiently and benefit from the content overlap between the CPA and CMA exams. The table below illustrates the alignment in content areas between the CPA and CPA exams.

CMA Part 1 Topics Where it Appears in CPA Exam
External Financial Reporting Decisions (15%) FAR and REG (Tax Implications)
Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting (30%) BEC
Performance Management (20%) BEC
Cost Management (20%) BEC
Internal Controls (15%) AUD
CMA Part 2 Topics Where it Appears in CPA Exam
Financial Statement Analysis (25%) FAR and AUD (Analytical Review)
Corporate Finance (20%) BEC
Decision Analysis (20%) BEC
Risk Management (10%) BEC and possibly AUD (Audit Risk)
Investment Decisions (15%) BEC
Professional Ethics (10%) AUD

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