Skip to content

Pandemic May be Leading More People to Get Professional Certifications

Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting  

· 5 minute read

Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting  

· 5 minute read

By Soyoung Ho

The COVID-19 pandemic may be spurring more people to try to get professional certifications even as business school enrollment sharply dropped because of financial and health concerns.

Tuition fees at business schools or other graduate schools can be cost-prohibitive especially during uncertain economic times. Many enrolled students have also not been getting the full on-campus experience. And people may be pursuing other ways to make themselves more marketable at a lower cost with layoffs happening left and right because of economic challenges brought on by the novel coronavirus.

During a recent interview, Dennis Whitney, senior vice president of certifications at the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), said the number of professionals investing in certified management accountant (CMA) certification increased 12 percent for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, compared to the previous fiscal year. The IMA has more than 125,000 members in 150 countries around the world.

“Over the last year, we’ve seen growth in demand for the certification and then during COVID, we expected the demand to decline. It seems like a natural assumption that people … [would] put plans on hold,” Whitney said. “But in fact, we saw a 12 percent growth. We are attributing that to the fact that during these difficult and uncertain times, new candidates realize that they need to refine their skills either because they’ve lost their job, or their job is uncertain in the future, which unfortunately that’s the reality for a lot of people.”

He said over the past year, there were 39,000 new candidates for the CMA certification. Two of the biggest markets are China and the United States. And in the U.S., there were 5,500 who newly joined the program, a 13 percent uptick. In China, there were over 20,000 new candidates.

The AICPA which confers the certified public accountants (CPAs) credentials, said it did not yet have the statistics. But it might experience an uptick in CPAs in the future.

“The path to earning a CPA license has a long lead time – traditionally consisting of majoring in accounting and satisfying additional credit requirements in accounting and business course work, as well as experience/work requirements – before a candidate would sit for the CPA Exam,” the AICPA said. “The impact of COVID-19 started being felt in the U.S. in early 2020, and therefore it is too early for us to determine the extent to which this may have an influence upon accounting program enrollment at the college level or CPA Exam candidates entering the pipeline. Though we have anecdotally heard some optimism from colleges about their accounting program enrollment.”

The professional association did say that interest in a career in the accounting field went up during economic downturns, including during the financial crisis of 2008.

“This is largely due to the fact that CPAs and accountants have consistently maintained high levels of employment regardless of the overall economic conditions,” the AICPA said.

In the meantime, 40 percent of organizations surveyed by the IMA said professional certification is an important factor in hiring and promotion decisions. More than a thousand, or 1,032, IMA members were surveyed, and the results are in a September 2019 report.


This article originally appeared in the October 7, 2020 edition of Accounting & Compliance Alert, available on Checkpoint.

Subscribe to our Checkpoint Daily Newsstand email to get all the latest tax, accounting, and audit news delivered to your inbox each weekday. It’s free!

More answers