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Are CIMA qualifications 2nd class in financial services?

The CIMA qualification is nothing if not popular. 24,136 people in the UK sat the professional examinations run by the Chartered Institute for Management Accountants last year.

Many of those were in industry; plenty of them want to go into banking. Some CIMA students are in investment banking already, with banks like BofA Merrill training people to take the qualification in-house.

But can you really get anywhere in financial services as a CIMA?

The answer, historically, seems to have been absolutely not.

“You used to get the odd CIMA qualified accountant in a pure financial reporting or management accounting role, but you would almost never find them in product control,” says the former head of EMEA product control at one US investment bank.

“When CIMAs were in management accounting roles, they tended to do fairly basic tasks,” he adds. “They could fill in spreadsheets and present things in a sensible way, but management didn’t trust them to understand much about the products or the business. As a result, there wasn’t really anywhere for the CIMAs to progress to.”

Very negligible entry requirements

It doesn’t help that the barrier to CIMA entry is set about as low as it can be. The Institute’s website stipulates merely that students need, ‘competence in mathematics and the English language.’

“If you’re hiring, you’ll almost always prefer an ACA to a CIMA,” says the ex-product control head. “ACAs are simply seen as higher calibre individuals.”

The surprising hotness of CIMA students in the current market

It’s possible, however, that this particular ex-head of product control is out of touch with current realities.

What with the surge in accounting roles in banks, recruiters insist that CIMAs are now highly sought after and totally on a par with ACAs.

“The old ranking used to be ACA, CIMA, Acca,” muses one senior accounting recruiter. “Now they’re all seen as roughly equivalent.”

“Banks are unlikely to hire a newly qualified CIMA into a role which involves a lot of financial reporting, but they’re perfectly happy to hire them into product control and all other accounting positions,” says Simon Lindrea, a director at Michael Page.

Belinda Walmsley, spokesperson for recruitment firm Joslin Rowe confirms banks’ CIMA receptivity: “If they have good academics, and have worked for a blue chip name, banks will accept CIMAs into most accounting roles, including product control.”

Absolutely no chance of getting into the front office

What a CIMA will not do, however, is get you into the front office. At this point, it diverges from the ACA, which will.

“The CIMA is not very helpful if you want to move into corporate finance, equity research, or any other front office role,” says James Heath at recruitment firm Greenwich Partners. “In these areas, the ACA qualification is infinitely more useful.”

Now that hiring has picked up again, Heath estimates that 20-30 newly qualified ACAs have moved into junior analyst and junior equity research roles in the past few months.

For CIMAs that figure is more like zero. “We rarely see candidates with the CIMA qualification these days,” Heath adds.

Comments (67)

  1. How does the CFq compare to ACA, CIMA etc?

  2. Your article makes fair claims but calling people who do it “2nd class citizens” is absolutely unwarranted.

  3. I have worked with CIMA qualified individuals who understand the complexities of accounting principles more than some ACA qualified people. Don’t underestimate their knowledge. And the use of “2nd class citizens” in your article implies you’re not that well informed yourself.

  4. What kind of title is that – especially given that the content is relatively positive as well as accurate. Very disappointing.

    CIMA_qualified Reply
  5. Is CIMA qualification equivalent to a masters degree in Finance for example

  6. I’d say that the former head of EMEA product control is, and has been out of touch, for several years. I’ve been in product control for the past ten years and the vast majority of my colleagues have always been CIMA, not ACA.

    Product Controller Reply
  7. Was your ex-head of product control from Goldman?

  8. I can understand why ACA is more popular than other accountancy qualifications. Big 4 ACA’s in particular appear to have a history of bending the rules for commercial reasons. It may be that ACCA’s and CIMA’s are not flexible/bent/cunning enough for these roles! Also any clown can work in recruitment but nobody questions their qualifications!

  9. For a balanced view on the subject, surely it would have been advisable to contact CIMA for a quote and gauge opinion from a wider cross section of the business world?

  10. @David – no, but he was at a bank formerly known as a ‘bulge bracket’ house.

    Sarah, Editor, eFinancialCareers Reply
  11. @Charlie – I’m not sure CIMA would have been balanced. They’d have a vested interest in promoting their qualification.

