Heading into a finance or accounting career means making choices, especially when it comes to certifications like CIMA and CFA. Both certifications indicate strong financial expertise and are globally recognized, offering exciting career prospects. However, they differ in focus: CIMA emphasizes strategic financial management and investment consulting, while CFA is geared towards investment analysis and portfolio management, with a strong reputation in the finance industry. 

The qualifications, exam styles, and career paths associated with each certification also vary. Choosing between CIMA and CFA requires considering factors like difficulty, duration, post-certification opportunities, and eligibility criteria. Getting the right information is crucial for making an informed decision about your future in finance. Let us guide you through the process.

Understanding CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst)

The CFA designation is a prestigious certification offered by the CFA Institute, focusing on investment management and financial analysis. Candidates seeking the CFA charter must pass levels 1, 2, and 3 exams that assess finance aspects like investment tools, portfolio management, and ethics. This certification is highly valued in finance roles like asset management, wealth management, and equity research, thanks to its expertise and global recognition.

CFA: Comprehensive Curriculum

The CFA Institute collaborates with an Education Advisory Committee, including industry practitioners, regulators, university faculty, and policymakers, to develop the curriculum, ensuring it aligns with industry needs. The institute conducts research to identify industry trends, which inform curriculum updates to prepare shareholders for success in the dynamic investment profession.

The curriculum is designed to be focused and practical, with optional reference materials for candidates who want to revisit the fundamentals. This approach ensures that the overall study time aligns with the program’s commitment to 300 hours of study.

Also Read – Eligibility for CFA & when to start preparing for it

CFA Topics:

  • Ethical and Professional Standards: Covers the ethical guidelines and professional standards in the investment management industry, including the CFA Institute’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct.
  • Quantitative Methods: Focuses on quantitative techniques used in investment analysis, such as statistical methods, probability, and time series analysis, to apply them to financial analysis.
  • Economics: Explores macroeconomic and microeconomic principles relevant to investment analysis, including monetary and fiscal policy, international trade, and market structures.
  • Financial Statement Analysis: Discusses the principles of financial reporting and analysis, including financial statement analysis, ratio analysis, and cash flow analysis.
  • Corporate Issuers: Covers corporate finance principles like capital budgeting, capital structure, and dividend policy, emphasizing the financial health analysis of corporations.
  • Equity Investments: Focuses on the valuation of equity securities, including common and preferred stocks, and how to analyze and make decisions about equity investments.
  • Fixed Income: Deals with the valuation and analysis of fixed-income securities like bonds, Treasury bills, and corporate debt, focusing on their analysis and decision-making.
  • Derivatives: Covers the valuation and analysis of derivative securities like futures, forwards, options, and swaps, emphasizing their analysis and decision-making.
  • Alternative Investments: Focuses on the valuation and analysis of alternative investments like private equity, real estate, and commodities, emphasizing their analysis and decision-making.
  • Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning: Discusses portfolio management principles, risk management, and asset allocation strategies for wealth planning and management.

Furthermore, the 2024 curriculum for the CFA Program has been improved to enhance the learning experience. These improvements include a more structured approach to learning, updated topic areas, and the integration of insights from Practice Analysis and curriculum development. A significant change is the introduction of learning modules, designed to meet the needs of adult learners by focusing on practical relevance, with each module being completed in one session and including practice questions. The new curriculum also features more visuals and examples, providing candidates with increased opportunities to practice their skills.

Key changes in the CFA 2024 curriculum include:

  • New and updated readings in the Corporate Issuers topic area.
  • Expanded Fixed Income readings with more real-world scenarios and an improved approach to credit analysis.
  • Additional material on private company analysis and financial modeling in Equity Investments.
  • Enhanced content on Alternative Investments, focusing on GP and LP structures and practical analyst skills.
  • Updates on ESG disclosure requirements for publicly traded companies.

