Updated on April 19, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Difference Between CIMA and CFA®

CIMA course (Chartered Institute of Management Accountant) offers training and certification about management accountancy and business management, whereas, CFA exam (Chartered Financial Analyst®) provides detailed knowledge in investment management and prepares candidates for roles in investment research, portfolio management, and analysis.

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The article is articulated in this order:

  1. Infographics
  2. What is the CIMA qualification?
  3. What is CFA?
  4. Key Differences
  5. Why pursue CIMA?
  6. Why pursue CFA®?

What is CIMA?

Founded in 1919, CIMA has evolved over the last 100 years to become one of the world’s leading professional bodies of accountants. In 2017, CIMA and AICPA joined hands to form the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, representing a large network of more than 650k members and students. If you complete the CIMA qualification, you will become part of this huge professional community.

  • It is a different type of accounting course for business. CIMA concentrates on accounting, 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 need to put an arduous effort to clear it. First of all, students need to clear all six papers at the operational and management level, and then only they can sit for a strategic level. The course is designed so that students can first learn about the foundations of business, and then they can go on and study strategy and risk in business. The pass mark is 50%.

What is CFA®?

The CFA® Program focuses on investment management. The top employers of shareholders include the most respected financial corporations globally, 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 a practitioner’s standpoint. 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 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.

CIMA vs CFA ® Infographics

CIMA vs CFA ® Infographics

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Key Differences Between CIMA and CFA®

Even if both professional qualifications are the best globally, there are significant differences between them. Let’s glance at the key differentiators that separate CIMA from CFA®.

#1 – International Recognition:

Students who have completed CFA® argue that CFA® is the most internationally recognized professional course. At the same time, students at CIMA demand that CIMA be more globally relevant. But it’s generally seen that CFA® is more recognized globally, and CIMA has a magnificent reputation in the UK, but not so much in the world.

#2 – Salary differences:

Even if CFA® is the topmost globally recognized course, it’s much less if we compare compensation after completing CFA® with CIMA.

CIMA qualified professionals get an average salary of around £62,000 per annum, while CFA charter holders’ median salary is around $95,000 per annum.

#3 – 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 course’s focus is management accounting and hardcore 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.

The emphasis of CFA® is completely different in investment banking and finance. Students who are keen on making their careers 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.

#4 – 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 is equal, and once the students clear the objective test, they can only sit for case study exams.

This way can be thoroughly assessed, and only the creams come on the top. So, all the mediocre students get filtered out.

#5 – Convenience:

If you do the course under CIMA, there is more convenience, and the administration is also very active. Whatever information you require, you will get it on their website. And if we talk about an 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 the case of CFA®, the first exam level happens twice a year and the next two levels once a year. This exam arrangement 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 terms of value, but regarding the difficulty of obtaining the degree.

#6 – Examination Fees:

The cost of CIMA and CFA® qualifications are quite comparable. The total cost of the CFA® program is in the range of $2,550-$3,450, which includes exam fees of $700-$1,000 (based on the time of registration) per level and a one-time registration fee of $450. On the other hand, the CIMA qualification cost is £2,500–£3,000.

#7 – Applicability:

It is the biggest advantage of CIMA. Depending on your previous qualifications, it’s applicable for any students who want to pursue a business and This is the biggest advantage of CIMA. Depending on your previous qualifications, it’s applicable for any students who want to pursue a business and accounting career.

CFA® is not for everyone. However, students who are from hardcore finance can attempt to pursue CFA®.

#8 – Foundation:

Both of the qualifications, CIMA and CFA®, need a strong foundation in two subjects (mainly) – Mathematics and English. If you have a 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 an additional knack for finance so that you can understand complex subjects like portfolio management. In addition, CIMA is a complete business course and regarded as almost equal to a master’s degree. You need to have a passion for learning and applying business techniques and fundamentals.

Comparative Table

Organizing BodyThe exams are organized by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), UK.The CFA Institute, USA, conducts the exams.
PatternThe course consists of 4 levels.
  • Operational level
  • Management level
  • Strategic level
  • Professional level
The course is divided into three levels.
  • Level I
  • Level II
  • Level III
Duration of courseOn average, a candidate can complete the course in 3 years.If a candidate can clear all the exams in his/ her first attempt, then the course can be completed in 4 years.
SyllabusThe syllabus revolves around
  • Business Accounting
  • Information Management
  • Strategic Marketing Management
  • Management Accounting
  • Finance Management
The syllabus revolves around.
Exam feesThe overall cost of the course lies in the range of £2,500 to £3,000.The overall cost of the course lies in the range of $2,550 to $3,450.
JobsSome of the common profiles include
  • Forensic Analyst
  • Business Analyst
  • Project Manager
  • Finance Controller
  • Management Accountant
Some of the common profiles include
DifficultyThe exams are moderately difficult. During May 2020, the pass rates for Operational, Management, Professional, and Strategic levels were 57%, 67%, 27%, and 69%.The difficulty level is very high. During June 2019, the pass rates for Level I, Level II, and Level III were 41%, 44%, and 56% respectively. [Source: CFA Institute]
Exam DateThe schedule for the upcoming exams during the year 2022
  • Feb 9-25
  • May 11-27
  • Aug 10-26
  • Nov 9-25
The schedule for the upcoming exams during the year 2022

  • Level I: Feb 15-21, May 17-23, Aug 23-29, Nov
  • Level II: Feb 22-26, Aug 30 – Sep 03
  • Level III: May 24-26, Aug 30 – Sep 06

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 the UK than in other countries.
  • CIMA is as good as a master’s degree. When every country popularized MBA for their business students, CIMA is certainly one step closer to bridging the gap between learning and employability.
  • CIMA is very relevant to the current scenario of business. It takes a case study approach to teach the subjects, and it becomes much more relevant than any other accounting course.

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 245,000 global candidates registered for the June 2020 CFA® exams scheduled to be held in 193 cities across 95 different countries.

For more information, refer to CFA® Programs.


CIMA and CFA® are both courses of great value. But it would be best to choose which one is yours to pursue. You may also pursue both courses if you want, as CFA® is considered a degree-level course, whereas CIMA is considered a master’s degree.

Recommended Articles

This has been a guide to CIMA vs. CFA®. Here we discuss the top differences between CIMA and CFA® along with the infographics and comparative table. You may also have a look at the following articles –

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Reader Interactions


  1. RAJAN MENON says

    superb info … all doubts cleared … you nailed it!!!!!!

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Thanks Rajan :-))

  2. Shubhadeep says

    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.

    • Dheeraj says

      Thanks Shubhadeep :-)

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