Top 7 differences between CMA vs CPA

For many candidates seeking to grow in the field of accounting, a common question arises when choosing between two certifications: CMA vs CPA? Considering the importance of the decision and the impact it can have on someone’s career, it is only fair that candidates invest considerable time and energy before they come to a conclusion.

The CMA stands for Certified Management Accountant and is a certification pursued by individuals keen on learning budgeting and management accounting while the CPA is short for Certified Public Accountant that offers skills and knowledge in the field of auditing, management accounting, accounts handling, taxation, etc. Both certifications function as value additions in accounting however they have a difference in their approach. As explained above, a CMA handles the cost and financial analysis whereas a CPA overlooks tax and auditing.

To begin with, it is important to understand the difference between the two certifications and the perks that each of them offers. This article will provide you with insights on the key differences in seven important areas to help you make an informed choice.


Awarding Body and Member Network

The CMA certification is awarded by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) that has a widespread network of over 140,000 members across more than 150 countries worldwide.

The CPA on the other hand is awarded by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and has a member network of about 400,000 members in 100 countries globally.

Both the awarding bodies are highly renowned and respected in the field of accounting and membership in either one of them is highly coveted by most accounting professionals.

Exam Pattern and Syllabus

The CMA is a 2-part exam that emphasizes building analytical skills like critical decision making and data reporting. The key subjects that constitute the CMA certification are performance management, decision analysis, financial statement analysis, professional ethics, cost management, budgeting, and forecasting among several others. Between the two parts, the subjects are divided into areas as below:

  • Part 1: Financial Planning, Performance and Analytics
  • Part 2: Strategic Financial Management


The CPA is a 4-part exam that is focused on developing knowledge in subjects such as corporate governance, federal taxation, economic concepts, professional ethics and general business principles, etc. The key areas that the 4 parts of the exam cover are:

  • Business Environment and Concepts
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting
  • Audit and Attestation
  • Regulation


Duration for Completion

To complete the CMA certification in Dubai, UAE, or anywhere in the world, a candidate gets a total duration of 3 years or 36 months to clear both parts of the exam from the day of the registration. However, for CPA, candidates are given 18 months from the time that they clear their first part, to successfully complete all remaining parts of the exam.


As far as eligibility is concerned, both CMA and CPA require a candidate to have a bachelor’s degree or related professional certification. Besides, CMA requires two years of management accounting or financial management experience, while CPA requires two years of public accounting experience.

After being certified, a CMA needs to complete 30 hours of Continuing Education every year to maintain their respective certifications. A CPA, however, needs to complete 40 hours of Continuing Education every year.

Career Scope and Skills Obtained

CMA-certified professionals develop expertise in interpreting data and analyzing it to drive financial improvements within a business. With a higher inclination towards strategic thinking, CMAs are involved in building forward-looking strategies for organizations. In terms of careers chosen, they are observed to have generally shown an interest in working for big corporations with job profiles such as consultants, cost accountants, financial risk managers, etc.

CMA salaries, over the span of their career, are at an average of about AED 250,000 annually according to the IMA’s 2021 UAE Salary Survey.

Certified CPA professionals develop the ability for crunching numbers on a day-to-day basis for various accounting activities with the primary focus on taxation and auditing. They are observed to choose careers such as a financial advisor or accountant with job profiles ranging from public accountants to internal auditors, management accountants, etc.

Salaries of CPAs, over the course of their careers, are reported to be around AED 200,000 annually according to the Robert Walters Salary Survey 2020 for the Middle East and Africa.

Exam Fees and Passing Rates

On average, the CMA certification can cost approximately AED 3,700 which includes all entrance and exam fees whereas the CPA certification costs around AED 5,500 including the application, exam, and licensing fees. However, it is important to also note that both these fees mentioned do not cover the cost of additional review courses that most candidates prefer to take for studying under guidance.

The low passing rates for both are a testimonial of how challenging the exams can be and show that the certifications demand a considerable amount of effort and dedication from candidates. While the CMA has an average pass rate of 45% in the Middle East for both parts [Source: IMA 2020], the CPA has an average pass rate of 50% globally [Source: AICPA 2020].

Exam Availability

The IMA generally conducts the CMA exams every year in three testing windows, that are:

  • January 01 – February 28
  • May 01 – June 30
  • September 01 – October 31


The AICPA has switched the CPA exams to a Continuous Testing Model from 1st July 2020, which allows candidates to appear for the CPA exams anytime throughout the year.


The comparison between the CMA and CPA certifications shows that while both are equally good and respected in the field of accounting, they lead aspirants to different and varied career paths when observed closely. In conclusion, if you’re a candidate seeking growth in management and decision making, then it would be advisable for you to choose the CMA certification, and if you’re keen on developing skills in auditing, taxation, and regulation, then you should opt for the CPA.

Ultimately, the choice is yours to make, and if you are looking to enroll in CMA training in UAE, contact Kaplan Professional to know how we can help you!