Understanding CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)

CIMA, offered by IWI, is a globally recognized certification focusing on strategic financial management, ideal for investment professionals. It emphasizes skills like asset allocation and risk management, tailored for those in investment management seeking to enhance their expertise. CIMA emphasizes management accounting, analyzing financial data for strategic decisions, and developing skills crucial for effective management and informed decision-making in organizations.

CIMA: Comprehensive Curriculum

The CIMA course encompasses a wide array of topics pertinent to investment management, including

  • Fundamentals: This section delves into foundational knowledge crucial for investment management consulting, encompassing subjects like statistics and methods, applied finance and economics, and global capital markets. It constitutes 15% of the CIMA exam.
  • Investments: This domain explores various investment vehicles such as alternative investments, equity, options/futures, fixed income, and real assets. It constitutes 20% of the CIMA exam.
  • Portfolio Theory and Behavioral Finance: Here, students learn about portfolio management theories, behavioral finance, investment philosophies, and styles, as well as tools and strategies. It constitutes 20% of the CIMA exam.
  • Risk and Return: This section focuses on risk attributes, risk measurements, and performance measurement and attribution. It constitutes 20% of the CIMA exam.
  • Portfolio Construction and Consulting Process: The final domain encompasses the consulting process, including ethics, client discovery, investment policy, portfolio construction, manager search and selection, and portfolio review and revisions. It constitutes 25% of the CIMA exam.

CFA vs CIMA: Key Differences




Nature of the Courses Focuses on strategic financial management, asset allocation, and risk management, and portfolio performance evaluation. Aimed at professionals in investment reporting and analysis, focusing on ethics, financial statement analysis, and wealth planning.
The focus of the Courses Emphasizes investment consulting. Emphasizes investment analysis and management.
Certification Requirements Requires at least three years of professional experience in investment consulting or a related field. Requires a bachelor’s degree or four years of relevant full-time work experience.
Exam Format and Difficulty A five-hour exam with 140 multiple-choice questions. Consists of three levels, each with a different focus and a rigorous format including multiple-choice questions, essays, and case studies.
Career Opportunities Opportunities in investment consulting, portfolio management, financial planning, and risk management. Opportunities in investment analysis, portfolio management, research analysis, and risk management.
International Recognition CIMA has a strong reputation in the UK and is globally recognized. CFA is the most internationally recognized certification.
Salary Differences Median salary is around £62,000 annually  Median salary is around $95,000 annually.
Perspective CIMA is ideal for those interested in business processes, 

CIMA focuses on management accounting and business

CFA emphasizes investment banking and finance.

CFA is suitable for finance-focused careers.
Applicability CIMA applies to a broader range of students, and those pursuing business and accounting careers.  CFA is more specialized and suitable for students from finance backgrounds. It is more focused on finance professionals.
Foundation Requires a strong foundation in Mathematics and English.

CIMA is a comprehensive business course.

Requires a strong foundation in Mathematics and English.

CFA requires additional finance skills.

Can’t Decide Which One To Choose?

CFA vs CFA Exams


CFA Exams

CIMA Exams

Certification Candidates aspiring to become certified CFA holders need to fulfill eligibility criteria and pass all three levels of the CFA exam, offered thrice annually. Each level has a distinct focus: Level I covers fundamental knowledge, Level II emphasizes complex analysis, and Level III concentrates on portfolio management. To obtain the CIMA certification, candidates need a minimum of three years of professional experience in investment consulting or a related field, along with passing the CIMA course and certification exam. The exam comprises 140 multiple-choice questions and typically requires around 150 hours of self-study to prepare for.
Exam Structure Three Levels

  • Level 1
  • Level 2
  • Level 3
Four Levels

  • Operational Level
  • Management Level
  • Strategic Level
  • Professional Level
Examination Has two parts: objective tests and case studies. 

CFA exams have specific annual schedules. These have a more structured schedule.

Has two parts: objective tests and case studies. 

CIMA offers more convenience with on-demand tests and quarterly case study exams.  CIMA exams are more convenient and offer more opportunities for students.

