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CMA Certification - Share Experience?

corporate finance certificationsI am a Controller for a small IT firm on a career path to a Director of Finance position within the next year and a half. I have a Master's in Accounting & Financial Management but not a CPA (I never wanted to work in public accounting though I did study and sit for the exam). I still don't feel as though the CPA would advance my career and therefore have never gone back to pursue it. I'd like to learn more about others' experiences obtaining their CMA. I believe that it could greatly assist me as I move into a position that requires a broader view of finance. Any designation that would help me be more marketable is of course great, but if studying for and taking the CMA will provide me with a better awareness of financial management and enable me to have a knowledge base that will benefit my company, that is a greater incentive for me and I’d like to pursue it. If anyone is willing to share their experience I’d be grateful: • What was the time commitment, including studying for the exam? • What benefits do you feel you received personally and professionally? • How do you feel your company benefited? Many thanks in advance.

Answers

Anonymous
(CFO) |

I too didn't want to be an auditor and thus bypassed the CPA route. It's cost me dearly over the years as far as promotions and job placements. If I could do it all over again, I'd get the darn CPA as easily as I could and then exit the audit world. And I'd wave that certificate for the whole world to see, even though I know that it isn't really applicable to many financial positions outside of audit.

If you can't beat them, join them!

Most finance positions I look at now, request an MBA and a CPA as a screening tool. I know they don't always get it. But, they often do.

I've been in the working world long enough to tell you that, it is not unknown for requirements like this to shift. That is, all of the sudden what used to be needed is forgotten and replaced by something else. And, the CPA requirements have been significantly relaxed since I got out of college during the Carter administration.

Seeking alphabetical and mysterious designations is the lazy HR person's way of avoiding having to seriously vet applicants for qualifications.

The "alphabet soup" of certifications is frequently self agrandizement and sales tools for industry insiders. Look at all the designations one sees behind realtors names these days. Or, health care professionals. Or, financial planners. Can any of them actually explain what those designations mean and show how they are truly qualified to work at the specialty they profess to have?

As long time tax specialist, I continue to cringe when someone seeks tax advice and they are told to "see a CPA". CPAs are not tax experts unless they specifically chose that as a specialty. How much of the CPA exam covers federal income tax law? I've reviewed literally thousands of income tax returns prepared incorrectly by CPAs. And yet, CPA societies don't take any steps to dissuade people from repeating that any CPA is a tax expert.

Consider how many of the successful tech entrepreneurs that everyone loves to worship have little in the way of alphabet designations behind their names.

The CMA designation is not well recognized in industry. IMHO it is one of those self aggrandizing designations and CMAs unsuccessfully attempt to argue that it is a legitimate alternative to a CPA.

I spent some time in the past at a local CMA society and was not impressed. Most people involved were trying to promote it as the private industry alternative to a CPA and were using the society to shamelessly network for their next job opportunity.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Valerie Campbell posted this on LinkedIn and is extremely appros to your statements:

http://www.aicpa.org/Advocacy/CPAAdvocate/2014/Pages/AICPA-Files-Suit-Against-IRS-Over-Voluntary-Tax-Return-Preparer-Program.aspx

While the suit has merits becuase the IRS failed to follow the law, AICPA is acting as a union and stating its members (and a select other unions) are the only ones truly qualified period. No carve outs are mentioned that an Auditor may not be the best person to be a tax preparer, etc.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Well said, Anonymous.

The only comment with which we differ is the one about lazy HR. HR has no control over what goes in the job requisition anymore than a recruiter does. That call is made by the decision-maker - HR is merely the scribe at the front-end and the middleman through the balance of the process.

Right, wrong, or indifferent, the CPA opens doors.

Anonymous
(Controller) |

Thanks for the honest and compelling response! I agree that a CPA doesn't make someone an expert in any specific area - it really goes back to experience and it is unfortunate that many recruiters aren't savvy enough to bypass the credential to look at the candidate's true skill set and how they could add value to a position.

This: "Seeking alphabetical and mysterious designations is the lazy HR person's way of avoiding having to seriously vet applicants for qualifications." is gold!

Thanks also for your experience with the CMA designation. I am not interested in having a bunch of letters follow my name, either. I was hoping to find a network and perhaps curriculum that will actually benefit my company and me as I move in to a leadership role. If this is truly something that is at it's core used for self-promotion, I'd pass.

Perhaps a better alternative would be to look in to an Executive MBA program or Financial Professionals Organization where I could select courses or seminars that truly benefit our business and my contributions to it.

Thanks again!

James Scott
Title: Consulting CFO
Company: Early Growth Financial Services
LinkedIn Profile
(Consulting CFO, Early Growth Financial Services) |

I studied for the CMA, after I had earned my MBA. Both have been useful in my career. I earned my MBA and moved from Divisional Accountant to Divisional Controller. And my CMA later in my career before moving up to CFO.
I suggest optimally both designations are helpful, but nothing beats the CPA designation from a recruiters limited view point. No 3 letters make anyone smarter, or more qualified, but any are helpful.
If I had to chose one, the MBA seems to be the one whose holders have been the most impressive to work with and the highest achievers in the field of finance.

