CPA vs. CFA vs. CMA: Which One Fits Your Goals?

Posted Date: 18 Sep 2023
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Choosing between three of the most widely recognized professional certifications can be a challenging decision for many individuals. The Certified Public Accountant (CPA), US Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) are among the top professional designations available to those looking to advance their careers in accounting and finance.

These certifications each have their own unique areas of expertise. CPA candidates focus on finance and general accounting, while those pursuing the CMA USA designation specialize in financial management and business accounting. On the other hand, individuals opting for the CFA credential specialize in the investment sector and financial services.

This article aims to provide insight into the distinctions between CPA, CMA, and CFA certifications, assisting you in making an informed decision regarding the one that aligns best with your career goals.

Before exploring the CPA vs. CMA vs. CFA comparison, let's explore the specifics of each professional certification, including their definitions, the processes for obtaining them, and the eligibility criteria for each.

What is US CPA?

The US CPA designation is a licensed certification in the field of accounting, awarded to professionals who successfully pass the Uniform CPA exam administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and meet the education and work experience prerequisites stipulated by individual state boards. The issuance of the CPA license is a collaborative effort between the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and the AICPA.

Possessing a US CPA License signifies an individual's competence and credibility in the realm of accounting. Achieving this certification opens up numerous career prospects and serves as a pathway to a fulfilling career in Accounting and Finance.

The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential provides access to a wide range of services beyond financial consulting, encompassing activities such as auditing, accounting, tax preparation, and tax filing, among others. Those holding a US CPA certification are qualified for roles including auditors, accountants, forensic accountants, tax professionals, and even Chief Financial Officers (CFOs).

To attain the US CPA license, candidates must adhere to the following requirements:

1. Successfully pass the Uniform CPA exam, which is administered by the AICPA.

2. Fulfill the professional work experience criteria outlined by the AICPA.

3. Satisfy the educational standards mandated by the respective state accountancy boards.

4. Pass an ethics exam in addition to the Uniform CPA exam.

The Uniform CPA exam comprises four sections, commonly referred to as the Uniform CPA exam. It encompasses multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, and assessments of written communication skills. Candidates are required to pass all four sections within 18 months of their initial registration for the US CPA exam. The exam can be taken at any time throughout the year, thanks to the continuous testing model.

What is CMA USA?

The US Certified Management Accountant (CMA) is a globally recognized professional accreditation designed for finance and accounting experts with a specialization in financial management and business accounting. The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) is the authority responsible for granting the CMA USA certification to individuals who successfully pass the CMA USA certification examination.

Individuals holding the US CMA designation play a crucial role in organizations by aiding in managerial decision-making processes. Certified CMA professionals excel in areas such as budgeting, financial planning, cost control, business analysis, and strategic decision-making within their respective organizations.

US CMAs are actively engaged in the process of shaping business decisions within organizations, and their proficiency in strategic decision-making positions them to seamlessly assume leadership roles.

To attain the CMA USA certification, candidates must adhere to the following steps:

1. Candidates must become members of the IMA.

2. Candidates are required to pay the entrance fees for the US CMA exam.

3. Candidates must satisfy educational qualifications and meet the eligibility requirements related to work experience.

4. Subsequently, candidates must successfully pass the CMA USA certification exam.

5. Candidates are also expected to adhere to the ethical and professional practices outlined by the IMA.

The US CMA exam comprises only two parts, and candidates can complete both within a span of less than 12 months. Multiple exam windows are available throughout the year for taking the USA CMA exam, and candidates have the flexibility to choose the order in which they take the exam parts. A minimum score of 70% is required to pass the USA CMA exam.


The CFA, or Chartered Financial Analyst, is a professional certification tailored for individuals specializing in investment and related financial management services. Upon successful completion of the CFA program, the CFA Institute awards this prestigious certification.

Certified CFAs are qualified to pursue careers in financial management, investment, portfolio management, asset management, risk management, research analysis, and hedge funds.

To attain the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, candidates must follow these steps:

1. Enroll in the CFA program and successfully complete it.

2. Fulfill the requisite work experience criteria.

3. Have your application for CFA certification accepted.

The CFA Program comprises three levels, with candidates having the opportunity to attempt each level twice a year. However, there are a total of six attempts allowed for each level. It typically takes approximately 2.5 years to complete the CFA Program and earn the certified CFA professional designation.


In the following table comparing CPA, CMA, and CFA certifications, we've outlined the main distinctions between these three professional designations. This allows you to conveniently review and evaluate each aspect to make an informed decision about your career path.





Area of Focus

Accounting and Finance

Financial Management and Business Accounting

Financial Analysis

Official Accounting Body



CFA Institute

Exam Fees




Exam Levels


Two Exam PartsFinancial Planning, Performance, and AnalyticsStrategic Financial Management

Level 1Level 2Level 3

Work Experience Requirements

1-2 years of relevant work experience

Two years of full-time work experience or seven years of part-time work experience

4,000 hours of relevant work experience

Educational Qualification Requirements

Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree of 150 credits

Bachelor’s degree in any Discipline from a recognized University or institution

Bachelor’s degree

Passing Percentage

50% Aggregate

72% in each part


Course Duration

18-24 Months

6-9 months

At least 2 years

Job Roles Offered

Senior Financial Analyst, Public Accountants, Staff Accountants, Personal Financial Advisor, Finance Director, Corporate Controller, etc.

Relationship Manager, Senior Accountant, Cost Accountant, Finance Manager, Business Analyst, CFO, etc.

Portfolio Manager, Consultant Research Analyst, Investment Analyst Strategist, Wealth Manager, Chief Investment Officer, etc.

Average Salary Offered




When selecting a professional certification among CPA, CMA, and CFA, it's advisable to choose the one that aligns best with your interests and preferences, as this will likely yield the most significant benefits for your career. If your goal is to establish a career in Management Accounting and Finance, opting for the CMA USA certification is a wise choice. If you have a keen interest in Accountancy, both CMA USA and CPA are excellent options. However, if your passion lies in Financial Analysis and you aspire to build a career in this field, the CFA certification is the most suitable fit.



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