BONUS | Celebrating 100,000 CMAs

August 30, 2021 | 19 Minutes

IMA certified CMA #100,000! Since 1972, IMA has now certified more than 100,000 management accounting professionals, helping them advance their careers and to make a difference within their organizations and communities. To celebrate this milestone, IMA has planned a month-long celebration to promote the impact the CMA has had on the accounting and finance profession. To kick-off the celebration, IMA’s Brand Content and Storytelling manager, Margaret Michaels, spoke with IMA’s Senior Vice President of Certifications, Exams, and Content Integration, Dennis Whitney, about the state of the management accounting profession and the trends impacting its future. Congratulations to all the CMAs! Congratulations to IMA! Download and listen to the milestone bonus episode now!

IMA Website:

About the CMA Certification:
For nearly 50 years, the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) certification has been the global benchmark for management accountants and financial professionals. Why? Because CMAs can explain the "why" behind numbers, not just the "what." And that can give you greater credibility, higher earning potential, and ultimately a seat at the leadership table.

Adam (00:05):
Welcome back for a special bonus episode of IMA's Count Me In podcast. As you know, this series is dedicated to bring you the latest perspectives and learnings on all things affecting the accounting and finance world, as told by the experts working in the field and thought leaders shaping the profession. Well, IMA is pleased to announce that it has continued to shape the profession through its CMA certification and has just officially certified it's 100,000th. To celebrate this milestone IMA has planned a month long celebration to promote the impact the CMA has had on the accounting and finance profession. To kick off the celebration, IMA's brand content and storytelling manager, Margaret Michaels, spoke with IMA's senior vice-president of certifications, exams, and constant integration, Dennis Whitney, about the state of management accounting profession and the trends impacting its future. Keep listening to hear this insightful and celebratory discussion about IMA's CMA program.

Margaret (01:08):
Great. Well thank you Dennis for joining the Count Me In podcast. The first question is about the certified management accountant or CMA program that was launched in 1972 by IMA. Can you tell me a little bit about what the impetus for creating a certification program like this was?

Dennis (01:30):
Yeah sure Margaret, thank you for having me today. I'm very happy to talk about the CMA program. Yeah, it's interesting, back in the 1960s, IMA started seriously thinking about a certification program. The impetus behind that was that rightly so they believe that management accounting was a distinct profession from public accounting and that the competencies needed inside organizations were different from public accounting. There was quite a bit of overlap. You know, financial accounting is necessary both for public accountants and accountants working inside the company, but there are distinct competencies, cost management, financial planning, and analysis that are very important for accountants working inside organization. So they identified that need and they started the planning process to develop the CMA program. And it took several years of planning, but they had their first Board of Regents meeting in the beginning of 1972 and rolled out the first exam in December of 1972.

Margaret (02:44):
Wow. So the CMA has a long history and how does IMA ensure that the program is relevant to the profession right now and evolves alongside it?

Dennis (02:56):
Yeah, the CMA program has evolved quite a bit over these, almost 50 years now. You know, when we first developed the CMA in 1972, there was more of a focus on cost accounting, but today the focus is more on a planning, analysis, decision support, and also technology and data analytics. So the way we keep up with the profession is, you know, we're constantly scanning the environment, reading research papers, talking to CFOs, corporate controllers. But what we also do is every six years or so, five to six, seven years, we do what's called a job analysis survey. So with that, we identify the tasks that management accountants do every day and what they need to know to do their job efficiently and effectively. And so from that research, we're able to develop the content specification outlines and the new exam and keep up to date with the profession.

Margaret (04:02):
And how does continuing education fit into the CMA program?

Dennis (04:07):
Yeah, well, you know, it's interesting that you use the word program because the CMA is a program. It's not just the exam. When you finish the exam, you're required to do 30 hours of continuing education every year, including two hours of ethics and the reason for that is management accountants need to stay on top of the latest trends in the profession. They need to develop new skills, new techniques. You know, if you got your CMA 20 years ago, you know, most of that knowledge is still relevant, but there are new skills and in order to maintain your relevance on your job and add value to your company and also help you develop your career, it's very important that you keep your skills current. So that's why we have the continuing education as part of the program.

