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One of the first career decisions accounting students and professionals make is whether to pursue their CPA (Certified Public Accountant) or CMA (Certified Management Accountant)—but who said you have to choose one or the other? Particularly for CPAs, dual certification can be immensely rewarding. Here are a few reasons why:
1. 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 CPA and happy in your current position, adding the CMA certification to your credentials will visibly place you ahead of the curve among your CPA 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.
2. Real ROI
In any career, you get out of it what you put into it. Stronger credentials naturally command higher salaries, and CPAs who invest in the CMA certification 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.
It is also widely believed that a CMA certification can serve as a more cost-effective alternative to an MBA, as many of the general business concepts and financial skills overlap.
3. See a Wider Scope
The more you know, the better you can serve clients. And the better you can serve clients, the more valuable you are to an employer. Expanding your knowledge base from compliance and regulation into management accounting will help you understand the big picture that is corporate finance. This includes planning, control, analysis, ethics and decision support.
“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.”
While CPAs spend much of their time preparing documentation, CMAs focus on dissecting financial data and using it to drive organizational success. Even if you don’t necessarily intend to cross that bridge, knowing what’s on the other side can add an extra dimension to the decisions you make for your career, the advice you give to clients, and the communication you have with peers.
4. Pave a Path to Management
For CPAs who are motivated by professional growth and leadership opportunities, the CMA certification is an avenue to the C-Suite. While many CPAs do become CFOs, it is the CMA who has the initial edge at face value. After all, the CMA does have the word “management” in their credential. That said, the CPA who adds CMA to their resume perhaps regains the advantage due to the foundational training that CPAs receive.
One of the most rewarding aspects of becoming a leader in this industry is the transition from producing to overseeing. The former can begin to feel stagnant and repetitive, while the latter is fast-paced and proactive.
5. The CPA and CMA 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|