Examination Fees CFA exam fee is $2,550-$3,450, including exam fees of $940-$1,250 per level and a one-time registration fee of $350.  CIMA exam fee is £2,500–£3,000
Preparation Time The CFA exam demands substantial study time, with around 300 hours recommended for each level. It rigorously assesses candidates’ understanding of investment tools, asset classes, portfolio management, ethics, and wealth planning. The CIMA exam typically requires around 150 hours of self-study to prepare for each level.
Membership Upon passing the exam and becoming a CFA Institute member, individuals must pay annual dues and adhere to the institute’s standards. Holding a CIMA certification demonstrates expertise in strategic financial management. Here again individuals must pay annual fees and adhere to the institute’s renewal standards.
Avg. Passing % 22-49% 50-60%

Also Read – Why CIMA is one of the top management accounting courses in India

CFA vs CIMA: Career Opportunities

Career Opportunities for CFA Holders

Career Opportunities for CIMA Holders

Investment Analysts: Responsible for researching and analyzing financial data to make investment recommendations. Chief Finance Officers: The chief financial officer is part of the executive management team who develops the financial well being of the organization. They are accountable for financial planning, risk management and operations requiring a wider range of knowledge.
Portfolio Managers: Oversees a portfolio of investments and makes investment decisions to meet specific goals. Finance Managers: In large organizations, the finance manager role may be concerned with strategic analysis and in smaller companies they may be responsible towards collection and preparation of accounts. He may typically be a CA. Having CIMA gives him a broader perspective.
Financial Planners: Work with clients to create financial plans that meet their specific needs and goals. Management Consultant: Management Consultants advise businesses and organizations on how they might implement strategic decisions or improve performance.They need to have strong commercial acumen, project management skills & analytical prowess.
Research Analysts: Analyzes financial data and market trends to identify investment opportunities and make investment recommendations. Financial Accountant: Every organization needs someone to report its financial position. That’s where a financial accountant comes in. CIMA provides a proper blend of all.
Risk Managers: Identify, analyze, and manage risks associated with financial investments. Business Analyst/Consultant: If you’ve got top analytical skills, you could make a good analyst.They use their knowledge to make financial models to support commercial decision making by seniors. 

Also Read – Everything You Need To Know About CIMA Qualification

CFA vs CIMA: Skills & Competencies



Management Accountant: Analyzing financial information, preparing budgets, and supporting strategic decision-making. Financial Analysis: Analyzing financial statements, assessing financial health, and evaluating company performance.
Financial Analyst: Analyzing financial data, trends, and market conditions to provide insights for investment decisions. Investment Management: Portfolio management, asset allocation, and investment strategies.
Financial Controller: Overseeing financial reporting, compliance, and budgeting activities. Ethical and Professional Standards: Understanding ethical and professional standards in the investment industry.
Business Analyst: Analyzing business processes and identifying improvement opportunities. Economics: Understanding macroeconomic and microeconomic factors influencing financial markets.
Risk Manager: Assessing financial risks, developing risk management strategies, and ensuring compliance. Quantitative Methods: Applying statistical and probability theory to investment analysis.
Management Consultant: Advising organizations on financial management, strategy, and performance improvement. Equity Investments: Valuing and analyzing equity securities.
Public Sector: Contributing to financial management and decision-making in government departments. Fixed Income: Analyzing fixed-income securities like bonds and Treasury bills.
Financial Services: Working in banking, insurance, and investment management. Derivatives: Understanding derivative securities like futures and options.
Manufacturing and Retail: Contributing to cost management, budgeting, and financial analysis. Alternative Investments: Valuing and analyzing alternative investment classes.
Healthcare and Non-Profit: Supporting financial management and sustainability in healthcare and non-profit sectors. Portfolio Management: Constructing and managing investment portfolios.
Wealth Planning: Wealth management strategies and estate planning.

Let Experts Help You Choose The Best For You!

