CMA Vs CPA: Important Similarities And Differences

Updated 20 September 2022

Becoming an accountant can be a rewarding career for professionals who enjoy working with numbers. Two common accounting jobs are certified management accountants, or CMAs, and certified public accountants, or CPAs. If you are interested in pursuing a career in accounting, learning about the differences between these two professional paths can help you choose one that fits your skills and goals. In this article, we compare CMAs vs CPAs in terms of clientele, goals, skills, career requirements and opportunities for advancement.


Here are some areas of difference to help you compare CMAs vs CPAs:


While both CMAs and CPAs can have some of the same clients, CPAs have a wider base of potential clients than CMAs usually do. CMAs only work with organisations, like businesses, government agencies and nonprofit groups, while CPAs might work with organisations or individuals. For example, a CMA might support a large technology company with hundreds of employees and investors. A CPA might work for the technology company, but they might also work for the individual who owns the company, helping them account for their personal capital and assets.

Both CMAs and CPAs can work directly for a company's accounting department, but they might also have different sets of clients. Because they serve a wider range of potential clients, a CPA might have more clients than a CMA does. For example, an independent CPA might have up to a dozen clients, especially if they work with individuals, who usually have fewer assets and less complex financial reporting needs than a company does. CMAs often work directly for a company, though they might also work for a financial advising firm that serves several client companies.

Related: Scope Of MBA In Finance (With Jobs And Salary Information)


While these two financial professionals both analyse assets and expenditures, they have different goals. A CMA collects information about an organisation's financial standing to make strategic recommendations for the management team. Their goal is to help the organisation's leaders create growth plans and manage the company's assets effectively. A CPA's goal rarely includes fiscal strategy or recommendations. They collect and organise information to ensure that their clients, whether they are an individual or a company, comply with legal requirements for financial record keeping, payroll and taxation.

Because these positions have different goals, some organisations employ both a CMA and a CPA. In these companies, the CPA might report to the CMA, who leads the accounting department. The CPA might complete fiscal administrative tasks and collect data for the CMA, who interprets the data and makes recommendations to the company's leadership board. At large companies, a CMA might manage several CPAs, who focus on different aspects of the company's financial reporting needs. For example, one CPA might handle payroll, while another focuses on tax reporting. Both CPAs might report to one CMA, who heads the department.

Related: 11 Important Accounting Concepts And What They Mean


The daily work duties of a CMA vs a CPA might be very different, depending on their clientele and the industry they support. Usually, CMAs spend their days reviewing financial reports about the company's performance, researching industry trends and creating recommendations for future growth plans. They may also meet with company leaders or sit on the board of directors. In this role, they may provide fiscal insights into a wide range of company operations, including hiring, logistics and sales. In some companies, CMAs have managerial responsibilities, so they might oversee CPAs and other financial professionals and hire new employees.

CPAs tend to perform more administrative duties in their daily work. They might conduct compliance audits, prepare and file taxes, run payroll and check budgetary reports from different departments. If they have regulatory responsibilities, they might work with department heads to ensure that their financial activities comply with local and national regulations. Independent CPAs might meet regularly with individual clients to learn about their assets and reporting needs. One key difference is that CPAs often file taxes for their clients, while CMAs rarely file taxes for the company they support.

Related: What Are The Functions Of Accounting? (Definition And Types)


CMAs and CPAs often have similar educational backgrounds but becoming a CMA might require more advanced study. Typically, both CMAs and CPAs start with an undergraduate degree in finance or accounting. These degree programmes teach them about financial management, taxation, auditing practices and other key content for their future career. After earning an undergraduate degree, an accounting professional might work as a junior or associate accounting clerk at an accounting firm.

While an accounting professional might choose to pursue CPA certification, they may also earn a graduate degree and pursue a career as a CMA. CMAs often have advanced degrees in fields related to business management, accountancy or finance. They may also have an MBA, which makes them eligible for a range of senior positions in business and financial management. While not all CMAs have advanced degrees, earning a graduate degree can make you a stronger candidate for a CMA position, especially at a large company.

Related: What Are Accountant Qualifications? (Plus Key Certifications To Consider)


These two accounting roles share some of the same key skills. Both CPAs and CMAs use their financial literacy to understand a company or client's records and to collect information for audits and strategic planning sessions. They also have a strong attention to detail, which allows them to identify any errors or areas for improvement within a vast amount of data. Typically, these professionals also have strong mathematical reasoning skills, which helps them estimate budgets and understand a client or company's overall financial standing.

While CMAs and CPAs share some of the same basic skills, professionals in each career path develop specialised abilities that help them achieve their goals. Through education and experience, CMAs develop leadership and project management skills, which allow them to lead strategic initiatives to improve the company's financial standing. They may also develop management skills if they lead an accounting team. CPAs tend to focus on administrative and data processing skills, which help them file accurate reports and ensure compliance with taxation and financial reporting laws.

Related: How To Answer The 'Why Accounting?' Interview Question

Certification requirements

These two positions have different certification requirements. Because a CPA is similar to a chartered accountant, financial professionals who have already earned the position of chartered accountant can meet their work experience requirements by working in this position. Once they meet the experience requirements, they can take the CPA exam at a testing centre endorsed by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, or AICPA. After paying the licensing fee and passing the exam, they can receive their certification as a CPA.

Becoming a CMA requires certification by the Institute of Management Accountants, or IMA. To earn a certification as a CMA, applicants complete at least two years of work experience in an accounting or financial management position. Then, they pay an application fee and pass a two-part exam administered remotely. Typically, preparing for and passing the exams for this certification takes between 12 and 18 months. Both CPA and CMA certifications have continuing education requirements, which ensure these financial professionals continue to develop their skills and learn about new trends in financial management and accounting.

Related: What Does A Chartered Accountant Do? Duties And Career Path

Career advancement

CMAs and CPAs often have different advancement opportunities. Being a CPA is sometimes the first step in a finance professional's career, where they learn about accounting and develop their skills. Once they have gained experience and learnt about different accounting fields, they might choose to specialise in a particular branch of financial management. Some CPAs become auditors or tax consultants, while others move into investment management. If a CPA enjoys research and financial strategy, they might complete additional graduate coursework in management so they can become a CMA.

CMAs are typically more senior financial professionals, so their career advancement might include leadership positions. Their knowledge of business strategy can make them valuable members of an organisation's board of directors, especially if they have developed a firm knowledge of the company's products and the state of the industry. Common advancement positions for this job title include chief financial officer and chief development officer. CMAs can increase their chances of a promotion to a senior position within an organisation by taking additional certification courses in leadership, project management and administration.

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