    Sarah, Editor, eFinancialCareers Reply
  12. well, so what are CFA’s?? are they first class citizens? I met some CFA’s who are literally dumb, but they studying level 3 or working for the qualification. CIMA ‘s are smart,…. you cant say every one one is dumb
    end of the day please lets stop grading 1st /2nd/3rd…….. its who can do the job and satisfy the client .. is what it is all required……. please every one has has self-respect and want to achieve big in this lifes lets not discourage by such titles,,… SARAH:- please its my request lets not discriminate. there is a place for every one in this world, albeit if not London some other city, – no offense meant

  13. I work as a Analyst for a Fund Management company and also have the CIMA qualification although I do not make use of this in my day to day role.
    As I understand it; if you work in Fund Management CFA is the most beneficial for Analysts and FMs. ACA is probably useful as it teaches analysts how to disect Financial Statements. CIMA is less useful in Fund Management as it is a Business Management qualification.
    In the same way that CIMA are 2nd class citizens in the FM industry I would imagine CFA charterholders are 2nd class citizens in Business Management. However, both are good qualifications when applied to the areas they where meant to be applied to.

  14. i dont understand this elitism, putting articles like this calling hard working people “2nd class”. Absolutely shameful!

  15. You can find comparison to other qualifications including ACCA, AICPA, CFA, CIPFA, CPA (Australia), ICAA (Australia), ICAEW and ICAS on CIMA’s web-site: http://www.cimaglobal.com/Documents/ImportedDocuments/White_paper_linked.pdf

    From my experience, CIMA provides a lot of emphasis on decision-making, strategic and operational management, rather than just financial accounting. The technical part of the syllabus focuses on strategic and financial analysis, giving a wide range of tools used in corporate finance, management accounting, strategy formulation and general business management. CIMA was very helpful for my professional development, but I agree that CIMA as an organisation could do more to raise its profile in the banking sector.

  16. As a CIMA who works in the front office, of one of the largest Investment Banks in the world and who has done for the last 10 years, I totally disagree with your article. Calling anyone who has studied to achieve an internationally recognised and well thought of accounting qualification, makes you nothing short of a moron.

  17. @CIMA FRONT OFFICE (and everyone else offended by the headline) – Ok, sorry, bad headline. I stand corrected.

    Sarah, Editor, eFinancialCareers Reply
  18. You are all failures!

  19. CIMA has an open access policy so nobody is socially excluded. But you’re unlikely to qualify if you’re second class in terms of ability.

    ACAs may be favoured by traditionalists because they have been to good universities and trained with BIg 4 firms. If that bias still exists it has more to do with social class than the merits of the qualification.

    CIMA’s purpose is to enhance people’s career prospects by qualifying accountants who meet employers’, including banks’, needs in business analysis and performance management etc – rather than for professional practice. It worke for me.

    I studied CIMA when working in a bank’s strategy unit. It equipped me to achieve career progression through roles in corporate lending, credit management and marketing to become a head of division.

  20. The whole tone of the article would indicate that product controllers are therefore 1st class citizens – totally ridiculous.

  21. As a CIMA student I fail to see why people are het up about Sarah’s use of ‘second citizens’. Note she asked a question and dismissed it with much of her findings.

  22. Sarah, you’re a second class politician – you apologised and admitted your guilt! :-)

    (sorry, couldn’t resist)

  23. It’s a fact of life that people only talk in disparaging terms about something when it is a threat! The cosy world of the ICAEW is clearly threatened as cost and management accountancy, i.e. CIMA, better describes the needs of business than the traditional statutory auditor role of ACA. Fortunately, most businesses are pragmatic and look forward beyond the shuffling insecurities of the ICAEW which would prefer to have remained in its glory days of the 1980s.

  24. I’m sorry to say that this article is very one-sided and it is clear that the writer has not done sufficient research on the relative benefits of the different accounting qualifications. As another user commented, I think it would have been advisable if you had contacted CIMA in order to obtain a more balanced opinion. In my view, publishing such articles only displays ignorance and lowers the credibility of such financial recruitment websites.

    As an ACMA myself, I have spent the last few years managing Front Office risk for one of the leading Global Investment Banks – I therefore highly disagree with your viewpoint that doing CIMA will not allow you to work in Front Office, let alone in other key areas of Finance.

  25. This is efinancialcareers, not eindustrialcareers: a bias towards finance is natural. And when I say finance I mean finance as in the City and Wall Street, not finance as in accounting.
    Specifically, the accountants who visit this site are usually interested in product control or front office roles, so it’s only natural that the article focuses on these two aspects. Incidentally, very very veeery few accountants make it to the front office: this should be in a FAQ section, given how many people keep asking this question.

