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What is Management Accounting?

Management accounting provides financial information for an organization’s internal management in order to inform decision-making and improve performance.
Two management accountants discussing information on one of their a laptops.

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

Accounting remains a crucial part of any successful business venture in fields ranging from education to healthcare, technology to hospitality and more.

"Accounting is the language of business," said Ann McLaughlin, associate dean of accounting at Southern New Hampshire University­­­­­ (SNHU). According to McLaughlin, accountants identify, record and communicate business transactions and other relevant data — they convey important financial information.

Management accounting, she said, is a specialized type of accounting — a dialect within the language of business.

Management accountants are unique in the world of accounting because they typically hold in-house positions. That means management accountants work for an organization, agency or business directly rather than working for an accounting firm that serves various outside clients.

What is the Main Role of Management Accounting?

Financial accountants may come to mind when you think about accounting, but management accountants have different objectives. Instead of preparing reports for external stakeholders, management accountants provide relevant financial information for an organization’s internal management — its employees, managers and executives — to inform decision-making and improve performance.

Ann McLaughlin with the text Ann McLaughlinUnlike financial accountants, management accountants are focused on making future projections for a business or organization. They analyze and explain the "why" behind reporting the numbers.

Management accountants are strategic partners. They work to ensure future success by identifying ways to create value for their organization and its products or services. They do so by using numbers, data and research to help leadership minimize risk and maximize profit on behalf of the business.

Management accounting skills include functions of controllership or cost management, governmental and nonprofit accounting, international accounting, accounting in decision-making and analysis and business law and ethics. McLaughlin said some common roles for management accountants include:

  • Budgeting
  • Cost accounting
  • Internal auditing
  • Treasury

“Management accounting is an essential function of any business or organization,” said McLaughlin. “It is the area of accounting that helps management make better decisions related to business performance using accounting data.”

Where Do Management Accountants Work?

Even accounting firms hire management accountants for their internal needs, but that’s far from your only option when looking for a position as a management accountant. As a management accountant, you could work in the private or public sector — and in almost any industry.

Management accountants can be found in:

  • Private Corporations – From mom-and-pop shops to multinational corporations, businesses and industries of all sizes need strategic partners capable of marrying financial know-how with business savvy. These individuals hold positions up and down the corporate ladder, including auditors, tax managers, controllers and chief financial officers.
  • Government – Management accountants play a key role in improving the efficiency of federal, state and local governments and agencies. Their ability to evaluate performance, finances and compliance can help streamline the use and distribution of resources.
  • Nonprofits – Not-for-profit organizations face special financial situations, including strict budgets, special tax designations and the need to fundraise. As a result, nonprofits can especially benefit from the knowledge, expertise and skills of an accounting professional with broader business or management competencies.
  • Education – Within education, management accountants can work directly for schools or school districts as educators themselves, teaching the next generation of accountants. If you've considered a career in accounting education, know you'll likely need a graduate degree to teach at the college level, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Management accounting is everywhere. It might even be hard to think of a place of work that wouldn’t benefit from a management accountant’s expertise and skills.

Still, certain industries have more opportunities than others. “Most of the job opportunities are in the private sector, which promotes entry-level accounting staff,” McLaughlin said. These positions can be a great start to your career in management accounting.

How Can You Become a Management Accountant?

Although financial accounting can be a springboard to management accounting, education can also supplement a financial accounting background. A majority of employers require candidates for accountant or auditor positions to have a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field, according to BLS.

With the right combination of credentials and experience, you’ll be in a position to contribute positively to the strategic, tactical and operating decisions of your organization, whether you work in the for-profit, nonprofit or government sectors.

Is CMA Certification Worth It?

Job candidates with professional designations, such as Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Certified Management Accountant (CMA), have specialized employment prospects, according to the BLS, and those with a master’s degree in accounting may also have an advantage.­­­

The CMA professional certification can give you a competitive edge because it signals your mastery of the critical accounting and finance management skills needed in today’s global business landscape. These skills include financial planning, analysis and professional ethics.

