CMA vs CPA & Other Certifications. Which Is Better?

Frank Armenio's Profile

CMA vs CPA

There have been recent discussions about the CPA certification and its relevance to the hiring process.  Many of the discussions involved the debate on whether a CMA vs Certified Public Accountant and not having a CPA should be a must have for finance professionals such as CFO's or Controllers. 

I would like to hear thoughts about senior financial professionals who hold other relevant professional certifications other than the M.B.A. or CPA, such as the CMA or CFM to name a couple.  Both the CMA and CFM are sponsored by the IMA and stand for a standard of technical excellence in the accounting profession.   The issue out there is that they are not as well known as the CPA credential.  So one question would be if one of the must haves in a job description is a C.P.A. or C.M.A. or CFM be a reasonable substiitute?  These credentuials may be more relevant to private industry than the CPA which focuses on public accounting.  They deal with real issues faced by a CFO/Controller such as managing the treasury functions, cost accounting variance analysis (for manufacturers), mergers and acquisitions, financial statement analysis, working capital management in addition to financial accounting and corporate taxation topics.

Your thoughts on this would be appreciated.

Answers

Member's Profile

A career as a CPA can have all of the experience you mention in your inquiry. The public experience is what leads many CPAs to be CFO/Controller. Experienced CPAs who transition from public to industry have Treasury experience, variance analysis and relevant operational experience along with SOX, deferred tax, tax planning, M&A due diligence, and electronic financial reporting skills. The more experience a CPA has the more valuable he/she is to the prospective company. Nothing beats the experience a CPA receives from working in various functions. Many CPAs keep their "pencil" sharp through CPE of all kinds. The educational training (Formal and CPE) results in many CPAs having advanced degrees, MBAs, etc. You should network with your State or City CPA chapter or contact the AICPA. The experience of the CPA is not to be underestimated or taken for granted. My CPA certificate is dated 1971 and I am still working and improving company processes, IT systems, internal controls, budgets, strategic planning, etc. Even today, many businesses need improvement in how efficiently they process electronic data that emanates from the factory floor. I hope this helps.

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I appreciate the commments regarding the benefits of the CPA but I believe the reader making the comment is mis-understanding the main point. It is very clear the how valuable the CPA can be as a credential and not too many could dispute this. The question is what about the value of other certifications such as the CFM and CMA vs CPA, which also have CPE requirements that keep the CFO/Controller knowledge on the cutting edge? The question is are these reasonable alternatives to the CPA when hiring a CFO/Controller? In addition, many CMA's have advanced degrees such as an MBA as well. Is the CMA or CFM credential being under estimated based on lack of knowledge by hiring managers?

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Frank, you might also be interested in Proformative's free
"Career Resources Guide:"

http://www.proformative.com/resources/career-resources-guide

Enjoy!

Best... Sarah

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Member's Profile

First of all, I am a CMA with an MBA. I highly value both the CPA Certificate and the CMA as well. The reason that I chose the CMA Certification is that I have no desire to work with taxes or the SEC. My passion is working with management to where I can be of great assistance in helping them to achieve their goals and objectives within the guidlines of the Mission Statement. This would include Cost Accounting and Cost Systems, Job Orders, Inventory Control, Physical Inventory Coordination, Budgeting and Forecasting(especially at the departmental level), Variance Analysis, "Root Cause" investigation and analysis, process improvements and cost improvements and so on. These are basically the issues and processes internal to an organization.
While CPA's can also be involved with these, I see the CPA as mainly dealing with outside interests to the firm. This means financial statements and annual reports that are filed outside of the firm, SEC and other regulatory filings, banking and financing, consolidations, external audits to satisfy regulatory requirements and so on.
Having said all of this, I feel that the CPA certification would be more meaningful for a CFO or Treasurer, while the CMA certification would be more meaningful for a Controller.

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After 30+ years as both CFO and Controller I find it interesting and frustrating that hiring managers believe that a CPA requirement translates to operational experience. When I was in grad school I made the decision not to obtain a CPA, because I was not going into public accounting (audit or tax), so I saw little value in the designation. Since then I have not found any inability on my part to keep abreast of my ongoing technical education nor my ability to deliver in my job. In fact, when hiring staff level accountants I found that most CPAs coming out of a public accounting background needed more mentoring to transition into an operational environment. This was true in both public and private companies. I will always favor someone with an accounting degree and actual operational experience over a CPA coming out of the public accounting sector.

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Proformative Advisor
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Amen to David's comment -- designations do not prove ability. For that, I look to practical experiences as can be evidenced by results. Credentials such as CPA, CMA, and CFA evidence that someone can pass a test, but little else. Experience demonstrates ability.

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To Jim's comments. Jim I would have to respectfully disagree with part of what you are saying. I do agree that experience is critical and should override any credential or certification. However, the experience coupled with the certification I believe says a great deal than just passing a test. These tests such as the CPA, CMA/CFM and others are quite rigorous and demand a mastering of accounting/finance concepts that can also be used on the job to help enable the experience building process. The theory and practical concepts in these exams can be used as building blocks and applied to the work place. All things being equal I would hire someone with great experience and the professional certification rather than just the person with the experience alone. Furthermore, it has been proven that a person with a professional certification is worth more in the marketplace than one without one.

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To David's comment: I found this to be very useful insight. There have been many different layers to this overall discussion with 960 reads on this discussion so far and counting. I do believe we struck a nerve out there! David I completely agree with you and this is the "truth" rather than "perception". Unfortunately many other folks out there hiring for CFO/Controller jobs do not "get it" yet. They are still stuck on the fact that the CPA is a must have on the job hiring criteria. Think about this when you see these ads for CFO/Controller jobs. Lets say you have great operational experience and have gone the extra mile to obtain a professionall certification such as a CMA/CFM to try and stay competitive with the CPA's. Yet, many of the folks that make up this profile cannot even get in the door to state their case for the job because they are disqualified for not having a CPA. This is the harsh reality but it does not make it right. Perceptions can change if pushed hard enough. This discussion is a start with people like yourself giving your input.

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I am currently thinking of pursuing my CPA. I went back to school and obtained an MS in Accounting. Got the sheepskin, but cannot get a job. Why? No experience. It was a job change for me as I worked over 20 years for a bank. My dilemma is that I have no real experience. So how does one get the experience? I know I could do the work, but cannot find anyone to hire me or even give me a chance to find out what area of accounting I would like to go into. I took a class in Forensic Accounting and thought that would be a great field. But again, HOW DO I GET THE EXPERIENCE NEEDED?

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Hi John,
Have a question to you as you are an experienced CMA. I was working on the management accounting paper for my accounting exam (ACCA) and found the variance analysis a bit "overwhelming". The problem is when I read the book, it is "somewhat clear and logically"....but when i sat the exam the case study just bamboozles the einstein out of me. As you have practical knowledge of variance applications, could you shed some light on how do you approach a variance case (specifically cost variances in a manufacturing environment).

Basically i think i m good with finance, etc but "variance" always makes me wary ;)

thanks in advance and happy holidays
Amit

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