CIMA: The best accounting qualification? A Guide for 2021
CIMA (The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) is one of the largest professional bodies for management accountants in the world.
Acceptance into a professional body such as CIMA allows you to improve your job prospects and promotion possibilities. Many organisations in accountancy and business expect their employees to be members of a professional qualification board or working towards one.
The CIMA Professional Qualification is recognised worldwide as one of the most relevant global finance qualifications for businesses. It is the qualification required to achieve CGMA (Chartered Global Management Accountant) designation.
Why Should I Consider a CIMA Qualification?
Completing your CIMA qualification alongside your undergraduate degree will give you a head start in the job market. Impress potential employers by including ‘CIMA student’ or ‘Working towards a CIMA qualification’ on your CV.
In business, especially accountancy and finance, the standards and methods used to advise clients and resolve financial issues should be consistent. Acceptance to a professional body signals to your client that you will perform the expected tasks and manage their finances in a manner that represents the professional body.
Additionally, a CIMA qualification and membership gives you the designation of the globally recognised Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA). Those with a CGMA designation are paid more, as their standard of work is internationally certified.
CIMA qualifications have a stronger focus on management accounting. It is a preferred option for someone keen to work in the finance or management areas of larger organisations.
Entry Requirements and Options
There are multiple entry points for starting your CIMA Professional Qualification based on your previous education.
The course is structured in three levels:
- Operational Level
- Management Level
- Strategic Level
Generally, you are expected to complete all three levels to progress to CGMA designation. However, you might be able to enter the course at various different levels based on your previous education or experience.
Generally speaking, to begin the course at Operational Level, the only entry requirement is that you are competent in English and maths.
You can start working towards your CIMA qualification straight from school.
First, you will need to take the entry-level qualification, the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting. This will give you a foundation-level knowledge in business and finance.
Once you have completed the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting, you can move to the CIMA Professional Qualification.
Undergraduates and Graduates
You can work towards your CIMA qualification while completing your undergraduate training.
Your degree discipline can be anything – it doesn’t have to be business or finance for entry to the CIMA qualification. However, if you have an unrelated degree, you will need to begin by completing the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting.
If you have completed a relevant degree, you might be eligible for course credits and exemptions from some CIMA exams.
Some universities in the UK are actively engaged with CIMA and offer student registrations or affiliated degree programs.
MBA or Master’s in Accounting
These qualifications will accelerate your entry to the CIMA Professional Qualification.
First, you will need to sit the CIMA Gateway Exam, a case study exam that is three hours long. It is offered four times a year and will assess the knowledge and competencies covered in the Management Level of the qualification.
Successful completion of the exam would fast-track you to the Strategic Level.
Members or Students of Other Professional Bodies
CIMA recognises many other professional bodies. If you are a member of a different professional body, it is a good idea to check if you have eligibility to fast-track your qualification.
IFAC members and passed finalists may be eligible for the professional gateway route into the qualification and, if they pass the exam, will be able to start at Strategic Level.
Members and passed finalists of Institute of Cost and Works Accountants (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) may be able to access the qualification via the management accountant gateway route.
AAT members and students can start the CIMA qualification at any point. They may be exempt from certain CIMA exams, depending on how far along in their ATT studies they are.
CIMA also has a reciprocal arrangement with the Associated of Corporate Treasurers (ACT), which allows members on either professional board to gain fast-tracked membership with the other.
How to Apply
CIMA has made its application process quite simple:
Register as a student and provide all your contact details, employment and education details, and payment information.
Once completed, you will receive a Contact ID that allows you to log in to your MY CIMA account.
To get into the CIMA Professional Qualification program, you need to have completed the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting. Or you must hold a relevant undergraduate degree in accounting, business, economics, finance or management to apply for exemptions.
If you need to apply for exemptions (many students do) check the CIMA database to see if your qualification is listed. If it isn’t, and you have qualifications in a related subject, you may still receive an exemption.
Send copies of original transcripts/marks along with your graduation documents or a recent letter confirming completion. All documents need to be in English or professional certified translations. Documents need to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
CIMA has strict exemption guidelines that are awarded at their discretion. All exemptions have a cost attached.
You will receive a document confirmation within 72 business hours and a decision on your exemption within 20 days.
When you receive your exemption, accept and pay the exemption fee within eight weeks. You can also decline it and sit the relevant exam.
After you successfully pass the CIMA Cert BA or receive your exemptions, you can start the CIMA professional qualification exams.
The Course Framework
CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting Syllabus
This certificate is a qualification on its own and is the entry point to the CIMA Professional Qualification for those without exemptions.
It is for someone wanting to go straight into the CIMA qualification from school, change careers, or wanting to further their career without a background in business, finance or accounting.
The CIMA Certificate BA has four different components:
- BA1 Fundamentals of Business Economics
- BA2 Fundamentals of Management Accounting
- BA3 Fundamentals of Financial Accounting
- BA4 Fundamentals of Ethics, Corporate Governance and Business Law
These four components can be studied in any order. The recommended completion time is 12 months; however other commitments such as work or additional education might impact this.
The program offers flexible study options, so you can learn at your convenience.
Each module will have a 120-minute exam, which you can take at a Pearson VUE assessment centre.
BA1, BA2 and BA3 each have 60 test questions, while BA4 has 85 test questions.
The exams are computer marked, so you will receive a provisional result of ‘Pass’ or ‘Fail’ immediately. A final result comes within 48 hours on your MY CIMA portal.
