CMA vs CIA – Which Is Right For You

It’s no secret, there are several different accounting certifications. Identifying the core differences between them is essential when you’re trying to decide which is right for you though.

Things can become confusing with so many abbreviations and similarities, so I’m going to break things down real simple.

After popular demand, I am going to compare the CMA vs CIA designations.

Job Description

CIA

CIA is short for Certified Internal Auditor. Not surprisingly, your role is to conduct internal audits. You are responsible for completing all final audits on a company’s finances, essentially there to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. It goes without saying that having an eye for detail is crucial.

To ensure that a company’s money is not being defrauded or misused, people who hold this position require a high level of morality and ethics.

CMA

On the other hand, a CMA (Certified Management Accountant) primarily handles the planning, analysis, control and decision making of a company’s finances.

CMA’s must pass 2 comprehensive tests to become licensed by the IMA.

Education and Work Requirements

CIA

There are certain educational requirements you must meet before you can become a Certified Internal Auditor.

CIA candidates are required to complete a 4 year postsecondary degree from an accredited university, for which you must show proof of completion. This can be in the form of a copy of your degree or transcripts, or a letter of confirmation from your university.

Once your degree is complete, you then have to fulfil two years of audit work experience. If you choose to stay in school and work towards a Master’s degree, this will count for 12 of the 24 months.

Previously no amount of work experience was considered an alternative to getting a degree, but the rules have changed recently. You may now take the CIA exam if you:

  • Complete 2 years post-secondary school accompanied by 5 years of work experience in the auditing field. Or…
  • Complete 7 years of verified work experience in the auditing field.

CMA

One of the major differences between a CIA and CMA is their education requirements. As long as you hold a bachelor degree and two consecutive years of eligible managerial work experience, you qualify to become a CMA. However, you can still take the CMA exam prior to fulfilling one or both of these requirements.

The barrier of entry is quite low in comparison to the CIA exam, which may be a contributing factor to the low global pass rates.

Taking the Exam

CIA

Not too long ago the CIA exam chose to condense their exam from four parts to three parts.

Part one of the CIA exam focuses on internal audit activity, objectivity and concepts of governance. Additionally, it covers how to identify risks, management and planning.

Part two encompasses everything from audit engagements and fraud, to document and report audits.

Finally, Part three of the CIA exam covers business analysis and information technology.

CMA

To become a CMA you must pass just two exams. The two sections of the CMA exam are:

  • Financial reporting, planning, performance, and control
  • Financial decision making

Salary

Regardless of which path you choose to take, both potential careers require a lot of schooling, work experience and exam preparation. If you aren’t interested in the actual job description, then chances are the decision will come down to which will be most profitable in the future. So, let’s talk salary.

Salaries vary based on your position (entry level vs senior partner for example). Taking this into consideration, the average salary of a CIA employee is approximately $64,000.

As of 2015, CMA’s now make 31% more (on average) than their other finance-related peers. According to a recent study by the IMA, the average CMA now makes $115,763.

Of course, how much you earn can increase significantly if you have the drive and motivation to climb the corporate ladder and really make a name for yourself.

So, which is right for you?

There is no right answer to this question. You must decide how much time, education and work experience you are willing to put into earn each designation.

If you have an eye for detail and want the responsibility of auditing finances, then the CIA is likely best for you.

On the other hand, if you prefer a more managerial role and a higher salary then the CMA may be right for you.

More by Nathan Liao

I love sharing with you my weekly posts on exam strategies, coaching support and all CMA-related topics for free.

If you enjoy these articles, here are some links to other projects I created (and ways you can accelerate your path to your CMA designation).

  • CMA Exam Academy: The exclusive online instructor-led course with a step-by-step study plan, personalized coaching and proven study strategies that guarantees you’ll pass the CMA exam
  • Self-Study Guide: Learn how to tackle the exam with this short guide.

As always, thanks for reading,

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42 Comments on “CMA vs CIA – Which Is Right For You”

  1. is a bachelor in commerce eligible to pursue CIA exams? i am pursuing CA and appearing for CA Final i.e I am a CA Inter, so am I eligible for CIA exams?

