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CPA or CMA for desired career path?

Hello all, I understand this topic has been widely covered here, and I have already read through those discussions. Nearly all discussions I was able to find are a few years old and did not necessarily pertain to my current situation, so please bare with me. I am 4-5 years out of school with a BS in accounting and economics. I have worked in a few different industries (banking, real estate, project management) all with a focus on accounting and financial analysis and feel I have done quite well in my roles. I do a lot less tax and audit work, and a lot more budgeting, forecasting, financial statement prep and analysis. I am not overly fond of number crunching, but rather drawn more to the analysis and interpretation of financial data for decision making purposes. I have never worked in public accounting and do not plan to. My long-term goals are similar to many in the industry, which is to become a controller, then finance VP, then CFO/CEO perhaps. I understand the value of both the CPA and CMA; this includes an understanding that the CPA is the more prestigious and recognized of the two designations. Looking over the exam materials I find that the CMA seems much more germane to my goals, and frankly, much more interesting. Eventually, I'd like to be the guy using the financial reports to determine metrics, business strategies, and solutions for the company and it's growth rather than just ensuring the data is present and accurate. I feel that the CMA might be a better route for what I "think" I want out of my career, but my fear is that I would be selling myself short by not getting the almighty CPA and the positive connotation that comes with that in the accounting/finance field. In my recent research it seems that the CMA is slowly but surely gaining steam as a recognized and respected designation and my hope is that this will continue and people will understand it's specific value in the work place. All of that being said, I already have all the requirement to be eligible for the CPA, which sounds like the smart choice... but is the right choice? Getting both is the obvious answer here, but for the time being I am only concerned with getting one of them out of the way. I'd hate to take the CMA and realize that it was ultimately pointless and have to go back for my CPA, wishing I had taken that. Any input or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance,

Answers

Mike Pingree
Title: Staff Accountant
Company: Global Food Ingredient Co
(Staff Accountant, Global Food Ingredient Co) |

Go for the CMA. It's the type of accounting working you want to do and makes the most sense. While the CPA is the "shiny" jewel that opens doors, your job performance will be what gets you where you want to go. At least that's what I am telling myself as I study for the CMA.

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

Setting aside ALL my views/opinions on titles and certs... Go for the CPA. Although it is debatable, go for the "foundation". You can do CMA work with the CPA but not vice versa.

Cindy May
Title: Director of Accounting and Finance
Company: Vacation Palm Springs (Wyndham Vacation ..
(Director of Accounting and Finance, Vacation Palm Springs (Wyndham Vacation Rentals)) |

Public accounting experience is the invaluable component of the licensing process. I know the requirements have changed considerably since my day in the mid 90's. My perspective is this....if one can get licensed without working at least 2 years in public accounting like it was before, essentially making it easier to get one's CPA license, then the CPA designation loses a lot of its prestige and value and the CMA designation fares better in comparison. The fact still remains, however, that working in public accounting (in a relatively large firm that gets good audit clients) is still an invaluable experience for anyone climbing the corporate accounting ladder.

Anonymous
(Senior Accountant) |

Thank you for the replies thus far.

Cindy May: From my research, the state in which I reside does not require that someone have 2 years of public accounting experience under a licensed CPA. While this used to be the case to obtain a license, one had the option of just being a registered CPA (not licensed) if they didn't fulfill the experience requirement.

Now, my state only requires you have 1 year of experience doing accounting focused work (which I have) to obtain your license. In one sense this is positive because it makes it easier to obtain your license, but in another sense, some may view this as a devaluing of the CPA license due to lower barriers of entry.

It's unfortunate that the CPA is much less relevant to my career goals/growth than the CMA is, but still seems to be the primary recommendation. In speaking with a few people who have both designation (but are not in public accounting) the consensus seems to be that the CPA opens doors and adds value on paper, but the CMA is actually the more useful and personally rewarding "training".

I'm certainly more inclined to get the CMA, but with the time commitment involved in these exams I do not want to chose the wrong one.

Please continue to offer any input; your time is greatly appreciated.

Peter Gondek
Title: Director of Finance and Corporate Contro..
Company: Referentia Systems Inc.
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance and Corporate Controller, Referentia Systems Inc.) |

If you're aspiring to eventually reach the higher management level, I would recommend the MBA over the CMA and CPA. As far as the CMA and CPA, the CMA makes more sense for Accounting Management at a corporate level and the CPA makes more sense for Public Accounting. The CPA is a bit harder to attain since you need to work under a CPA for 2 years (this requirement depends on the state).

Anonymous
(Financial Analyst) |

I am in the exact same situation. I talked to many people and explored all options. My conclusion was exactly what Peter said above, go for MBA and CMA combo, and I have started both.

Anonymous
(Senior Accountant) |

Thank you, Peter. I do plan to attain my MBA eventually. I have a sizable amount of student loan debt from my undergrad so I am waiting until I pay that off or work for a company willing to foot a chunk of the MBA bill. In the mean-time, I would like to garner an edge for myself based on the much cheaper certifications (CPA/CMA).

The CPA is the industry standard, but for someone who has no desire or plan to work in public accounting, it's hard to ignore how much more relevant and sensible the CMA appears... particularly for someone looking to move into more corporate strategy and management based accounting/finance roles.

Another concern of mine is being pigeonholed by obtaining a CPA, and therefore being relegated to very specific accounting roles in my career. My hope is that something like a CMA + CFE, and eventual MBA will assist in movement toward a more analysis and strategy based role down the line. I unfortunately know a few CPA's who are just widely considered "taxes and finance statement prep" people in their corporate jobs, despite being capable of more. Though a lot of personal and career growth/development is determined on the individual rather than the acronym after their name, it's still something I think about.

For whatever reason, I seem to deem the CMA as an indication of more flexibility in one's skill set... at least based on the material covered.

Again, thank you all for your time and input.

Anonymous
(Controller) |

I have to disagree with Peter at least in part. The CMA, while it is useful, is not something that frequently pops ups on job postings under desired experience. However, the CPA does pop up quite frequently on job postings and I have seen many CPAs in good corporate accounting and finance roles. CMA just doesn't carry the same recognition, at least not yet, that the CPA does. I personally went for MBA and CPA, which I figured would qualify me for good management, accounting and finance roles.

Richard Baikie
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Super King Markets
(Director of Finance, Super King Markets) |

One thing to remember is that a CPA is a state licensure, with certain requirements varying from state to state, while a CMA is an organizational certification. There are a number of state laws allowing and limiting what CPAs can legally do with their license. For example, in California (at least the last time I checked), you couldn't advertise that you offered "accounting services" unless you were a CPA.

A CPA may get you noticed, but I know many in the corporate world who are listed as CPA (inactive) because there is no need to keep it active with all of the continuing education requirements. I know more CMAs who keep their certification active with the continuing ed requirements.

I think keeping current is one of the critical factors.

Richard Baikie
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Super King Markets
(Director of Finance, Super King Markets) |

As a disclaimer, I have my MBA and CMA. My undergrad degree was Business Administration and I have only worked in private, not public.

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