ACCA or CMA – Which is better? Salary, Opportunities, & Difficulties

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive deep into the world of ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and CMA (Certified Management Accountant). These are more than just acronyms; they represent two of the most prestigious qualifications in the field of finance and accounting.

But which one is right for you? That’s the million-dollar question. Whether you’re just starting out in your career or looking to scale new heights, the decision between ACCA and CMA is crucial.

In the following sections, we’ll break down everything from the core curriculum and exam structure to career prospects and global recognition. We understand that your career choice is not just about passing exams; it’s about shaping your future in the finance industry.

What is ACCA?

ACCA represents a path to becoming a globally recognized chartered accountant. Known for its comprehensive curriculum and flexible approach, ACCA offers a program that caters to a wide array of finance professionals, from fresh graduates to experienced accountants.

To understand ACCA better as a course, read – All About ACCA

Exam Structure

The ACCA program is meticulously structured to ensure a thorough grounding in both the theoretical and practical aspects of accounting and finance.

Levels and Modules: The ACCA qualification is divided into three main levels:

  • Applied Knowledge Level: This foundational level covers essential accounting principles and introduces students to the core concepts of financial and management accounting.
  • Applied Skills Level: Building on the knowledge base, this level delves into corporate and business law, performance management, taxation, financial reporting, audit, and assurance.
  • Strategic Professional Level: The final stage comprises both essential and optional modules, focusing on advanced topics such as strategic business leadership and corporate reporting, along with options like advanced financial management, advanced performance management, advanced taxation, and advanced audit and assurance.

The examination process in ACCA is rigorous, including both computer-based exams for early modules and traditional written exams for higher-level papers.

Flexibility of the ACCA Program

The ACCA program stands out for its flexibility, accommodating a diverse range of students and professionals:

  • Flexible Entry Requirements: ACCA offers entry points for various academic backgrounds, recognizing school-leaving certificates to university degrees.
  • Self-Paced Study: Students can progress at their own pace, balancing studies with work and personal commitments. This makes ACCA especially appealing to working professionals.
  • Examination Flexibility: With multiple exam sessions each year and global exam centers, ACCA allows students to take exams at convenient times and locations.
  • Exemption Policy: ACCA grants exemptions for relevant prior learning, enabling students to bypass certain exams based on their previous studies, thus accelerating the path to qualification.

This flexible approach makes ACCA an accessible and practical choice for aspiring finance professionals worldwide.

What is CMA?

The CMA credential is a globally recognized certification that focuses on financial management and strategic decision-making. This program, offered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), is designed for accounting and finance professionals seeking expertise in financial planning, analysis, control, decision support, and professional ethics.

Structure of the CMA Program

The CMA program is designed to be concise yet comprehensive, covering key areas essential for advanced financial management roles.

  • Core Structure: The CMA program is divided into two parts:
    • Part 1 – Financial Planning, Performance, and Analytics: This part covers topics like external financial reporting decisions, planning, budgeting, and forecasting, performance management, cost management, and internal controls.
    • Part 2 – Strategic Financial Management: This focuses on areas like financial statement analysis, corporate finance, decision analysis, risk management, investment decisions, and professional ethics.
  • Examination Format: Each part of the CMA exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and two 30-minute essay questions. The exams are computer-based and administered in a secure testing environment.
  • Duration and Passing Criteria: Candidates typically complete the CMA program within 12 to 18 months. To pass, candidates must score at least 360 out of 500 on each part of the exam.

Flexibility of the CMA Program

Flexibility is a key feature of the CMA program, making it suitable for busy professionals.

  • Flexible Study Schedule: The CMA program allows candidates to study at their own pace. There are no set class times, so candidates can fit their study around their personal and professional life.
  • Exam Scheduling Flexibility: CMA exams are offered in multiple testing windows throughout the year, giving candidates the ability to choose the most convenient time to take their exams.
  • Global Accessibility: With testing centers around the world, the CMA program caters to a global audience.
  • Educational and Professional Requirements: To earn the CMA credential, candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and have two continuous years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management. This ensures that CMAs have both the academic background and practical experience.

In conclusion, the CMA credential offers a focused yet flexible path for professionals aiming to enhance their expertise in financial management and strategic decision-making. Its global recognition and practical approach to learning make it a valuable asset for career advancement in the finance sector.

Eligibility Criteria

ACCA

The ACCA qualification is open to individuals who have completed their 10+2 (Higher Secondary) from a recognized board.

Candidates must have passed in five subjects including English and Mathematics / Accounts, with 65% in at least two subjects and over 50% in the others.

CMA

Candidates need to have completed their 10+2 from a recognized board or an equivalent.

Unlike ACCA, CMA does not require specific subjects or percentages at the 10+2 level.