Allen Hobbs
Title: Controller, Sr. Consultant
Company: dba Canaan Consulting
(Controller, Sr. Consultant, dba Canaan Consulting) |

My experience has been that: a) CPAs have tremendous mind-share advantage b) which is gradually shifting, so that c) the CMA is becoming increasingly recognized and accepted as a mark of high professional preparation and accomplishment, with d) a different and valuable emphasis from the CPA.

james Morales
Title: Manager, Business Integration
Company: Kohl\'s Department Stores
LinkedIn Profile
(Manager, Business Integration, Kohl\'s Department Stores) |

FWIW I have my CFA Charter and just got he new FP&A certification. I will be taking CMA next year to round out the Finance/Accounting suite of skills. CFA covers investment finance, FP&A covers the budgeting/forecasting/Excel/Consulting/Proj Mgmt side and CMA will cover the pure accounting stuff. If I ever get back into Treasury work, CTP is always an option but CFA covers a lot of that stuff already.

CPA is overkill for what I want to do accounting wise and I have the "prestige" part already via CFA.

Bottom line, if you're going down the accounting/valuation path, CPA is probably a good move for you. If you are looking at broader Finance roles, especially ones not so heavy in accounting, CPA is probably not worth effort and you should look into other certifications to round out your knowledge.

Gary Krall
Title: Treasurer
Company: Southside Film Institute
(Treasurer, Southside Film Institute) |

I have a CMA certification and an MBA in Finance. I would agree that the CPA designation is more valuable from a recruiting standpoint as it is more widely recognized. The IMA has tried to promote the certification and some big companies recognize its value and promote it but in terms of street brand it still lags behind the CPA designation. That said, I would argue that the CMA is more practical in nature if you are more of a management accountant focusing on internal financial management topics and I have found it more valuable. I never worked in public accounting and had no desire to. I have worked as an auditor as a management accountant along side CPAs and most are pretty sharp. Some however can't see the forest through the trees as they tend to get absorbed in the nuances of the financial reporting process and don't really understand the value of management accounting and its importance in driving business decision making. I always found that being involved with people in functional areas outside of accounting is infinitely more interesting and rewarding than financial reporting and auditing. I always take pride in providing decision support that leads to successful business outcomes and I can tell you that I was always more respected by my internal customers than were the "beancounters." I think it is the place to be. Unfortunately companies tend to place a lot more credence on the CPA because many hiring managers and senior level financial people have come through public accounting and are CPAs. I think that they are overlooking a lot of talented people who are not CPAs.

DANIEL POIRIER
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Pro Tech International
(Chief Financial Officer, Pro Tech International) |

If you are young and have the time and/or flexibility, get the CPA. Especially if you plan to stay in the accounting field. If you can't do that, get your MBA. A good MBA actually requires someone to learn something about running a business unit. The skill set you get from your MBA will more than offset anything you could have learned as a CPA.

Reality is that if you plan to get into a CFO or VP Finance role, you are going to have to contend with those 3 letters. The small investment of 2 or 3 years early in your career will pay dividends down the road when you are attempting to get into the executive suite.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Food for thought....

Last time we all wrote out the acronym CFO, the second word was Financial, not accounting (which of course would be CAO, and 99% of the time, the Controller).

So, the role of CFO or even VP of Finance has that term again Finance.

We're all talking for the most part about CPA or CMA. I am not talking about any other certification or degree (that would muddy the waters).

Looking at the college courses given today in undergraduate departments (remember most of us didn't need 150 credits) I see this:

Based on NYU and Baruch College (CUNY) undergrad requirements, there might be a single Finance course given (it could be under a moniker that doesn't stand out as "Finance 101") and one Federal Tax course required.

There are electives, but looking at the available electives (and I did not do the math to see how many you needed, so you may not have to take all or any); Business Law I and II were there (if memory serves right, that was required when I went to school), as is an additional Tax course (honors).

So my point is why the pressure to have a certification that doesn't prepare you for most of the role?

Jeff Durbin
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.
(Chief Financial Officer, F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.) |

There are two different tracks to the CFO spot (for most of us) - finance or accounting. (Some can make it via a trip through operations.)

It used to be that the majority were up through accounting which is why the CPA used to be very common for the top finance job. That is changing quite a bit over the past quarter century as finance has gotten more sophisticated.

Let's keep in mind that most of the innovations in the field of finance didn't occur until the '60s and '70s. CAPM was developed in 1964.

Fama's seminal book "The Theory of Finance" was published in 1972. It was less than a decade old when I started college.

My business school professor Mike Jensen came up with the theory of the firm in 1976 with Bill Meckling. It was only a decade old when I took his class. Now it seems ancient.