    FrontOfficeBanker Reply
  26. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to anything that the so-called recruiters have to say. You’ve got be confident and know who you are -whether you’re an ACA, CIMA or ACCA remember what it took for you to gain this qualification in the first instance – its hard work!

    I’m an ACCA and I’ve worked with people from different backgrounds, levels of education and exposure. You might have a qualification with no natural abilities to perform to an expected level as I’ve experienced with a particular ACA.

    The world economy is in a mess today because you’ve got the wrong persons in particular positions of authority; the qualification is just one quality amongst many that needs to be considered for any role. Thats why you find some of the most successful persons today striving without any formal education at all.

    The writer of this article has got it so wrong, but as mentioned once before be confident in yourself and your abilities and most importantly be proud of your qualiification whichever one you have.

  27. The headline was of course in bad taste, but anyone who wasn’t aware that these types of attitudes exist in the city and particuarly amongst recruiters has probably been done a service in being enlightened

  28. err…am CIMA-qualified…former big-4 corporate finance and now front office (origination & structuring)…!?

  29. Barclays Capital sponsor their product control graduate intake to do the CIMA qualification yet also hire ACAs and support other qualifications such as CFA and ACCA. Their aim is to be the premier global investment bank, they value diversity.

    former BarCap product controller Reply
  30. is CIMA the new ACA?

  31. I think the article is one sided…CIMA as an international qualification that covers business in a general sense is great! The article almost suggests that CIMA is a mediocre qualification in general which is nonsense.

  32. CIMA is a masters level qualification. Many immensely successful bluechips, eg Shell, train their graduate entrants on CIMA.
    A recruiter who assumes ACA is better because the feedstock is redbrick 2:1 is doing themselves an injustice – basically, you’re hiring a standard mediocrity. Look for the bright CIMAs – they’re excellent, and not mired in the lack of personality and inflexible thinking of so many unimpressive ACAs.

    CIMA every time.

  33. Sparky, how common was your career path? How many other people do you know who made it from back to front office, out of the many who constantly try?

    FrontOfficeBanker Reply
  34. Typical sensational headline grabbing article. Perhaps it was written by a second class journalist?

    It’s hardly balanced to base a story on the observations of one former ex product control head.

    The whole ACA versus CIMA, ACCA is a load of rubbish anyway and is only a factor because of the saturation of accountants in the UK.

    How many ‘accountants’ in the US working in banking are even CPAs, very few though this is likely to change in the future.

    Yes there is a general favourtism to ACA’s in the UK mainly due to the Big 4 churning them out every year. In the same way as everyone needs to have at least a 2.1 etc these days then the natural filtering mechanism when looking at accountants is to ask for an ACA ex Big 4 as the perception rightly or wrongly is that they will be better …

  35. I am preparing for my CIMA exams in May…disappointed to read the article but cheered up by all the enlightened comments.

  36. Wow this article is ridiculous. It’s actually frightening how ignorant supposed “expert” recruiters like James Heath are – and this is coming from a “first class citizen” (aka aca to front office)

  37. Am working for a FreeZone Authority.
    My Group CFO is CIMA qualified. We do come across so many banking professional most of them are CIMA qualified.
    I was with VISA International just based on my CIMA qualification and VISA deals with all the Banks in the world.
    As far as front office is concerned a CIMA qualified do fined place in banks and investment house.

  38. @Chewbacca – were you to read the article 2X, you may notice that it’s not based entirely on the comments on one person. Nor is it categorically stating that the CIMA is 2nd rate. It’s merely raising that question as a discussion point.

    Sarah, Editor, eFinancialCareers Reply
  39. looks week article to me! without proper research n justification n proper coments…who is author of this! probably some biased person whose senior would be ACMA…lols!!! poor article to me!

  40. This article is totally wrong. So ill informed and based off of old fashioned bias toward the ACA qualification.

    Interestingly ACA is currently improving its marketing so as to get into industry / commerce more – where for example the likes of ACCA and CIMA are already more well established across the spectrum of Finance roles.

    So, can we stop this elitism nonsense and let us all respect each of the qualifications.

    It is indeed very dissapointing to see such an article as this – we are no longer the 1980’s / 90’s when this kind of bias was rife. Yes – it still does exist in pockets but frankly where it does – Would you really wish to work in such an organisation?

    Remember now we have Diversity and Inclusion – so get on the right page!

