The Different Dimensions of CMA | AccountingWEB

The Different Dimensions of CMA

During the final stretch of tax season, AccountingWEB had the chance to speak with former Chairperson of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), Kim Wallin, regarding the different dimensions of the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation. Ms. Kim Wallin, CMA, CFM, CPA, is the principal of public accounting firm D.K. Wallin Ltd., located in Las Vegas, Nevada.


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Although IMA’s CMA certification program has been around since 1972, it isn’t as widely recognized as the popular Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation. But, the four-part CMA exam covers a wider body of knowledge, including Business Analysis, Management Accounting and Reporting, Strategic Management, and Business Applications.

“When you ask accounting professionals and even students, you hear them tell you that the CMA is more applicable to today’s on-the-job needs,” said Ms. Wallin. “People are starting to realize that there is another certification besides the CPA.”

According to Ms. Wallin, in some industries and some companies, the CMA is equally recognized as the CPA. And, in fact, at some companies, like pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson, the CMA is preferred, giving the accounting staff a broader background.

The CPA exam consists of financial reporting, auditing, taxation, business law, and some governmental issues. The skillsets are such that the CPA professional is equipped to perform audits and attest to the accuracy of an organization’s financial statements.

On the other hand, the CMA exam tests a very broad range of management accounting subjects, such as finance, planning, decision making, capital budgeting, performance measurement, cost measurement, organizational behavior, strategy, and even strategic marketing, with a strong emphasis on ethics.

“The CMA skillsets go beyond the scope of the CPA, giving professionals the skills they need to work inside a company,” said Ms. Wallin. ”The CPAs are the ‘checkers’ functionally, and the CMAs are the ones doing the actual work in corporate America that the CPAs check.”

IMA has found that more than 90 percent of all accounting and finance function professionals work inside corporations and other business organizations, leaving about 10 percent of the work done to include auditing and testing functions. This is not to say that those in the remaining 10 percent are not working in CPA firms.

In terms of the international and domestic awareness of the CMA designation, IMA has seen a tremendous increase in international growth due to the fact than international professionals desire an American certification that’s globally applicable. The CMA exam can be taken online or at Prometric Testing Centers anywhere in the world.

“We have quite a big presence in the Middle East and we are actually developing a presence in China, because they do not have any other management accounting certification that is recognized by the Chinese government,” said Ms. Wallin.

Although the CMA exam is only available in English, the ICMA Board of Regents is considering the possibility of translating the exam into other languages in the future.

In the U.S., IMA is working on increasing awareness of the CMA certification. A new corporate development program is in the works, where IMA is networking with companies, as well as with colleges and universities, to make students aware of the certification.

“At our student conferences, students learn that they can pursue something else besides the CPA. In fact, some choose to become a CMA instead,” she said. “Some schools promote the designation more than others as they are more management accounting focused and will require their students to take part of the CMA exam in order to graduate or to pass their course.”

As a certified CMA, CFM and CPA professional, Ms. Wallin is an example of how multiple certifications work hand-in-hand, rather than as separate functions. “Accounting students should consider that there shouldn’t be a split of being totally CPA or CMA focused,” she said.

In order to prepare for the CMA exam, IMA offers an interactive course called the CMA Learning System http://www.imanet.org/ima/sec.asp?TRACKID=&SID=1&VID=1&CID=789&DID=1000. Books, computer resources, and live review courses are available, along with self-study and group corporate options where an instructor would be brought in to direct a course. There are more than 30 colleges and universities across the U.S. that offer in-person review courses for the CMA exam.

As for the long term future of the CMA certification, Ms. Wallin hopes that when employers are hiring that they put ‘CMA preferred’ in their job ads and that universities start teaching more courses geared toward the management accounting area.

“Ninety percent of the students will end up in management accounting functions. Being certified is important, it adds value, and the CMA should be the designation of choice,” she added.

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