All of this stuff is really pretty new - relatively speaking.

Betty Click
Title: Asst Controller
Company: Ward Corp
(Asst Controller, Ward Corp) |

I have always worked in the private world of business. I received my CPA and CMA before I ever earned my 4 year degree. I feel the CMA is more in tune with Private business accounting, but most HR people do not seem to know this and I feel like even CFOs, and Controllers, do not seem to know this, especially if they have the CPA. I learned very little getting my CPA and CMA and 4 year degree. I earned credit for 13 classes for college from my life experience. I never took an accounting class after I earned my 2 yr degree. I am not against education, I know we have to look at something to differentiate people when hiring, but CPA, MBA, and CMA are all book education and not real world. My husband, who was an accountant without a 2 year degree, had to show a Person that was number 1 in passing the CPA test in Louisiana how to do a bank reconciliation.
The main thing these 3 letters mean, is that you can take tests well. Yes, that might mean you can work well under pressure, but I am not sure that is really the same thing? I wasn't even sure whether to get my 4 year degree, since I had my CPA and CMA, most people assumed I had it and some thought I had a MBA. It did not help me where I worked but I thought it might in the future, but it probably did not.
I think the personal world looks at a CPA more highly that just a CFO or especially an Accountant and many have no idea what a CMA is. I have had some people think I said CNA, which is some kind of Certified Nurse.
I agree that probably the MBA is more in line with the business world, at least from what I have seen, but this still depends on working with the real world as opposed to books. I believe all of the instructors I had in getting my 2 year degree was also working in the real world or had been and they would tell you how it really was, not just the way the books said. I took a CPA review course that was a senior college course and the associate professor that taught the course knew how things were done for real, but one day the Dean of the department had to teach the class and he only was book smart, you could tell. I had 2 different interns work for me that had had him in classes and they would have been much happier to get someone that was real world savvy.

Anonymous
(Chief Financial Officer) |

How did you sit for CPA and CMA exams without having your 4-year degree? There is a minimum required number of classes.

Jared Neal
Title: Tax Analyst
Company: Pharmerica
LinkedIn Profile
(Tax Analyst, Pharmerica) |

As is the case with just about anything you do in life, the most appropriate response is probably going to be "it depends".

If you are looking to gain a knowledge base that is going to be most applicable to working in corporate finance, absolutely the CMA is the better certification. If you are looking to get the most upward momentum, then a highly ranked MBA will be your best bet. If you aren't looking to drop big money, and you are more focused on upward momentum then the CPA is your best option. So to directly answer your question, the CMA is going to be valuable from a knowledge point of view, and while it certainly carries weight with those who know what it is, unfortunately it isn't given the respect it deserves or as broadly recognized as the CPA.

I often hear people say that letters after your name don't mean anything, or it is just book knowledge nothing can replace real world experience. In the real world you will only learn what those around you and above you already know, while utilizing "book knowledge" you may be able to expand or improve the current process'. I have my CPA, MBA, and MST, and I learned more applicable information in the MST program than I ever did in the real world. However the CPA was so broad and general, only a very small portion applied to my job, but it did teach me how to research and apply book knowledge properly. Someone with immense real world experience, but not up to date on book knowledge, may very well not even know if they are complying with GAAP correctly. Love it or hate it we are working in a financial environment chalked full of rules and regulations, and if you don't follow them it can be very costly. The real answer is to make sure you have both, and not to discount either.

David Rau
Title: CFO
Company: Cornerstoner Building Alliance Lumber SW
(CFO, Cornerstoner Building Alliance Lumber SW) |

I have hired and worked with a lot of financial professionals over the years. In general, there is a clear difference in a candidate's potential if they are a CPA. Sure there are exceptions.

Jeff Durbin
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.
(Chief Financial Officer, F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.) |

I took a look at the CMA after getting my MBA in 1988 but skipped it at the time because I didn't think it was that credible. When I became a consultant at Resources Global Professionals I found myself doing more accounting than finance so I reconsidered. The CMA had gotten much more credible during the 15 or 16 years since I graduated. I went ahead and got it.

It wasn't that difficult because I used a lot of the concepts in my work. Some sections I entirely skipped studying but others required a decent amount of review.

In some states, the CPA is as it has always been - an auditor's designation. In other states, there has been some adaptation of the CPA designation to reflect the competition. I think the CMA is a better designation for someone who is in industry but the CPA is still the gold standard.

I think my MBA has been more important to some employers (First Interstate Bank certainly comes to mind and maybe DIRECTV) but the CMA was probably more effective when I was consulting.

Don't waste your time getting an MBA from a no-name school. If you are going to do it then do it with someone with a very good reputation. There are some online programs from top schools if you are not close to one.

My vote is to get the CMA. Not too expensive and reasonably challenging but not ridiculously so.

By the way, you did not ask but the FP&A certifications that have just started to crop up are not yet seasoned so don't waste your time and money.

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