Requirements to Complete the Courses

ACCA

  • Examination Structure:
    • ACCA consists of 13 exams, divided into three levels: Knowledge, Skills, and Professional.
    • The Knowledge level has 3 exams, Skills level has 6, and Professional level includes 4 exams (two of which are optional).
  • Practical Experience Requirement (PER):
    • ACCA candidates must complete 36 months of relevant professional experience.
    • This experience can be gained before, during, or after completing the exams.
    • Candidates must achieve 9 performance objectives which are assessed by a practical experience supervisor.
  • Ethics and Professional Skills Module:
    • ACCA requires completion of an online Ethics and Professional Skills module.
    • This is designed to develop a range of professional skills and ethical values.
  • Time Frame:
    • Students have 10 years to complete the exams from the date of their initial registration.
    • However, the average completion time is around 3 to 4 years.

CMA

  • Examination Structure:
    • The CMA program consists of two parts, each containing a computer-based exam.
    • These exams cover various aspects of financial planning, analysis, control, and decision support.
  • Professional Experience:
    • Candidates are required to complete two continuous years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management.
    • This experience can be obtained prior to the exams or within seven years after passing them.
  • Continuing Education:
    • CMAs are required to complete 30 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) annually, including 2 hours on ethics.
    • This ensures that CMAs maintain their skills and knowledge in a rapidly evolving field.
  • Time Frame:
    • Candidates must pass both parts of the CMA exam within three years of entering the program.
    • The exams are offered in testing windows throughout the year, providing flexibility to candidates.

Difficulty Analysis

Exam Structure and Content

ACCA

  • The ACCA qualification consists of 13 exams, covering a wide range of topics in accounting, finance, and management.
  • The breadth of subjects can be challenging, as it requires a deep understanding of various accounting principles and practices.
  • The Professional level exams, which include case studies and scenario-based questions, are considered particularly challenging.

CMA

  • CMA consists of two parts, each containing a comprehensive exam.
  • The content is focused primarily on management accounting, financial management, and strategic planning.
  • The exams are known for their depth in these areas, requiring strong analytical and problem-solving skills.

Depth and Breadth

ACCA

  • ACCA covers a broader range of topics but may not delve as deeply into specific areas as the CMA.
  • The broad scope can be challenging for those who prefer specialized studies.

CMA

  • CMA, while covering fewer topics, goes into greater depth, particularly in cost management, financial analysis, and strategic planning.
  • The intensity of the subject matter can be demanding for those not as strong in analytical and quantitative skills.

Pass Rates

ACCA

  • Historically, ACCA has lower pass rates for some of its papers, especially at the Professional level.
  • The lower pass rates often reflect the comprehensive nature and the difficulty level of the exams.

CMA

  • CMA exams generally have higher pass rates than ACCA.
  • However, this does not necessarily mean the exams are easier, as it could also reflect the focused preparation and the background of the candidates.

Time Commitment and Study Duration

ACCA

  • With 13 exams, the time commitment for ACCA is significant.
  • The extensive syllabus requires long-term commitment and consistent study habits.

CMA

  • The CMA program is shorter, but the depth of study required for each exam is substantial.
  • Balancing work and study can be challenging, given the level of detail needed in each part of the exam.

Professional Experience Requirement

ACCA

  • Requires 36 months of relevant experience, which can be gained before, during, or after the exams.
  • This practical experience requirement adds an additional layer to the qualification process.

CMA

  • Requires two years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management.
  • The experience requirement can be challenging for those not already working in relevant fields.

Conclusion

In summary, the difficulty of ACCA and CMA depends on various factors including the number and nature of exams, subject matter depth, individual background, and work experience.

ACCA might be perceived as more challenging due to the number of exams and the breadth of topics covered, while CMA’s difficulty lies in the depth and analytical nature of its content.

Ultimately, the choice between ACCA and CMA should align with an individual’s career aspirations, strengths, and professional background.

To get a deeper insight into the difficulty level of ACCA, read – Is ACCA Difficult?

Career Opportunities

ACCA

  • Types of Roles and Industries:
    • Finance and Accounting: ACCA professionals often take up roles such as Financial Accountants, Management Accountants, and Financial Controllers.
    • Auditing: Many work in internal and external audit roles, owing to their comprehensive understanding of financial regulations.
    • Consultancy and Advisory: They also fit well into consultancy roles, offering expertise in financial planning and strategic advice.
    • Taxation: Specialization in tax-related roles is common due to their training in various aspects of taxation.
  • Industry Sectors:
    • ACCA professionals are found across a multitude of sectors including financial services, public practice, government, and corporate sectors.
    • Industries like banking, manufacturing, and services often have a higher demand for ACCA qualified individuals.
  • Geographic Preferences:
    • ACCA is highly recognized in the UK, Europe, and many Commonwealth countries.
    • In recent years, its recognition has expanded to the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa.

