CPA or CMA? What is the Difference?

Posted by on October 10, 2012

Should you become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), or should you pursue the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification? What is the difference?

Below is a quick list of each certification’s highlights. Let me explain in more detail.



International recognition

Limited to U.S.; a state designation

Targeted to corporate financial professionals

Targeted to public accounting

Broad-based, industry-related content

Content for public practice

Knowledge-based professional

Skills-based professional

Preparer/use of accounting information

Auditor of accounting information



“Inside” corporate professionals

Public practice licensure

Higher-quality, lower-cost “beans”

Attesting to the accuracy of “beans”



Concerned with future performance

Concerned with past performance


The CMA exam is administered by the Institute of Management Accountants, which is an international organization, which means that the exam has the same requirements everywhere.

A certified management accountant typically works within a corporation helping management plan and control operations. They are continually looking towards the future, and specialize in strategic planning, budgeting, financial analysis, and cost control. Management accountants are concerned with the performance of the company at a very detailed level, with reports being generated on a weekly or even daily basis.

The CPA exam is administered by each U.S. state, which means that the requirements can vary slightly between states. Many states allow CPAs to cross state borders, but some do not.

A certified public accountant works for the public typically in the role of auditor and/or tax preparer. CPAs are looking at past performance of an organization and verifying that generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) have been followed. They are concerned with the adequacy of disclosures, and help creditors and investors to make informed decisions about a company.

CMAs and CPAs are both trained as to the accounting cycle and procedures. The exams are equally difficult, but the CPA certification requires more education.

The question becomes what direction you want to take your career. If you want to become an auditor or tax preparer for the public, then the CPA certification is the way to go. If your plan is to work with management and help plan the future of an organization, check out the CMA recognition.

To learn about degrees in Accounting, visit Minnesota School of Business today!

Melanie Torborg is a Certified Management Accountant with over 20 years of corporate experience.  She has a degree in Finance and a Master’s Degree in Business.

Thank you for your Interest in Minnesota School of Business.