The CIMA Professional qualification

The CIMA Professional qualification

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) Professional qualification differs from the ACA and ACCA qualifications in that learning is approached from a wider business perspective, rather than being specifically focused on the technical skills required of accountants. It allows managers to understand the wider financial and risk-related ramifications of business decisions. The CIMA Professional qualification typically takes four years to complete, largely due to the requirement that candidates have three years of relevant work experience. Most candidates fulfil this requirement by working alongside their study – some employers will provide support for CIMA candidates, such as study leave.

In terms of the earning power of the qualification, a 2014 survey conducted by CIMA revealed that CIMA graduates based in the UK earned an average of £47,577 one year after qualification (a figure comprised of base salary and bonus).

CIMA eligibility

To be eligible to take the CIMA Professional qualification, you'll need to have a footing in accounting or business. Examples given by CIMA include:

  • Having completed the CIMA certificate in business accounting (their entry level accounting qualification with no accounting entry requirements).
  • A masters in accountancy or an MBA (eligible for examination exemptions via the masters gateway).
  • As a member of either the ICWAI, ICMAP or ICMAB accountancy bodies in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh (eligible for accelerated entry via the management accountant gateway).
  • As a member of the International Federation of Accountants (IPAC) (eligible for accelerated entry via the professional gateway).
  • A number of other qualifications that are eligible for exemption from the CIMA certificate of business accounting.

CIMA exam syllabus

The Professional programme is divided into three levels and three pillars. The enterprise, performance and financial pillars, building on finance and wider business themes, run through each of the three levels.

The operational, management and strategic levels of the CIMA qualification develop skills and knowledge in line with increasing experience, building on competencies developed on earlier level/s. The first two levels also lead to additional qualifications in their own right.

Level 1 – Operational Level 2 – Management Level 3 – Strategic
Organisational management, management accounting and financial reporting, taxation. Project and relationship management, advanced management accounting and advanced financial reporting. Strategic management, risk management and financial strategy.
Complete for the CIMA Diploma in Management Accounting Complete for the CIMA Advanced Diploma in Management Accounting. Final level of study which, along with practical work experience, leads to CIMA qualification.

Each level is assessed online with three multiple-choice objective tests and an essay-based case study paper. The objective tests can be taken at any time. Case studies are available four times a year.

Depending on the qualifications you already hold, you may be exempt from some of the CIMA exams.

Practical experience requirements (PER)

To qualify and become a CIMA member, you need at least three years (36 months) of practical experience as well as passing your exams. This experience can be accrued while working/studying and previous work experience before you registered for CIMA may count.

Practical experience requirements cover three areas: basic, core and supplementary covering the range of different operations performed by management accountants. CIMA's assessors are looking for at least 18 months' experience in the core area, with a range of experience across the other areas during the remaining 18 months.

After completing your practical experience, the next step is to submit the details to CIMA as part of your career profile. Your career profile includes:

  • The assessment of your practical experience (signed off by a proposer and seconder who can verify your 36 months of relevant practical experience).
  • An employment summary of all your work history since leaving full time education. Include all of your employers (even in unrelated roles) or you'll need to account for the gaps.
  • A detailed record of your experience showing what you did when, how and why. This needs to show how your work fits in with PER for the assessors, so it is important that you clearly demonstrate your efforts and the results in the first person, rather than talking about collective achievements of the team in the third person.
  • Your record of skills development (using the template provided by CIMA) describing how you've developed your personal, interpersonal and organisational skills.

You need to submit your career profile within four years of completing your strategic level case study.

Once your career profile and practical experience are verified and approved (and you've paid your membership application fee), you'll complete the CIMA Professional qualification, become a CIMA member and qualify as a Chartered Global Management Accountant.

CIMA fees

It is wise to register ahead of time, as late fees rack up quite heavily (as much as £423 plus the standard fee for 'very late entry' applicants). There is an initial registration fee of £75, an annual subscription fee of £105 (though this is free for your first year) and further costs for each exam. In short, if you pass every exam at the first attempt and take the minimum of three years to qualify, then you&'ll have to expect costs of around £1,700 in total. Some employers may pay for your CIMA exams, so this is worth investigating.

If you&'re exempt from particular exams you will still need to pay fees (exemption fees are the same as the fees for the examination).