  2. Hi,

    I have a bachelor degree but not in commerce. I have 7 years of working in audit firm as auditor. And I have passed Foundation level of CA. Am I eligible for CIA?

    1. Hi James,

      The CMA exam is also a rigorous exam with a 35% and 52% global passing rate for Part 1 and Part 2 respectively (based on May 1, 2015-February 29, 2016 exam results). However, the barrier to entry is quite low. In my opinion, CMAs make more than CIAs because of their direct and full responsibility of managing the company’s finances. CMAs are responsible for the financial outcomes as they are considered a part of management.

      Thanks and Regards,
      Nathan

    1. Hi Azhar,

      You may check the jobs posted in IMA using this link.

      The CMA certification is a globally-recognized credential and generally there are tons of job opportunities around the world.

      Thanks and Regards,
      Nathan

  3. Hello Nathan,

    i am actually confuse in CIA AND CMA.

    I have completed my BBA 4 years in finance and after that completed my MBA i am currently working as an assistant manager finance – accounts in aviation industry, i like to have your advice, whether should i go for CMA usa or CIA because i am looking forward for CPA.

    Thanks you for your time

    Regards
    Khaddam Ahmed Khan

    1. Hi Khaddam,

      I wrote an article about the CMA versus CIA. You may read it using this link to help you decide on which career path to take.

      Thanks,
      Nathan

  4. Hi Nathan,

    Myself Surender, I am currently working at Deloitte Assurance Analytics services ( Essentially helping Audit committee in finding fraudulent activities using General Ledger data analytics also called as Management override controls). And now I have interest in sitting in their shoes and performing Audit work since I have already worked on the other side using data and analytics. What do you recommend that would best suit me?

    I am Bachelor in Commerce ( Major Accounting ) from reputed college of Hyderabad.

    Thanks !!

    1. Hi Surender,

      In my opinion, it is best for you to take the CIA as this is more relevant to an auditing career.

      Thanks,
      Nathan

  5. Hi
    I am 0f 28 with 3 years of family experience (photocopy/lamination) and 3 years BPO (non financial)

    Can the CMA help me get a decent job even if i clear any single part ? or only when both parts ?
    I am not good with accounts , infact bad with accounts !!! how much will this play a role in cma ?

    Or should i opt CIA as it has no accounts

    and the job scope in india (considering i will be a fresher for both the fields)

    1. Hi Ashish,

      The probability of getting a job depends on a lot of factors. But definitely these two certifications will give you a competitive edge over others when applying for accounting or auditing jobs.

      Thanks,
      Nathan

  6. I did M.com and 4 Years experience i Accounts and Finance which certification you will be prefer for my career growth.
    CIA
    CMA
    CPA

  7. Dear Sir,
    This is Solomon,
    Hope you are doing well!
    I want to study that support for my future career which is USA standards.
    My Educational qualification:
    BSc degree in applied Mathematics,
    Diploma in Banking and Finance
    Certificate tally and peach tree Accounting
    certificate in accounting courses 210 hours: principles of Accounting, cost accounting ,Government Accounting and planning and management
    excellent knowledge of computer skills
    Work experiences:1) 7 years as external Auditor
    2) 3 as senior Accountant in Luanda, Angola

    So, I need your help and recommendation which is good to study:
    1.CAP
    2. CMA
    3. CIA
    Best regard ,
    Solomon

    1. Hi Solomon,

      I think based on your experience as an external auditor, you must take the US CPA exam. CPA requires certain requirements such as credit hours depending on the state. Because of that, there is a high barrier to entry for the US CPA Exam. However, it is not possible to obtain such certification. CMA or CIA can be your alternative.

      Thanks and Regards,
      Nathan

  8. I have completed B.com as well MBA (Banking & Finance) but i am working as an Accountant since 2011, Could you please do suggest which course can be more worth for me. I am bit confused.
    CPA
    CIA
    CFA
    CMA

    1. Hi Ejaz,

      Since you are already working as an accountant, I suggest that you take either the CPA or the CMA exam.