    Peter FCCA,FMAAT Reply
  41. Absurd classification and completely out of sync with reality. Banks are littered with CIMA, ACA’s ACCA’s
    all do pretty much the same work. At the end of the day it boils down to what work you’re doing and how long you have been doing it for -that is your skill and therefore value to an employer!.
    The writer of this article needs think and do some research before making such comments.

  42. Good article. Is CI MA equivalent to any master degree?….http://goo.gl/lslD. Keep provide with these type of articles.

  43. “How many other people do you know who made it from back to front office, out of the many who constantly try?”

    I know quite a few, actually. I manage a product control team and over past 5 months 3 out of 15 people in my group moved to the front office (1 – to trading, 2 – to sales and structuring). This is a turnover of 20%. Interestingly, the 3 recent movers are ACAs. My bank is generally known for MO/BO to FO mobility so my example may not be reflective of the whole industry but still, such moves are not as rare as one might think.

  44. @j1i, way to go mate! never let stupid articles like this disappoint you. At the end of the day, statistics mean NOTHING to an individual. If you are hard working, you’ll make it no matter cima/aca/mba etc etc.

    Again, horrible article and considering so many students in the finance industry consider this site as a good source, putting out nonsense like this is completely unfair

  45. @ACA – I dispute the fact that this is ‘nonsense’. However well respected the CIMA is for accounting roles in banks, it is unquestionably more difficult to use it to get into the front office. This is the key point of the article.

    Sarah, Editor, eFinancialCareers Reply
  46. Kleo, the number of people you mention moving from back to front office is quite impressive. I must say my experience, and that of the people I know, is radically different.
    However, I still think it’s fair to advise people on this site that moving from BO to FO is not easy at all.

    FrontOfficeBanker Reply
  47. I was talking to a lapdancer in a club at the weekend and she claimed to be CIMA. She was definitely second class.

    Where did my 20 go? Reply
  48. ACA is overrated – how’s a guy who’s been auditing financial statements supposed to have edge and competence of anything else than financial reporting?
    You need ACAs only for financial reporting, for anything else one should look for skills, capabilities, and ability to adapt and get things done

  49. hahaha CIMA? HOW WILL you compare ACA with CIMA

  50. Frequently skills of CIMA qualified are underutilised by themselves or employers placing them in roles involving purely accounting transactions,balancing accounts and so on and thus wasting their skills,whereas they are meant and are equipped by CIMA with relevant skills to be rather looking at bigger picture from wider perspective,spotting trends,risks and opportunities and supporting taking any significant strategic decisions,managing financial performance not only reporting on it with all this supported by sound knowledge of broader finance techniques and accounting.CIMA is best for people who have this natural ability and flair of linking and using finance and accounting to taking businesses forward,any businesses, investment banking is one of the perfect places to demonstate this flair.

  51. The Corporate Finance qualification (CFq) is an internationally recognised, Corporate Finance specific qualification. The course and exam content cover the breadth and depth of knowledge that an individual working in Corporate Finance would need.

    The accounting qualifications (ACA, ACCA, CIMA) cover very similar material, but with differing levels of focus on certain accounting and tax issues. The CFq covers the aspects of accounting that would be relevant in a Corporate Finance, but goes further than the accounting qualifications in terms of its study of Valuation, Debt and Equity issues, Change of Control and Strategy.

    The qualification is relatively new in the UK, but is growing steadily, supported and promoted by the ICAEW. It is studied and examined around the world for example in Canada, Dubai and KL.

    Rob Farmer, BPP Reply
  52. poorly written & poorly researched.. simply regurgitated biases of one or two ACA clients. shoddy work.

  53. @ Sarah – The worst problem with your article leaving aside the content is the headline. People remember headlines not substance, especially in these soundbite time that we now live in.

    I recall the headline “Freddy Hamster ate my Hamster” but have never read the article, and it will be the same for other stories such as this and similar.

    As someone mentioned above this site is perceived as being of some higher standing than others that could be mentioned therefore it actually does you no favours to pander to cheap “attention grabbing headlines” we leave that to the Sun and their ilk unless you are hoping to rebrand downmarket?

  54. @Chewbacca – I have apologised for the headline already. I apologise again. Like Gordon Brown, I am a penitent sinner.

    Sarah, Editor, eFinancialCareers Reply
  55. Sarah, I have to say that you’ve done a sterling job responding to a few of the comments so I think all posters should be grateful. Although I don’t necessarilly agree with the article (I don’t think there’s much between the accounting qualifications and there clearly is a lot of prejudice out there), I’m not a very good example – as a ACMA frustrated with my role in Back Office Finance I decided that I needed another qualifuication so took quit my job and studied for an MBA at a leading business school. That opened a fair few doors that were previously closed to me… Needless to say I no longer work in the Finance function!

