CMA vs CIA – Which Is Right for You?

CMA vs CIA are different roads to take as you pursue a career in accounting. Different accounting certifications set you up for different jobs in the industry. Which certification you get is a strategic move.

One choice many people face is whether to get a CMA or CIA. In the world of accounting, these are two prestigious paths with plenty of opportunities, but they are different. Allow me to break down the similarities, differences, and where you could be headed with each choice.

First, to clarify: many people first compare the CMA and CPA. This is a different conversation and you can find more about that by tapping here. If you do realize you want more info about the CPA, feel free to check out my CPA Review Course Comparison.

CMA vs CIA: Job Description

CMA vs CIA Job description

Let’s start by breaking down the many acronyms and terms related to this discussion about whether to become a CMA or CIA.

CIA: Certified Internal Auditor

CIA stands for Certified Internal Auditor. CIAs are accountants who do internal audits. A CIA is a trusted professional who audits a company’s finances. They’re the ones who make sure that everything is balanced and ordered, which of course requires a meticulous eye for detail.

In this field, there is understandably a high standard for professional ethics and conduct. People who are CIAs ultimately ensure that a business’s money-handling is above board and not subject to fraud or misuse.

CMA: Certified Management Accountant

CMA stands for Certified Management Accountant. CMAs are accountants who have expertise in management as well as financial accounting. This uniquely equips people with a CMA to make business decisions that are informed by deep financial understanding.

Most often, CMAs oversee analysis, control, and decision making of a company’s finances.

CMA vs CIA: Education and Work Requirements

CMA vs CIA Education and Work Requirements

The CMA and CIA both have distinct requirements, both for formal education and work experience. These are mandated by the issuing bodies and essential before you can start working with either title.

Requirements to Become a CIA

To become a Certified Internal Auditor, candidates must meet the following education or work requirements:

✓ Graduate from an accredited college with a four-year degree. Your transcripts or other proof of education will be part of your application to pursue a CIA certification.

OR

✓ Have two years of post-graduate education as well as five years of internal auditing work experience.

OR

✓ Seven years of internal auditing work experience.

After achieving a degree, which is the most common course of action, candidates need two years of work experience in internal auditing. A Master’s degree can replace one year of this requirement.

Requirements to Become a CMA

To become a Certified Management Accountant, there are different education requirements. Whereas a CIA must have an undergraduate or commensurate work experience specifically in financial auditing, candidates for the CMA have a little more leeway.

To become a CMA, you need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school as well as two years of work experience. The caveat is that candidates can actually still take the CMA exam before those requirements are fulfilled.

Compared to the CIA, there is a lower barrier of entry for the CMA in regard to education requirements.

CMA vs CIA: Taking the Exam

CMA vs CIA exam

Both the CMA and the CIA are achieved only by taking a difficult exam. This ensures a high level of knowledge and proficiency in the career-related subject matter. It’s important that you know what you’re in for when you face these challenging tests.

The CIA Exam

There are three parts to the CIA exam. Here is an overview of what you’ll encounter in this test:

  1. Part one covers six domains on the essential concepts of internal auditing. There are 125 questions and the section is two and a half hours long.
  2. Part two covers four domains on how professionals manage internal audits. There are 100 questions and the section is two hours long.
  3. Part three covers four domains related to business that relates to internal auditing. There are 100 questions and the section is two hours long.

The costs to take the CIA exam are different depending on a candidate’s IIA membership. An application fee and a fee for each exam part will total $855 for members and $1,315 for non-members.

There are many online CIA exam courses, which cost an average of $800-$1,500.

The worldwide pass rate for the CIA exam in 2019 was 42%.

The CMA Exam

There are two parts to the CMA exam. Here is what they entail:

  1. Part one covers financial planning, performance, and analytics
  2. Part two covers strategic financial management.

The CMA exam is four hours long: three hours for multiple-choice questions and an hour for essays. Go here to learn more about the CMA test structure and tips for passing.

To take the CMA exam, professional members will pay a $250 entry fee and $415 per part, totaling $1,080. Students or academic members of the IMA will only pay $188 for the entry fee and $311 per part, totaling $810.

To participate in a great CMA review course, you could pay between $800-$1,700.

The pass rate for the CMA exam in 2020 so far is 45%.

CMA vs CIA: Salary

CMA vs CIA salary

Both the CMA and CIA are prestigious career options that require a lot of education, an intense test, work experience but can pay off big in terms of earning potential.

