difference between cpa and cma

CPAS and CMAs: Understanding the Difference

CPAs and CMAs: Understanding the Difference
by Mike Rotondo, MBA, Curriculum Coordinator, Goodwin University Accounting Program

While almost everyone has heard of certified public accountants (CPAs), not everyone understands what they do. Not many people have heard of certified management accountants (CMAs) and may ask, “Aren’t all accountants CPAs? Isn’t it better to be a CPA?” These questions can be answered if we examine the difference between a CPA and a CMA.

CPAs are better known, since one of their primary responsibilities is the preparation of tax returns and forms. They represent clients to the IRS and advise them on taxes and the tax implications of financial decisions. CPAs can also provide financial consulting and auditing services. When people hear “audit,” they often think of the IRS. CPAs and CPA firms provide independent auditing services to many companies, verifying that a company’s financial statements are accurate and good for economic decision making.

CMAs do many of the same things as CPAs, but their primary focus is within the firm. While not all management accountants are certified, most work in businesses. Working with a CMA gives you an advantage over your peers as it proves you have a wide breadth of knowledge in the internal operations of companies. CMAs’ primary responsibilities include budgeting, planning, financial and cash flow management, and making financial and economic recommendations to the firm’s management.

While Goodwin University’s minor in Management Accounting under the bachelor’s program in Business Administration provides sufficient undergraduate credits to sit for CPA exam in Connecticut1, its primary focus is the CMA exam, sponsored by the Institute of Management Accountants (imanet.org)2. While the CPA is a license granted by each state, the CMA is an international exam, recognized throughout the world.

Businesses, non-profits, and governments depend on management accountants for the financial information they need to make sound decisions. Management accountants must have a strong sense of ethics and take both qualitative and quantitative concerns into consideration when making recommendations to management.

Goodwin University’s 18-credit minor in Management Accounting will give you the skills you need to advance your career and also help organizations and their stakeholders make sound financial decisions.

Learn more about the Accounting program at Goodwin University.


1 See https://portal.ct.gov/DCP/License-Services-Division/License-Division/CPA-Educational-Requirements for CPA requirements in Connecticut. If you reside outside of Connecticut, please be sure to check your state’s CPA requirements.

2 Check imanet.org for CMA requirements