Margaret (04:58):
That makes sense. And I'm sure that continuing education aspect appeals to a lot of professionals who are looking to stay current right now. In looking at the growth of the CMA program, it seems as if the CMA has been growing most significantly in the last five years with 50,000 CMAs added from 2016 to the present. And for perspective, it took 50 years or from 1972 to 2016 to reach the first 50,000 CMAs. So what trends do you think are contributing to the CMA's astronomical growth in the last five years?

Dennis (05:39):
Well there are a couple of factors that go into that. First of all, for most of our history, we were pretty much a US, primarily a US certification. I mean, we are still a US certification, but our candidate growth has expanded beyond the US. So about 10 years or so ago, we started seriously looking to develop markets overseas. So we've seen tremendous growth overseas. Now we're still, we're growing actually quite well in the US, but we're actually growing very, very well overseas, especially China. We've seen tremendous growth in China. But we've also seen growth in Europe, middle east, very strong growth in the middle east over last 10 years. And India, India is a market now that's really growing quite a bit. And also Southeast Asia, for example, in the Philippines and Vietnam. So it's a global growth and that's attributed, contributed a lot to the growth of the program. The other thing is that we've, we really work hard to communicate the value of the CMA. And for example, we have every year now for the last, I'm not exactly sure how many years, five years or so, we've been doing a commercial and an ad campaign where we make sure that we tell the public, not just our CMA's and our candidates, but tell corporations through business development and tell the public through marketing, how relevant the CMA is. So that increasing exposure has more people who know about the CMA and more people who realize the importance of the CMA, particularly hiring managers. So we're seeing, for example, more ads saying CMA preferred and I think those are the reasons primarily for the growth. Well, one other thing actually is a bigger exposure on the university campuses. So more students are interested in the program as well.

Margaret (07:54):
That makes a lot of sense and clearly now more than ever, hiring managers and organizations are faced with challenges revolving around rebuilding post COVID and the talent war that we hear about where there's fierce competition for CMAs in particular. So as organizations look to build a more enhanced digital capabilities and transform their finance and accounting departments, how does the CMA specifically prepare them for those types of challenges?

Dennis (08:35):
Well the CMA has a very unique set of skills. So, you know, for example, over the last year we all had the terrible challenge of the pandemic. A lot of companies struggled, but it really was the accountants working inside organizations, many of them CMAs, who were able to help companies manage cash better, to implement strong internal controls, to identify risks. And those risks also extend to information technology risks like cybercrime, cybersecurity is a big risk these days and management accountants, CMAs, can help in identifying those risks and identifying ways to mitigate those risks. So that's on the one hand in maintaining a company, as stewards, good stewards of the company, financial stewards, but also as we move out of the pandemic into a new world where technology as you say, will be more and more part of our lives, particularly artificial intelligence. Management accountants, CMAs in particular, have the ability to work as strategic business advisors to senior management. So they can sit at the table, help them to identify new opportunities for growth, ways of adding value to the company, because they have the critical thinking skills, the strategic insight skills, and these strong financial analysis skills to help companies create competitive advantage and become successful for the long-term sustained success for the long-term.

Margaret (10:22):
And sustain success for the long-term definitely involves strong competency in technology, data analytics, and other emerging areas. And so the CMA exam has to reflect those competencies and has to make sure that people that earn the CMA are entering the workforce ready and able to handle those types of challenges. And in 2020, ICMA introduced a revised CMA content specification outline to include new competencies in technology, data analytics, and other emerging areas necessary for management accountants to do their job. So what was involved in updating the CMA exam?