CFA vs CIMA: Competencies that Converge

Competencies Developed by CIMA Professionals Areas that overlap with CFA
Financial Management Financial Analysis
Strategic Management Risk Management
Risk Management Strategic Planning
Performance Management Ethical Standards
Business Acumen Communication Skills
Ethical Practices
Leadership and Communication

While CIMA focuses more on management accounting and strategic financial management, and CFA emphasizes investment analysis and portfolio management, professionals with either qualification can excel in various roles within the finance and accounting domains.

Also Read – How to build a career in finance industry

CFA vs CIMA: Regional Preferences

CFA is often in high demand in regions with well-established financial sectors, such as North America, Europe, and Asia. Financial hubs like New York, London, and Hong Kong value the CFA qualification highly due to its focus on investment management and financial analysis. Professionals seeking careers in investment banking, asset management, and equity research often pursue the CFA qualification to enhance their skills and credibility in these competitive markets.

CIMA, on the other hand, is well-recognized in the UK and other parts of Europe for its emphasis on management accounting and strategic financial management. Industries with a strong focus on business management, cost accounting, and financial planning may prefer candidates with CIMA qualifications. This includes sectors such as manufacturing, retail, and public sector organizations where strategic financial management is crucial for decision-making.

In regions where there is a growing emphasis on corporate governance, risk management, and compliance, both CFA and CIMA qualifications may be valued. This includes regions with emerging financial markets and regulatory environments that prioritize ethical and professional standards in finance and accounting.

Also Read – Top 6 Trends in the Financial Services Industry in India

Making an Informed Decision: Factors to Consider

Choosing the right qualification is vital for your career in finance. CIMA suits roles in investment consulting, financial analysis, or risk management, while CFA is for investment management, portfolio analysis, or research. Aligning your goals with the right qualifications helps you gain specialized skills for a successful career.

IMS Proschool is a leading institute with a track record of training over 2,000 successful aspirants in finance, earning the prestigious CIMA Platinum Award in India. With a passing rate of over 80%, the institute offers comprehensive training programs spanning 900+ hours and has a team of 100+ CIMA charterholders. Additionally, we have trained over 3000 aspirants for the CFA program, offering placement opportunities after Level 1 and a commitment to exam success.

Frequently Asked Questions About CIMA vs CFA

  1. What industries value CFA over CIMA?

Industries such as investment banking, asset management, and equity research often value CFA over CIMA due to its focus on investment management and financial analysis, which aligns closely with the skill set required in these sectors.

  1. Can I pursue both CFA and CIMA simultaneously?

Pursuing both CFA and CIMA simultaneously is possible, but it requires careful planning and dedication due to the rigorous nature of both programs. It can provide a well-rounded skill set that combines expertise in investment management and management accounting.

  1. How does the global pandemic affect the demand for CFA and CIMA professionals?

The global pandemic has increased the demand for professionals with strong financial and risk management skills, potentially benefiting both CFA and CIMA professionals. However, the specific impact can vary based on the industry and region, with some sectors facing challenges while others experience growth.

  1. Are there roles where CIMA professionals have a distinct advantage?

CIMA professionals may have a distinct advantage in roles that require a strong understanding of strategic financial management, cost accounting, and business analysis. Industries such as manufacturing, retail, and public sector organizations often value CIMA qualifications for these specific skills.

  1. How do I decide between CFA and CIMA?

The decision between CFA and CIMA depends on your career goals and the specific skills you want to develop. If you are interested in investment management and financial analysis, CFA may be more suitable. On the other hand, if you are focused on management accounting and strategic financial management, CIMA could be the better choice.

  1. Who earns more CIMA or CFA?

The earning potential between CIMA and CFA can vary based on factors such as the industry, job role, and geographic location. Generally, CFA charterholders tend to earn INR 5 to 20 LPA, while CIMA certification holders get INR 5 to 8 LPA.

  1. Can we do CFA after CIMA?

Yes, it is possible to pursue CFA after completing CIMA. However, it requires a significant commitment of time and effort due to the rigorous nature of both programs. Combining these qualifications can provide a well-rounded skill set suitable for various roles in finance and accounting.