  56. A CMA can contribute in the growth of the bottom line of the company more than any CA’s , through his Costing & Management analytical tools & exposures.

  57. CIMA is a useful accounting qualification but certainly not an equal to ACA in terms of debt of knowledge acquired and versatility.

    Mr. Newton O. Uhegwu Reply
  58. My partner is CIMA qualified and I am ACCA. He is in product control and i am in reporting (banking). Most of our collegues are ACCA/CIMA. I really don’t see any difference in performance with ACAs. It’s just that ACA is the local UK qualification, for local British (not to mention anglo-saxon white) people. I also have friends who have made it with no qualifications at all. It all is a matter of personal capabilities rather than degrees. Very insulting title though. I bet Sarah is a white anglo saxon, probably ACA qualified. I will consider legal action.

  59. Your knowledge are as much as what you have wrote here.

  60. )…I think the articles title is based on the prejudice of a recuitment consultant interviewed. An out of touch view that a qualified accountant is synonomous with the letters CA.

    A quick google will show most accounting jobs advertised in the UK,show qualifications with equal billing typically as (ACCA,ACA,CIMA)

    The chartered accountancy body twice tried to merge with CIMA to get the management accounting niche skills on board.


    Could CIMA be 2nd class if the CA body tried to merge with the CIMA qualification? Some recruitments experts interviewed seem oblivious to this.

    It’s appalling some recruitment consultancies take the lazy approach to candidate selection by simply peddling CA’s.

    Also thing the article title was a little nasty towards people with the CIMA qualification,might have been phrased a little better ;-)

  61. This article seems 2 b more philosophical than factual and the auther is totally misinformed. Talking about these qualifications, the syllabus is similar but the focus is diff. ICAEW (ACA) , ACCA( ACCA), CIMA (CMA) , ICWAI(CMA)are accounting professions but classified into two major categories 1- External Auditing/Signing of accounts, public practice and 2-Internal Auditing / Mgmt Accounting/ Reporting. Management Accounting is different and focuses on functions like performance, Reporting whereas ACAs/ACCAs focus on Tax. There are optional papers in ACCA/CIMA which also cover these areas. Essentially ACCAs/ ACAs can do practice as well as Reporting. (CIMAs cant do public practice)But the strategy , cost analysis is forte of CIMA(and the likes such as CMA Canada, IMA USA, ICWAI India etc). Two diff fctns but over years of exp they are roughly same. Hence ICAEW (ACA) grants its membership to the members of CIMA/ACCA directly after they complete 5 yrs exp!. I see jobs listed with CIMA/ACA/ACCA etc all kept at par all over the net, even on efinancialcareers. The editor of this site should have at least researched the CIMA jobs on this site before posting such a disastrous article.

  62. I want 100,000….

    Thats what matters my friends

  63. CIMA = ACA+MBA


  65. This is totally a bull ………..are u really mad??? CIMA is considered to be one of the highly recognized qualifications by the employers……go and wash your brain twice.

  66. I am a CIMA qualified Group Financial Controller and I would say my ACMA letters have been invaluable in getting me where I am now. CIMA make clear the qualification is equivalent to a Masters degree. I started off studying ACA but at the time it was very technical and too similar to my degree. I left practice and went into industry where I started studying CIMA because at the time it was very progressive. I spoke to business leaders who promoted CIMA more than ACA or ACCA at the time. The reason was because CIMA was case study led especially in all the strategy papers and the final case study was about researching the industry and understanding the problems and prioritising the issues and reporting to the board. This was very good practice for what I do now in my day to day role. I may not be as technical as an ACA in some respects but I understand what the senior managers require to run the business. I act as a business partner so my position is more commercial. For the technical skills I can always outsource to third party auditors but I much prefer helping the departmental heads to achieve their strategic goals which dovetails with the business strategy such as helping with new business whether by organic growth or acquisition.

  67. A good comments for all the professional body members. If your professional body keep raising membership fee dramatically even more than inflation rate, then you should think switching to other professional body. according to disclosure form one of professional body of Australia, that society raising fee of membership and examination fee to fill historical expensive termination compensation of former CEO. All their members and students pay the costly price for the sake of such incident happened where some member planning to join other professional body such as CA ANZ or IPA Australia.

    Charming Scholar Reply

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