BONUS | Dennis Whitney - CMA Exam and Certification

December 27, 2019 | 15 Minutes

Dennis Whitney, CMA, CAE, CFM, Senior VP of Certifications at IMA, joined Count Me In to talk about the CMA certification, the CMA exam, and its upcoming changes. ICMA® (Institute of Certified Management Accountants) recently undertook a comprehensive job analysis to ensure that topics on the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam continue to be current, relevant and valid. Dennis shares what is assessed in the exam and how the competencies are relevant to the management accountant role. This bonus episode is particularly relevant to those who are interested in learning more about the benefits of certification, what to expect when preparing for the CMA exam, and how the exam and certification translates to on the job application. Download, listen, rate, and review!

Welcome back for another bonus episode here on Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. A major consideration for accounting and finance professionals today is certification and continuing education related to their jobs and responsibilities. And this installment of our IMA focused mini-series within Count Me In, we are going to hear Adam speak with Dennis Whitney. I am a senior vice president of certifications about the CMA, the exam, it's upcoming changes in 2020 and how the certification compliments different job roles. Let's listen now and hear how Dennis and the CMA are preparing our accountants for the future of the profession. 
Adam: (00:43)
Well to start off, can you please explain your role here at IMA? 
Dennis: (00:51)
Yeah, sure. Well I've been here now for 25 years. I love IMA. And my role as a senior vice president of certifications is the manage the CMA program and the CSCA program, both the development of the program, the administration of the program, and also the business development, the growth of the program, strategic planning, and related subjects. So a lot of, there's a lot of talk in the industry about certifications. And the first question that probably comes to people's mind is what's the difference between a CMA and a CPA? That's a great question and I get it all the time. And both the CMA and the CPA of course are great certifications and they have a very specific purpose. In my mind, the CPA is geared towards orders and tax specialists. So if you want to go into public accounting, by all means I recommend that you get a CPA. But if you want to work inside an organization, for example, as a CFO, as a controller, as a senior financial accountant or senior management accountant, then by all means I recommend the CMA. And in fact, what a lot of people do is they have dual certification. So they get a certified in both the CPA and the CMA. But again, the CPA is geared toward the auditor's, the professional accountants who are looking, there are outside the organization and they're attesting to the accuracy of the financial statements and also those who are tax specialists doing tax returns. Whereas the CMA's work inside the organizations creating value for the organization through planning, budgeting, preparing the financial statements, decision analysis and related. 
Adam: (02:37)
So you've covered a bit, you know, about what type of roles are the type of people and the jobs that people cover who are get CMAs, but what's included in the CMA exam? 
Dennis: (02:48)
Well, the CMA exam is a two part exam. Each part is four hours long with a hundred multiple choice questions and two essays. The content, for part one is a external financial reporting, planning, budgeting and forecasting is the second domain, cost management, performance management and internal controls. And then beginning in 2020, we're going to have a new section, a new content domain called technology and analytics. So that's part one. And part two we cover more of the financial management. So we have financial statement analysis, corporate financial management, decision analysis, risk management, investment decisions, and professional ethics. 
Adam: (03:39)
So, you know, those are great topics that are valuable to any accountant, you know, who's in the industry. But what's the overall value that the CMA credential brings to an individual? 
Dennis: (03:49)
Well, it's interesting that when I talk to people about, accounting, careers in general and certifications and degrees from those who have a CMA, I always hear very interesting comment. They say, you know, my degree was great, my CPA was great, but what I use every day on the job is what I learned on the CMA exam, studying for the CMA exam, planning, analysis, decision support, risk management. Those are the things that accountants do every day when you work inside an organization. So, the focus is again, having that critical thinking, analytical mindset. And as I said, with the new exam, we're going to get into data analytics more in technology. So, the focus on the CMA exam is exactly what accountants and finance teams need to do in order to help their companies grow. 
Adam: (04:48)
So you've mentioned this 2020 exam. How are you adapting to the changing role of the management accountant? 
Dennis: (04:54)
Yeah, so what we do is every four to six years, we do a job analysis study. So we survey all the management accountants, well as many as we can anyway in the world. And we asked them what do they do on the job, what are their tasks? And then we say, what do you need to know in order to do your job efficiently and effectively? So this is a pretty long survey. It's almost takes an hour, almost an hour to complete. So, we really appreciate everyone who completes these surveys. It's really showing a commitment to the profession. So based on that survey, we look at the content of our exam and we say, what are we testing now that really we should not emphasize as much or what are some, what's some new material that we should be emphasizing more? So, in the recent survey, the two subjects that came up is needing more of a focus on the CMA exam is technology and data analytics. Now we do test stat analytics to a certain extent on the exam now, but with the new change, we're going to have a much bigger focus on data analytics. The other change, which is interesting is we're going to be testing ethics more than we're testing now. We do test that takes quite a bit now, but we figured, based on the feedback that we got that we really should be even more general in how we test business ethics. So instead of just focusing on IMA statement of ethical professional practice, we're going to be testing on business ethics in general, including moral philosophies and the fraud triangle and other subject items like that.