CMA

  • Types of Roles and Industries:
    • Management Accounting: CMAs are often sought for roles such as Cost Accountants, Corporate Controllers, and Chief Financial Officers (CFOs).
    • Strategic Management: They frequently take strategic roles, helping in business analysis and decision-making processes.
    • Financial Management: Roles in financial planning, analysis, and investment management are common career paths.
    • Risk Management and Compliance: Their expertise also positions them well in risk management and compliance roles.
  • Industry Sectors:
    • CMA professionals are widely recognized in manufacturing, service industries, and public and private enterprises.
    • They are also valued in sectors like technology, healthcare, education, and financial services for their strategic and management expertise.
  • Geographic Preferences:
    • CMA is highly recognized in the United States and has a strong presence in the Middle East, China, and India.
    • It’s valued by multinational corporations, especially those based in or with operations in the US.

Common Grounds and Diversifications

  • Both ACCA and CMA open avenues in finance and accounting, but ACCA is more inclined towards accounting practices, audit, and taxation, while CMA is more focused on management accounting, strategic decision making, and financial management.
  • The choice of certification can also depend on geographic career aspirations. ACCA might be more beneficial for those looking towards careers in Europe and Commonwealth nations, whereas CMA is advantageous for careers in the US and regions where US financial practices are predominant.
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Average Salaries

ACCA

  • Entry-Level (0-3 Years of Experience):
    • Fresh ACCA qualifiers or those with minimal experience typically earn between INR 4-6 lakhs per annum.
    • Entry-level roles often include junior accountants, audit associates, or financial analysts.
  • Mid-Level (3-5 Years of Experience):
    • With more experience, salaries can range from INR 6-10 lakhs per annum.
    • Roles at this level may include senior accountant, internal auditor, or financial controller positions.
  • Senior-Level (Over 5 Years of Experience):
    • Experienced ACCA professionals can earn upwards of INR 10-20+ lakhs per annum, especially in managerial or specialist roles.
    • High-level positions like finance manager, chief accountant, or finance director are common.

To know more about salaries earned by ACCA Professionals, read – ACCA Jobs, Salaries

CMA

  • Entry-Level (0-3 Years of Experience):
    • Entry-level CMA professionals in India can expect to earn around INR 5-7 lakhs per annum.
    • Positions often include cost accountant, financial analyst, or management accountant roles.
  • Mid-Level (3-5 Years of Experience):
    • At this level, salaries typically range between INR 7-12 lakhs per annum.
    • Common roles include senior financial analyst, finance manager, or budgeting manager.
  • Senior-Level (Over 5 Years of Experience):
    • Senior CMA professionals, particularly those in managerial or executive roles, can earn INR 12-25 lakhs per annum or more.
    • Positions at this level often include senior finance manager, VP of finance, or CFO.

Comparative Analysis

While ACCA and CMA certifications both lead to lucrative career paths in India, salaries can vary widely based on experience, role, and industry.

Generally, both qualifications can lead to high-paying senior roles, with CMA often having a slight edge in salaries, particularly at mid to senior levels, owing to its focus on management accounting and strategic financial management.

However, individual career progress, additional skills, and networking also play a critical role in determining salary levels.

Cost Analysis

ACCA

  • Registration Fee:
    • A one-time registration fee of approximately ₹8,400 is required to enroll in the ACCA program.
  • Annual Subscription:
    • An annual subscription fee of about ₹11,400 is charged to maintain registration and access ACCA benefits and services.
  • Exam Fees:
    • Applied Knowledge Level: Each exam costs approximately ₹9,200.
    • Applied Skills Level: Each exam at this level is about ₹13,700.
    • Strategic Professional Level: Exam fees range from approximately ₹17,400 to ₹24,200.
  • Ethics and Professional Skills Module:
    • This module is priced at approximately ₹7,600.

Total Minimum Cost:

Considering all the fees, the total minimum cost for the entire ACCA qualification is around ₹2,30,000.

CMA

  • CMA Entrance Fee:
    • For students: Approximately ₹15,000.
    • For professionals: Approximately ₹25,000.
  • IMA Membership Fee:
    • Annual fee for students: About ₹7,000.
    • Annual fee for professionals: Around ₹14,000.
  • Exam Fees:
    • For each part of the CMA exam, students pay approximately ₹35,000, while professionals pay about ₹45,000.
    • Since there are two parts, the total exam fee would be around ₹70,000 for students and ₹90,000 for professionals.

Total Minimum Cost:

For students: The combined cost of entrance fee, membership, and exam fees totals to approximately ₹92,000.

For professionals: The total comes to approximately ₹1,29,000.

Comparative Analysis

  • ACCA’s Total Minimum Cost: Approximately ₹2,30,000.
  • CMA’s Total Minimum Cost: Approximately ₹92,000 for students and ₹1,29,000 for professionals.

