CIMA vs CFA – How Are They Different?

CIMA vs CFA® – How Are They Different? If you know in detail what is CIMA and CFA® are all about, as students you should not be confused? Why? Because CIMA and CFA® exam are not at all related qualification and they both signify different domain of study. No. They’re not completely different. But if you talk about focus, perspective and subject-emphasis, then they are quite different than each other.

Here’s a summary of CIMA vs CFA® qualifications to help you understand better. Later we will talk about both the qualifications in much depth.

If you want to understand business as a whole and want to have a big picture and also get a global recognition from one of the top most management accounting institutes in the world, then you should pursue CIMA. But if you want to pursue your career in core finance, investment banking and portfolio management, then CFA® is the right option for you. CFA® is a world class finance course designed to offer you mastery in variety of subjects. In a nutshell, both courses are equally good in terms of delivering value, but you need to know in which way you will take your career.

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Let’s have a look at the flow of the article.

The article is articulated in this order:

  1. CIMA vs CFA® Infographics
  2. What is Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) qualification?
  3. What is Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA® )?
  4. Key Differences between CIMA and CFA®
  5. Why pursue CIMA?
  6. Why pursue CFA® ?

CIMA vs CFA® Infographics

Reading time : 90 seconds

Lets understand the difference between these two streams with the help of this CIMA vs CFA® Infographics.

cima vs cfa infographicsWhat is Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) qualification?

  • Since 1919 CIMA has been serving its students. It has a 90 year foundation on which you can certainly trust and value. If you do this course, you would one of those who can even join in the higher rung of the company (CEO, MD etc.). But for that you need to study hard and clear three levels.
  • This is a distinctive accounting course for business. All accounting course emphasizes on only accounting and its implications. But CIMA concentrates on accounting as well as the strategic part and the risk mitigation of the business. CIMA believes that as a business executive one should have a helicopter view of the business. Thus this course adds value to the students in a comprehensive manner.
  • CIMA is not an easy course to complete. Even if it’s convenient in terms of exam windows per year, students really need to put arduous effort to clear it. First of all, students need to clear all six papers in operational and management level and then only they can sit for strategic level. The pass mark is 50%. The course is designed in such a way that students can first learn about the foundations of business and then they can go on and study about strategy and risk in business.

What is the Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA®) charter?

  • The CFA® Program focuses on investment management. The top employers of charterholders include the most respected financial corporations in the world, e.g., JPMorgan, Citigroup, Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, UBS, and Wells Fargo, to name a few.
  • Many of these are investment banks, but the CFA® Program focuses on the knowledge and skills most relevant to the global investment management profession from the standpoint of a practitioner.Investment professionals who hold the CFA®designation (or CFA® charter) meet rigorous educational, work experience, and ethical conduct requirements.
  • Only those who complete three graduate-level examinations, four years of work experience, and annual membership renewal (including an ethics and code of professional conduct attestation) are permitted to use the CFA® designation. Complementary codes and standards (such as the Global Investment Performance Standards and Asset Manager Code) help enhance this professional distinction.

Key Differences between CIMA and CFA®

Even if both of the professional qualifications are best in the world, there are significant differences between these two. Let’s have a glance at the key differentiators which separate CIMA from CFA® .

  • International Recognition:

Students who have completed CFA® argue that, CFA® is the most internationally recognized professional course. Whereas students at CIMA demands that CIMA is more globally relevant. But it’s being generally seen that CFA® is more recognized globally and CIMA has magnificent repute in UK, but not so much in the world.

  • Salary differences:

Even if CFA® is top most globally recognized course, if we compare compensation after completion of CFA® with CIMA, it’s much less. A student who completes CFA® gets around US $47,000 to $52,000 per year. Whereas if we see the compensation of a CIMA student, it’s almost around US $89,000. Again, the salaries of CIMA students seem to be more in UK, than in the world.

  • Perspective:

There is a significant difference between the perspective of CIMA and CFA® . Even if CIMA is one of the top rated management accounting institutes, the focus of the course is not only management accounting, but hard core business. This course understands the value of three levels of business and gives equal emphasis on each. Thus, students who pass out after completion can immediately join as the chief executive officer or managing director. Whereas, the emphasis of CFA® is completely different. It’s about investment banking and finance. Students who are keen on making their career around finance should join CFA® . But if you think you are more interested in business and the overall process of how things work in the organization, then CIMA is perfect for you.

  • Examination:

In this case both of the courses understand the value of assessment and both of the institutes take the assessment via two formats where one succeeds another. In both qualifications, the emphasis on objective tests and case studies are equal and once the students clear the objective test, only then they can sit for case study exams. This way, the assessment can be done thoroughly and only the creams come on the top. All the mediocre students get filtered out.

  • Convenience:

If you do the course under CIMA, there is more convenience and the administration is also very active. Whatever information you require, you would get it in their website. And if we talk about exam, the objective tests are on demand and the case study exam is organized four times a year. Thus the opportunities for students are much more. But in case of CFA® , the first level of exam happens twice a year and the next two levels once in a year. This arrangement of exam makes it difficult for CFA® students to clear the exam quickly (if they want to). So, doing CIMA is more convenient than doing CFA® , not in the terms of value, but in regards to difficulty to obtain the degree.

  • Fees:

Students who would like to opt for CIMA qualification should know that the fees are as same as CFA® . The fees for CFA® are around US $500-$1000 at each level. That means if you want to complete CFA® in one go, it would cost around US $1500-$3000. Whereas if you clear all CIMA exams in first attempt, the cost would be around US $2500.

  • Applicability:

This is the biggest advantage of CIMA. Depending on your previous qualification, it’s applicable for any students who want to pursue a career in business and accounting. CFA® is not for everyone. Students who are from hard core finance can attempt to pursue CFA® .

  • Foundation:

Both of the qualifications, CIMA and CFA® need a strong foundation in two subjects (mainly) – Mathematics and English. If you have strong background in both of these subjects, pursuing CIMA and CFA® would be easier than students who lack the foundation and efficiency in these subjects. In CFA® , you need additional knack for finance so that you can understand complex subject like portfolio management. As CIMA is a complete course in business and regarded as almost equal to master degree, you need to have passion to learn and apply business techniques and fundamentals.

Why pursue CIMA?

  • If you want to have a strategic advantage over other accounting courses, you should pursue CIMA.
  • CIMA is not as recognized as CFA® , but if you think about compensation, it’s much higher than a CFA® . But CIMA is more popular in UK than in other countries.
  • CIMA is as good as a master degree. When every country is popularizing MBA for their business students, CIMA is certainly one step closer to bridge the gap between learning and employability.
  • CIMA is much relevant to the current scenario of business and as it takes case study approach to teach the subjects, it becomes much more relevant than any other accounting courses.

Why pursue the CFA® designation?

  • The differentiating benefits of earning the CFA® designation include:
    • Real-world expertise
    • Career recognition
    • Ethical grounding
    • Global community
    • Employer demand

    The sheer demand for the CFA® charter speaks to the difference it makes. More than 160,000 CFA® exam registrations were processed for the June 2015 exams (35% in the Americas, 22% in Europe, Middle East, and Africa, and 43% in Asia Pacific).

    For more information, refer to- CFA® Programs

Other Useful Comparisons


CIMA and CFA® both are courses of great value. But you need to choose which one is yours to pursue. You may also pursue both courses if you want as CFA® is considered as a degree level course whereas CIMA is considered as a master degree.


  1. By Shubhadeep on

    Perfect! All details included. I’m an Operational level student at CIMA and simultaneously preparing for FRM. CIMA has great scope when added with knowledge of risk management. Thank you Dheeraj.


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