Profitability is a key reason people choose one or the other. There is some variance in these salary numbers. Remember that you will always earn more as you age into a role or a company. In other words, the more experience you get in either of these fields, the more money you will make. That being said, here are some salary ranges for the CMA vs CIA that may sway your decision.

On average, an experienced CIA will make around $86,000.

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 earning 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.

Have more questions? Comment below and I will weigh in on your professional journey. I have coached thousands of people through decisions like these.

Make the most of this community and be sure to join us on social or watch helpful videos that assist you as you compare accounting certifications or prepare for the CMA exam.

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65 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?

  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. 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!

  18. is CMA a supplement to CPA / Ca or is CMA a substitute to CPA/ CA.

    I mean how recruiters view CMA compared to CPA

    1. It’s rather an alternative for the other certifications. CMAs tend to hold higher positions in a company and employers see them as more capable of holding an executive role.

      You can learn more about the difference between CMA and CPA here.

  19. Hi, I had experience with audit for 2 years and I just moved to a bank in the Internal control cum compliance position. I’m quite confuse whether the CIA relevant to my job? (at a bank). Because as I read, the topic of the test is more relevant to the work at a corporate not a bank. Could you please advise?

  20. Hello Nathan Liao,

    could you please give me your advice. I have a BA and a master degree in Math. I would like to have CPA or CMA. which BA that i should have it ? Business Administration or Economics or Accounting… thank you!

    1. Hi Abeer,

      A Bachelor’s Degree in any field will qualify for the CMA educational requirement.

      You don’t need to have an accounting or economics background to be able to pursue the CMA designation. As for the experience requirement, it can be fulfilled either prior to or within 7 years of passing the exam.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

  21. Hello Sir,

    I have graduated & done my MBA(SMU) in finance and having total experience of 6.8yearS in Finance & account domain mainly in Reconciliation & Cash /AP /AR Variance analysis. I would like to know which course should I select which can add value to my career?

    Thanks,
    Priya

  22. Hi nathan,
    I have completed my B.com, I have as an SR. Accountant in last five yeras, can I study
    CIA
    CPA
    Or CMA
    Pls give me some suggestions, I want to improve my education growth I wish study some accounts related certificate courses, I need Ur good suggestion,

  23. Hello,

    If a CMA holder wants to pass the CIA, should he pass the three exams of CIA? or there is an exemption?

    Thank you

  24. Hi Nathan,
    I read your articles, i have completed my Bachelor’s Degree and working in CA firm and have good knowledge about Audits. Right now for me Job is main preference.

    I need your suggestion on which degree is good to pursue to enhance my career?

    Also, which of the degree provides good job and pay in India and Global?

    1. Hi Mamta,

      If you’d like to get into the management accounting field, I recommend opting for the US CMA certification. It’s a global certification which is also becoming increasingly popular in India.

      You can read more about the advantages of earning the CMA certification and more here.

      If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to hit reply 🙂

  25. Dear Sir, I am Qualified Cost Accountant and having 3 Yrs of Audit Experience in Audit Firm. 1 Yr costing & MIS Experience in a Manufacturing Company. Now i am working in South Africa as a cost Accountant.. So i want to know what is better from ( CIMA/ ACCA/ CIA) Which is better for bright future…After office time i want to learn. So with my Office work and focus to my future in a better position which course is better for me. Plz suggest me

    1. Hi Soumya,

      I’d actually recommend the CMA certification – CMAs are currently in high demand and the supply is low, and the earning potential is higher compared to other popular designations.

      If you’d like to learn more about this certification and the steps you need to take to obtain it, check out this article.

      If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

    1. Hi Ramesh, thank you for sharing your path – that’s an interesting choice! I hope it brings you the most success in your career!

  26. Hi Nathan,

    I’m currently a CIA with 6 years’ experience in internal audit. Would it make sense to get a CMA certification in order to be more employable for risk, accounting or audit jobs? Do you recommend other certifications?

    Thanks you

    Regards

    1. Hi Paolo,

      The CMA will provide better career opportunities in accounting but not in auditing. For auditing it’s best to go for the CIA and/or CPA.

      Thanks,
      Nathan

  27. Hi sir, I am in final part of ICMAP and working for an external auditor in an audit firm from last 6.5 years, so is CIA a good option or it is unrelated.

    1. Hi Imad,

      Yes, if you’re interested in the auditor profession, then CIA would be a good option for you, especially that you already have experience in auditing.

      But if you’d like to work in management accounting and you find yourself in one of the roles described here, then the CMA might be a better fit for you.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Thanks,
      Nathan

  28. Hello sir in what way it is helpful if I am good at management accounting and statistics and programming languages Ramesh

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