Dennis (11:08):
Yep. Well that's, you know, that's a big job and it's, you know, it goes back to what I said a little earlier about doing a job analysis survey. So, you know, we want to make sure that our exam stays relevant and as you say, you know, technology is impacting all professions and it's having a big impact on the accounting profession. So technologies like RPA, blockchain, artificial intelligence, they are currently impacting the jobs and will do so even more in the future. So, you know, we want it to reflect that in the exam to make sure that our management accountants or our CMAs have the skills that are needed now and in the future. So what we did is we surveyed all of our members around the world, plus other management accountants around the world too, you know, we had a very long survey. It's almost, it takes about 45 minutes to complete. So it's a big commitment of time on the people who participate, which is a great benefit to us, but we asked them what they do on the job basically. And when we did that, we saw that technology and data analytics is becoming more and more and more important in their everyday work. So that's why, what we did is we took those results and work with the Board of Regents who did say, a committee of CMAs who helped govern the CMA exam. We work with them to identify the actual skills and the learning outcome statements that they need to be up to date with those technology and analytical skills. So we created the new content specification outline along with the learning outcome statements, which go into a lot more depth. And then, you know, from that there's a lot more work too, because then we have to develop new questions, which is a long process. We have to make sure that we communicate the changes to our stakeholders, including our candidates of course, and our CMAs, but also our review course providers. They need to know what's going to be on the exam. So it was a big process. It really takes about, you know, from the beginning of starting the job analysis survey to actually coming out with the new exam is probably close to a two year process.

Margaret (13:40):
That's a really long timeframe and it certainly makes sense that you have to take into account all of those various stakeholders that you mentioned. Earlier you talked about students and how they oftentimes just learn about management accounting in either entry-level jobs, or maybe if they're lucky a professor mentions it. And they then enroll in the CMA program and take the test and study for it while they're in school. What is IMA doing specifically to help students and make them workforce ready, able to succeed in an environment where technology skills are as important and as foundational as finance and accounting ones.

Dennis (14:32):
Yeah, we're actually doing quite a bit. We have, for example, we have the campus influencer program, and this is a program it's managed by staff, but basically volunteers go out and they talk to students. They give presentations to students about a rewarding career in management accounting and also about the CMA exam. We have a, every year we have what we call the Student Leadership Conference, where students, really from all over the world, come to learn about the profession and in particular, they can go to sessions, for example, on data governance, which is actually a section on the CMA exam and they can learn about those skills and then apply them when they go back to school in their classes. We also have, we just started what we're calling a student series of bi-annual panel, where we invite professionals, successful management accountants, mostly CMAs, or CFOs, or corporate controllers and they talk about their career, their job and explain how interesting a career it is and what skills they need to do their job. And I mean, in terms of resources, it's a long list of resources to talk about one, is the CMA. So we actually give scholarships to students to take the exam for free. So each college and university can give up to 10 scholarships to their top students and they can take the entire exam at no cost. And that's been very successful. In fact, I think there's been close to 16,000 scholarships granted, and these are granted throughout the entire world. So it's been a very successful program. The thing about the CMA is you can take the exam while you are in college, you know, generally should be junior or senior to make sure you have the coursework and then you have seven years to get the experience to earn the CMA. So it's a great way to show that you have mastered these skills when you're looking for new jobs and including those technology skills, which you mentioned, you know, and then also just with the student memberships that we have, it's a very nominal fee and you have access to our strategic finance magazine, which has articles on technology every month. We have our research reports, you know, we did a recent report on RPA. So I think, you know, we do quite a bit for students and the future, I think, is going to be bright for the CMA program because there's a lot of young people interested in it and they're getting the skills they need to have successful careers.

Margaret (17:34):
It sounds like IMA puts a lot of weight on making sure that there is a pipeline of talent and grooming future leaders through all of these kinds of student initiatives. So it makes perfect sense also when we're celebrating the 100,000 CMA to talk about the future as lying with undergraduate students and making sure that we're preparing them to be workforce ready and able to handle the challenges that will come with the future.

Dennis (18:09):
Yep, absolutely. We look forward to the next 50 years. I certainly won't be around for that, but I look forward to seeing much success for the CMA program in the future and another 100,000 CMAs.

Closing (18:28):
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 like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at