      Thanks and Regards,
      Nathan

  9. Hi,

    I am a Chartered Accountant and currently working for a Big 4 -Risk Advisory Services (includes internal audit also).

    Plz suggest which course will be more useful for me- CMA or CIA

    Or can I pursue both CMA and CIA?

    Will it be useful? Coz I feel my knowledge should grow in depth rather than spread across various fields. Will CMA be useful in career or it is completely different from Internal Audit and Risk Advisory Services.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Banu,

      If you are planning to enter corporate (private) accounting, it would be best to take the CMA or CIA or both. The CMA exam is all about financial planning, analysis, and decision-making (recently, the CMA expanded on external financial reporting) while the CIA is all about internal control and risk management. I also agree that you must choose the accounting field that you must invest in and focus on the long-term. Keep learning and improving!

      Cheers,
      Nathan

  10. Hi
    I’m still university student this the last semester and I will graduate of having bachelor in accounting.
    Can I study CIA but still don’t have any experiance before?

  11. Hello Nathan,
    Completed my BBA in Shipping Management and have 2 years of experience in the shipping industry, and interested in changing my career path can the CIA or CMA help with the change. And which one in your opinion can be the best path to go with.
    Regards,
    Ely

    1. Hi, Ely. It depends on which area you want to work in. CIA is for auditing and CMA is for management. Go for the designation that suits your career goal best.

  12. I’m a degree student doing BCOM first year.i want to do CMA course.I want to know that which is better for CMA clearing foundation or directly writing inter level after degree?

    1. Hey, Aswathy: there’s no foundation or inter for the US CMA. Did you mean some other certificate?

  13. Hello Nathan

    This is Laila i did my B.Com and my ACCA is in progress.I also did certification in Accounting technician have 2 years plus experience in Finance field working as an accountant for a company.
    i am confused which one can be the best path to go with CIA or CMA? and am i eligible for any of this course?

    1. Hi Laila,

      It depends on which path you find more appealing: auditing (CIA) or management accounting (CMA).

      To satisfy the CMA experience requirement, your employment must include making financial decisions or holding some type of managerial role. Check my blog post here to learn more. Nonetheless, you’ll have up to 7 years after passing the exam to fulfill this qualification. Having the CMA now, even if you don’t have the experience yet, will open doors to managerial positions and thus obtaining your experience.

      I’m happy to answer any further questions you may have.

  14. Hi Nathan
    I have done with my BCom, Mcom(correspondence) , CA foundation. I am interested in audit. Which course should I opt for CMA, CPA or CIA

  15. Hey,Nathan which is the best combination CPA and CMA OR CMA and CIA.?I am in my undergraduate final year so im confused about which qualification should i go for.?

    1. Hi Rohan,

      It depends. Are you looking to also do taxes? If so, the CPA and CMA is the way to go. If you only want to focus on internal auditing then the CIA and CMA are a good combo. It comes down to where you want to take your career to and the type of work you want to do long-term.

      Cheers

  16. Hi Nathan,
    I completed my B.Com in the year 2004. After that I have been working in different sectors but not away from the Finance role. Currently I work as the Divisional Cashier with more than 5 years of experience. In this role I do support my team with Accounts related issues but I am not directly involved with the Finance division. Although I prefer to move up the career ladder as well.
    CMA would be an ideal start,right?

    1. Hi Ravi,

      Yes, the CMA designation would surely fast-track your way up the corporate ladder. Click here to learn more about this designation.

      Best of luck!

    1. Hey Anoop,

      No, CMA’s cannot perform audits. If you’re interested in auditing, you should opt for the CPA.

  17. Hi Nathan,

    I have BA in International Relations, but currently working in Financial and Administrative Management. I do the budgeting, planning, and forecasting. Should I go with the CMA or CIA in order to get more options to climb up in my career? Thanks.

    1. Hi Victoria,

      Definitely CMA to enhance your management role and fast-track your way up the corporate ladder.

      Cheers!

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