CIMA Professional Qualification Syllabus
The Professional Qualification improves your employability and demonstrates to any future employer that you have the knowledge, skills and competencies of a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA).
The CIMA course has nine subjects, which are organised into pillars and levels to represent the different areas of knowledge you need as a CGMA.
The Three Learning Pillars Are:
Formulation of strategy and its effective implementation
How change management, project management, relationship management and organisational structure can help in the implementation of strategy
The tools and techniques of risk management and management accounting
How realistic strategy gets implemented
Construct budgets, manage costs and performance, make decisions on prices and capital expenditure
Identify, evaluate, classify and manage risk
Learn about the financial accounting and reporting obligations of the organisation
Develop knowledge of regulatory frameworks and reporting requirements, internal and external
Construct and evaluate financial statements to indicate the performance and financial position of the organisation
Learn about business tax and how it informs business decisions
Formulate organisational and financial strategy
Each learning pillar has three sequential levels of achievement. Students can progress from one level to the next.
The three levels of achievement are:
Operational – Focuses on the short-term plans of the organisation and covers the implementation and reporting of strategy.
Management – Has a medium-term focus. You will learn how strategy is decided at higher levels in the organisation and communicated throughout the organisation. It teaches how to take corrective action when required.
Strategic – Takes a long-term focus on how strategic decisions are made and provides context and suggestions on how those decisions get implemented.
For more information on the structure of the CIMA Professional Qualification, take a look at the CIMA syllabus.
Studying for CIMA Professional Qualification and Awards
When you are studying for your CIMA qualification, you will complete a level at a time. First, you complete all three pillar areas from Operational Level, complete the assessments and then move on to Management Level and, finally, Strategic Level.
At the successful completion of the Operational and Management Level, you will receive intermediate awards.
In the Operational Level, your courses are:
- Organisation Management (enterprise pillar)
- Management Accounting (performance pillar)
- Financial Reporting and Taxation (financial pillar)
On successful completion, you will receive a Diploma in Management Accounting (CIMA Dip MA).
In the Management Level your courses are:
- Project and Relationship Management (enterprise pillar)
- Advanced Management Accounting (performance pillar)
- Advanced Financial Reporting (financial pillar)
On successful completion, you will receive an Advanced Diploma in Management Accounting (CIMA Adv Dip MA).
In the Strategic Level your courses are:
- Strategic Management (enterprise pillar)
- Risk Management (performance pillar)
- Financial Strategy (financial pillar)
How You Will Be Assessed
For the CIMA qualification, you will be expected to take nine objective tests relating to the nine pillar subjects, and three case study tests relating to each level and testing knowledge across each pillar.
Some candidates may not need to take all these exams, depending on the exemption they have been awarded.
Each of the syllabus modules is assessed by a 90-minute computer-based Objective Test taken at a Pearson Vue Assessment centre.
The objective test will cover all the learning objectives for each level of the qualification. This includes knowledge learned and how to apply it, plus analytical skills.
CIMA exams are computer marked. You will receive a provisional result of ‘Pass’ or ‘Fail’ immediately and a final result within 48 hours on your MY CIMA portal.
If you do not pass the tests, feedback will be provided and you will be able to re-sit the test.
You can take the tests in any order, but the candidate must pass three objective tests at each level before taking the case study exam.
The Case Study Assessment
After you complete all the exams in a level, you will sit a computer-based Case Study Exam.
The exam is three hours long and there are four exam times each year (Feb, May, Aug, Nov).
The case study will be based on both pre-seen material released before the exam window and unseen material. It provides a real business scenario that assesses a range of skills.
The exam results and feedback are received about five weeks after completion.
What Happens Next?
Career Profile and Membership Application
Once you pass all 12 exams of the CIMA Professional Qualification, you need to complete your career profile and membership application.
To do this, you need a minimum of three years of verified Practical Experience Requirements (PER).
Your PER is a vital part of the membership qualification that complements the assessments and shows your ability to apply the knowledge and skills in a professional setting.
It will count towards your Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation as well.
Your application is emailed, posted or taken in for a face-to-face membership assessment session.
This is seen as the easiest route to membership, as there aren't as many checks in place and it is based upon the Existing Practical Experience Requirements.
Your application needs the following and CIMA have provided a few templates:
- An employment summary
- An assessment of practical experience and your membership form
- A record of your experience
- A record of your skill development
This route involves a thorough screening process and is based on the Updated Practical Experience Requirements.
You need a minimum of 36 months of experience, with at least four competencies between technical and business skills.
You will use the online Membership Application Tool (MAT) to record and submit your experiences.
The MAT will guide the process:
Record your competencies as you progress through your CIMA qualification.
PER time should be counted towards the Technical and Business skills areas. Your experience in leadership and your people skills are recorded, but no time should be allocated.
PER is verified by at least two people who know your work. Suggested verifiers might be your supervisor or manager.
Upload a Career Progression Summary that shows your experience and competencies, including details of employers, dates employed and positions held.
Use the ‘Is my experience ready?’ button on the MAT to check if your application can be submitted.
Submit your experience at any point after completing all Objective Tests.
Receive Associate Membership of CIMA once you have completed all your Case Study tests.
CGMA is an internationally recognised body that immediately increases your standing in the job market and the potential for a higher salary.
Once you have been admitted as an Associate Member of CIMA, you will receive the CGMA or the Chartered Global Management Accountant status.
Adding the CGMA designation to your name and CV is coveted by many professionals in business, accounting, finance and management.