Future Prospects

Evolving Business Landscape and Qualifications

  • ACCA: Global Reach and Adaptability
    • Strength: ACCA’s global recognition and comprehensive curriculum prepare professionals for a variety of roles in international finance and accounting.
    • Risks: Rapid technological advancements and automation in accounting practices may require continuous updates to the curriculum to stay relevant.
  • CMA: Specialization in Management Accounting
    • Strength: CMA’s focus on management accounting and strategic financial management positions it well in a business environment that values data-driven decision-making.
    • Risks: Specialization might limit exposure to broader accounting practices, potentially narrowing job opportunities if industry preferences shift.

Impact of Technology and Regulation

  • ACCA: May benefit from a broad curriculum that can incorporate emerging technologies and global regulatory changes.
  • CMA: Needs to continuously integrate the evolving role of technology in management accounting and strategy.

Global Economic Trends and Demand

  • ACCA: As international finance becomes increasingly complex, ACCA professionals may see growing opportunities, especially in multinational corporations and global finance sectors.
  • CMA: Strong demand in the corporate sector, particularly in the U.S., but may need to adapt to global economic shifts.

To know more about the salaries and demand of ACCA Professionals globally, read – ACCA Salaries Internationally

Comparative Analysis

Both ACCA and CMA hold strong future prospects, each with its unique strengths in the dynamic business environment.

ACCA’s broad and globally recognized curriculum may offer more diverse opportunities, while CMA’s specialized focus aligns well with current trends in management and financial strategy.

However, both qualifications must evolve with technological advancements and changing industry demands to maintain their relevance and value.

Comparison Table

CriteriaACCACMA
Eligibility Criteria10+2 with English and Mathematics/Accounts; Graduates get exemptions10+2 from a recognized board; Graduation required for exam
Requirements to Complete13 exams, 36 months of experience, Ethics module2 exam parts, 2 years professional experience
DifficultyBroad range of topics; considered more challengingFocused depth in management accounting; analytical rigor
Career OpportunitiesDiverse roles in accounting, auditing, consultancyManagement accounting, strategic management, financial analysis
CostsApprox ₹2,30,000Students: Approx ₹92,000; Professionals: Approx ₹1,30,000
Time to Complete3-4 years on average, up to 10 years allowedTypically 18 months to 2 years
Average Salary in IndiaEntry-level: ₹4-6 Lakhs; Senior-level: ₹10-20+ LakhsEntry-level: ₹5-7 Lakhs; Senior-level: ₹12-25 Lakhs
Future ProspectsHigh global demand, but needs to adapt to tech advancementsStrong in data-driven decision making, risk of over-specialization

Making Your Final Choice

When deciding between ACCA and CMA, consider your career aspirations, strengths, and the specific industry or role you aim to pursue:

  • Global vs. Specialized Focus: Choose ACCA if you seek a career with global opportunities and a broad scope in accounting practices. Opt for CMA if you prefer a specialized career in management accounting and strategic financial management.
  • Time and Investment: Consider ACCA if you can commit to a longer duration of study and higher costs. Choose CMA for a shorter, more focused path with a generally lower cost.
  • Career Opportunities and Salary: Reflect on the industries and roles you are targeting. ACCA offers diverse opportunities in accounting, audit, and finance globally, while CMA is more aligned with roles in strategic planning and management accounting, particularly in the U.S. and corporate sectors.
  • Personal Interests and Strengths: Evaluate your interests in specific subjects and your academic strengths. ACCA covers a wide range of accounting and finance topics, while CMA is heavily focused on management accounting and analytics.

Ultimately, your choice should align with your professional goals, financial and time resources, and the kind of roles and industries you aspire to excel in. Both ACCA and CMA offer rewarding paths but cater to different professional trajectories.

Conclusion

In conclusion, choosing between ACCA and CMA depends on your career vision, personal strengths, and professional aspirations.

  • ACCA offers a broad, global perspective in finance and accounting, ideal for those seeking diverse international opportunities and willing to commit to a comprehensive curriculum.
  • CMA, on the other hand, is tailored for those focused on management accounting and strategic financial roles, particularly in corporate sectors and the U.S. market.

Both paths promise rewarding careers, but the key is to align your choice with your long-term goals and personal preferences. Remember, your certification is a stepping stone to a fulfilling career, so choose the one that best fits your professional narrative.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to complete ACCA and CMA?

ACCA typically takes 3-4 years, while CMA can be completed in 18 months to 2 years

Are ACCA and CMA recognized globally?

ACCA is recognized globally, especially in Commonwealth countries, while CMA is highly recognized in the USA and growing in other regions.

Can I pursue ACCA or CMA if I have a non-commerce background?

Yes, both ACCA and CMA are accessible to candidates from various academic backgrounds, though certain prerequisites apply.

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