In January 2022, IMA marks a milestone unlike any other, the 50th anniversary of its prestigious Certified Management Accounting (CMA®) program. Management accounting has evolved considerably since 1972 as the world has gone digital. This has been a significant shift and it is nothing short of amazing that the CMA program has been able to adapt to the profound changes a digital world brings. 

Before there was Twitter, Uber, Apple, or AirBnb, there were companies like Gimbels, Pan Am, Oldsmobile, Woolworths, and others too numerous to name. These companies depended on land, buildings, machines, warehouses, and physical infrastructure to produce goods that were tangible. In December 1972 when the first CMA exam was administered (with paper and pencil), its exam takers would have been familiar with these industrial powerhouses.

But if you had a time machine and traveled back to meet these early exam takers, I bet you would have a hard time explaining Uber’s business model or Google’s assets. These early exam takers might have thought you were insane. In 1972 there was no Iphone, no Internet, and no willingness on the part of travelers to get into a stranger’s car for their transportation needs. 

Those early CMA exam takers could not have imagined the pace of change we are living through or the ground-breaking technologies that make it possible to deliver goods and services to global markets. I think of how they would marvel at cloud technology which makes it possible for financial reporting  to occur in real-time. I also believe they would be astounded by the data capabilities of today’s organizations and would be envious of the insights management accountants can extract from data with current analytic techniques.

But the first CMA exam takers would be impressed by how well the CMA has kept pace with these changes. Early in the days of the computing revolution, the CMA exam became computerized (1997), and as management accounting competencies evolved to include new areas, the exam itself changed. In 2003 the exam became structured into a four-part exam with an essay (versus the five-part exam originally introduced in 1972). In 2008 the exam changed again, into two multiple choice sections (worth 75%) and one essay (worth 25%). 

More recently, the CMA exam was updated to include sections on Technology and Analytics, a development that the management accounting community welcomed. IMA has championed upskilling in technology as a way for management accountants to stay relevant. In a job market where data analysis is now part of the finance and accounting function, no CMA can be without a foundational understanding of how data can be used to support decision-making and strategic planning. 

In another sign of the CMA exam’s evolution, beginning January 18, 2022, CMA candidates can register to take their exam either in-person at a Prometric Test Center or remotely using Prometric’s ProProctor™ service. The exam fee is the same for both in-person and remote testing.

Way back in 1972, when Jim Bulloch, a professor of accounting at the Graduate School of Business at the University of Michigan, was selected to become the first staff Managing Director for the CMA program, he knew the CMA certification had to be built to last. He created the CMA exam with specific learning objectives in mind, that are still applicable today. Bulloch did not have a crystal ball into the future, but he did know that CMAs had to be well-rounded and adaptive enough to weather changes in finance and accounting, as well as the business world at large. Bulloch knew that as long as high standards for CMAs were sustained, there was no body of knowledge they could not absorb. 

Looking back today on Bulloch’s vision for the CMA, I have to agree it is a certification built to last. 

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