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
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 Accounting. 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
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.
✓ Have two years of post-graduate education as well as five years of internal auditing work experience.
✓ 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.
Learn more in our guide to pursuing accounting certifications without a college degree.
CMA vs CIA: Taking the 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:
- 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.
- Part two covers four domains on how professionals manage internal audits. There are 100 questions and the section is two hours long.
- 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:
- Part one covers financial planning, performance, and analytics
- 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
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.
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