With the rising demand for accounting professionals, special credentials such as a management accounting certificate and CMA certification can help your resume stand out to supervisors and hiring managers.

According to the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), there are a few requirements you'll need to meet if you want to qualify for the certification (IMA PDF source). They include:

  • Relevant education, such as a bachelor's degree from an accredited college
  • Two years of experience in the field
  • Passing a two-part exam
  • Membership with the IMA
  • Adherence to ethical standards

If you're interested in pursuing CMA certification, McLaughlin recommends visiting IMA online to learn more.

Should You Get a Graduate Certificate in Management Accounting?

If you have some business acumen coupled with a head for numbers, a graduate certificate in management accounting is a great option for expanding your career potential. While a specialized graduate certificate surpasses the academic qualifications needed to become a CMA, earning one can give you a unique advantage when it comes time to sit for the exam.

Whether you want to become certified or not, an advanced certificate can build on your expertise, strengthen and expand your skills and help you define and advance toward your personal and professional goals. In addition to mastering the latest accounting strategies, tactics and rules, those earning a graduate certificate in management accounting can develop and apply accounting practices based on broader business competencies in order to drive their organizations forward.

Asynchronous online options also help you simultaneously work toward the CMA certification's professional experience qualification. Plus, it means you don't have to interrupt your career in order to advance it.

Dr. Jennifer Teague with the text Dr. Jennifer TeagueAccording to Dr. Jennifer Teague, a senior associate dean of business programs at SNHU, a graduate certificate can also keep you relevant.

"Employees are looking for more flexible educational pathways in the form of skill-based certificates that demonstrate current knowledge in the field and a clear connection to an industry certification," she said.

And you can always put applicable credits toward a full-fledged master's in accounting program if you decide you want to earn a graduate degree, too. Or, you can work toward both credentials at the same time. Pairing a graduate certificate with a master's in accounting allows you to advance both your specialized and broad accounting knowledge and the technical skills and regulations that can make you a competent accountant.

A master’s in accounting with a graduate certificate in management accounting prepares you to pursue advanced positions within many kinds of organizations. This is true whether you’re working for a company, the government or a nonprofit, locally, nationally or internationally.

What are the Advantages of Studying Management Accounting?

A blue infographic piece with the text IMA reports almost 75% of financial professionals are management accountantsStricter laws and regulations (notably in the financial sector) are expected to increase the demand for accounting services as organizations work to comply with applicable governing rules.

To navigate what BLS calls "a complex tax and regulatory environment," accounting roles and similar positions will grow by 6% between 2021 and 2031. And according to IMA, almost 75% of financial professionals today are management accountants, working in roles such as:

  • Accounting manager
  • Controller
  • Data analytics manager
  • Financial analyst
  • Staff accountant
  • Strategic planning director

Some management accounting programs, including SNHU's graduate certificate, align with the topics explored in the CMA exam, meaning you can feel better prepared to take the two-part CMA exam once you've met all the requirements.

And if studying or working in the accounting field appeals to you, you probably know about the importance of a good return on investment. IMA reported CMA professionals earn 58% more than their non-certified peers.

A yellow infographic with the text IMA reports CMAs earn 58% than their non-certified peersIn general, the median salary for all accountants and auditors was $77,250 in 2021, according to BLS, which was already far more than the $45,760 median salary for all occupations.

Whether you’re a new or seasoned accounting professional, specialized education in management accounting can help you make the most of growing employment opportunities.

"Management accounting may be a good specialization for students because it requires general accounting and knowledge of financial management," said McLaughlin. Advanced education in accounting can help you build your knowledge and become a competitive candidate in the field of management accounting.

Discover more about SNHU's graduate certificate in management accounting. Find out what courses you'll take, skills you'll learn and how to request information about the program.

Sofia Tokar is a freelance copywriter and editor in higher education. Follow her on Twitter @stokar or connect on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.