Adam: (06:40)
So are there any common misconceptions that you hear about the CMA exam? 
Dennis: (06:45)
Yeah, I think the most frequent one I hear is that the CMA is all about cost accounting and that definitely is a misconception. Now we do, we did have our Genesis in the cost accounting profession back in 1919 when they met up in Buffalo and created what's the IMA now it was really about cost accounting and cost management, but the profession has changed so much and it's broadened. Management accountant has broadened, broadened so much that really the focus now is on cost accounting. Yes, that's, but that's a small part of the exam. It's really about planning. Risk management analysis analysis I think is probably the biggest key. And having that analytical mind is something that CFOs want to have. They want to have people like that on their team. So it's not just, you know, counting the numbers, doing the bookkeeping, so to speak. But it's helping companies identify what's their competitive advantage, what drives value. So to help the decision makers make the decisions that can help the company, create value and be successful in the long-term. 
Adam: (08:06)
That's great. So we've talked about common misconceptions. Are there any other frequently asked questions that people often ask about the exam or the credential? 
Dennis: (08:16)
Well, there's a number of them. It depends. Some of them are geared specifically to the exam and others to the profession or the program itself. So someone might say, well, I have an MBA in finances and that good enough, the MBA and finances is terrific and complementing an MBA in finance with the CMA is really a powerful resume booster. The MBA in finance, there's probably two types of MBAs and finance. One, it's a very broad degree. So you're going to get a little, uh, accounting, little management, accounting and financial accounting, little more finance, corporate finance, some it and marketing, good foundation. But when you get on the job, you're going to realize that you need to go into a lot more depth. All right? And the CMA is where you have a laser focus on management, accounting and corporate finance and what you need on the job, not the broad education, which could be a very good education but, but you really want to go into more depth. And that's what, that's the difference with the CMA. And then for the exam itself candidates often asks, well, how long do I have to take it to pass the two parts in the answer there is three years, which for most people is more than enough because in fact the average time it takes for people to complete those two parts is a year and a half. So that's really not it's not too long, you know. And then other questions are, well, how much time do I have to study? You know, we recommend around 300 hours of study time and each person is different depending on their background. But you have to create a plan, a schedule, and make a commitment. Make a time commitment that you with with yourself and with your family and your employer that you know what, I'm going to spend the next six months studying for this. I'm making an investment in my career. I'm going to be helping the company and developing new skills that I'll be able to use the rest of my life. So it's a short term investment for a long-term gain. 
Adam: (10:28)
I want to remind all of our listeners to check the show notes for links to the CMA exam and more information about it. So as we kind of, you know, end this conversation, it's been great chatting with you. You know, what are some suggestions or recommendations do you have for people who are preparing for the CMA? 
Dennis: (10:44)
Well, as I said before, I think the biggest one is to make the commitment and realize that you're are going to have to make some sacrifices, but it's only for the short term. You do have to work hard, you have to study, but you have to think about the goal and where it's going to take you in your career because it really will make a big difference in the long-term in your career. It'll give you more confidence. It'll give you global portability in terms, it's like a global passport because the CMA is a global certification. It'll give you more credibility and it will also, most importantly, give you the skills that you need on the job. And I also recommend for those who've completed their CMA and all finance and accounting professionals in general, excuse me, is to make a commitment to continuous education. Okay. Because it doesn't end after you get your CMA, you have to continue to continuously learn in this profession because the profession is changing at a very high rate. So make a commitment to continuous learning. Get your CMA, get another certification. We have a CSCA, in addition, we have great continuing education courses, get a certificate online, but make that commitment to continuous education throughout your career. So just one last question. How do you think the profession is changing and why? Where do you see it going? Well, the profession is changing at an unbelievable rate right now. I mean, you know, I've been involved in the profession for quite some time and there's always change and, but it's the rate of change now and in the significantly significant aspects of the profession that are changing. So with artificial intelligence and robotic process automation, some of those routine jobs are going to go away. But the way I look at it is artificial intelligence is really augmented intelligence. It's another tool that we have to use as we help our companies grow, identify the value drivers. So I think, um, AI and RPA, blockchain, those new technologies are really going to impact the profession. And, but I think it's a good thing because I think our, our professional will become even more interesting, more analytical and less routine. So I encourage everybody to embrace the change, but make sure you develop the skills that you're going to need to take advantage of that technology. Okay? You don't want to be outplaced from your job because of technology. You want to be able to take advantage of that technology and grow into a more interesting job. So continue to learn. Get certified. And if you're already certified, develop new skills to make sure that you're relevant and, have a long and fulfilling career in management accounting. 
Announcer: (13:55)
This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you liked what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at