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The total number of CIMA members and students around the world topped 200,000 for the first time this year. To mark this milestone, we ask some high-flying members how the institute and the skills conferred by its qualification have helped their careers

Eric Hepburn, FCMA, CGMA, is HM consul-general and counsellor for corporate services in the US for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

He oversees an annual budget of more than £38bn, has responsibility for 11 US locations and leads a team of more than 700.

Before this, he was COO at 10 Downing Street, so he’s no stranger to top management roles. Yet barely more than two years ago he decided to sit his CIMA exams – and he still reads Financial Management’s Study notes pages every month.

So what is so valuable about the qualification that someone in such a senior – and busy – position treats it with such importance?

“This is a complex job and a lot of that complexity comes down to how the finances are managed,” Hepburn says.

“What CIMA gives me is the proper basis on which to make financial judgements on an ever-changing budget. So it was absolutely the right choice for me.”

He adds: “CIMA not only gives me the technical finance skills that I need, it also covers the wider management aspects. What we do here in the FCO is much broader than straightforward finance work, so I need that strategic understanding of how a business operates.”

Emma Blake, ACMA, CGMA, founder of women’s fashion retailer Pinstripe & Pearls, is another senior finance professional for whom the qualification has been crucial.

“CIMA has been the backbone, the foundation to my career,” she says. “It has been the baseline of knowledge to draw upon in every situation, from tactical financial discussions through to strategic planning. It has given me that extra confidence women in business often need in order to push themselves forward for challenging roles, creating a level playing field by showing that I have already achieved a strong level of competence.”

She continues: “The ability it gives you to get underneath the numbers and challenge your organisation’s financials is always going to be important. This will help you to succeed in a variety of senior roles.”

Perfect partners
A relatively recent trend has been the emergence of the finance professional as a genuine business partner. Organisations have invested heavily in equipping their accounting departments with the skills and knowledge to hold a seat on key project teams and bring financial acumen to bear on the processes of innovation and change.

David Biggs, ACMA, CGMA, CFO at Mint Digital, has been a member since 2005. He believes that the qualification has certainly helped him to become a genuine business partner.

“CIMA is the most well-rounded finance qualification,” he says. “It’s so much more than a technical qualification and it ensures that I can contribute beyond the finance function. It helps me to manage people, handle HR, deal with legal people and work closely with non-financial departments such as the marketing team. The skills that CIMA provides enable you to understand the pressures on those other departments, what’s important to them and how you can contribute.”

Biggs adds: “In many organisations there is a gulf between finance and non-finance people. But CIMA has enabled me to demonstrate my understanding of their areas – and how finance can help them – in a way that shows we should all be working together.”

Jeremy Chapman, FCMA, CGMA, is head of corporate services strategy for the UK’s HS2 high-speed railway project, having worked on the London Olympics. He believes that the CIMA syllabus covers a particularly broad range of subjects.

“On the big projects I have been involved with, you have very technical specialists focusing on the design and construction aspects. As a finance professional, you need to be able to bridge the gap from their activity and its financial consequences to the executive committee and the board,” he says

“Finance business partners have the ability to get under the skin of the engineers’ work and its cost implications. CIMA equips you to do that.”

Core competency
Although the CIMA qualification confers the rounded skills that allow finance professionals to become business partners, Harry Hornby, ACMA, CGMA, of Eagle Consulting, stresses that it doesn’t fall short on the technical skills required by his business, either.

“I wasn’t particularly academic at school, but CIMA allowed me to gain a valuable and recognised qualification that enabled me to find a good job with prospects,” he says. “I still feel that I am receiving information from the institute, whether that’s through the magazines and websites or via thought leadership reports. It all helps me to develop my understanding of this field.”

Global reach
In an increasingly globalised business environment, many financial managers are also seeking a qualification that enables them to work abroad and equips them to operate effectively across multinational organisations.

Prince Kofi Amoabeng, FCMA, CGMA, is the founder and chief executive of UT Bank in Ghana. Recently he told FM: “We have plenty of CIMA-qualified people in Ghana. We have had to create structures to be able to grow our company into a bank. In this respect CIMA helps you to be quite realistic and to see what applies best, rather than just taking the methodology of the western world. Unlike the post-mortem type of work that you have with other accounting bodies, with CIMA you actually make things happen before the results are captured.”

Ouyang Xia, ACMA, CGMA, finance controller at Rolls-Royce, north-east Asia, is another member who exemplifies the global reach of the institute.

He says: “During my CIMA studies I worked at different sites in Europe and Asia. It was beneficial for my early career in financial management, as it laid a solid foundation by enhancing my accounting knowledge through practice. It helped me to reshape my understanding of organisations through the operational, management and strategic business framework.”

In addition to these broader benefits, Blake believes that the new CGMA designation has added an extra dimension to the CIMA qualification. “This is a fantastic opportunity for all members,” she says.

“It creates an international language and reflects the reality of how we do business today – globally. It’s the sort of development that ensures there is ongoing value in membership.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Chapman, who says the benefits of maintaining CIMA membership are manifold.

“Aside from the fact it is the perfect place to keep abreast of the latest developments, I need to be able to demonstrate that I have the experience and knowledge required to operate in today’s complex and fast-moving businesses,” he says. “CIMA gives that reassurance.”

 

This year CIMA held a number of focus groups with members to find out their views on the value of membership. They identified that the qualification puts members in an ideal position to:
l Step into leadership roles in business because of the breadth of skills they possess.
l Be business leaders rather than purist accountants.
l Take a “helicopter view” of a business.
l Be strongly aligned with international practices and standards.
l Work abroad.

 

The right profile
Caroline Gilmour, ACMA, CGMA, is a project manager contractor with 13 years’ experience in the fund accounting sector within back and middle office functions.

She has worked in a number of reporting, pricing and project roles on a variety of fund types, including OEICs, fund of funds, life and pension, and offshore.

She says: “I chose CIMA over other accounting qualifications as it covers a broad range of business subjects that cater for the modern business world.

“I did not want to purely number crunch. CIMA provides students with the tools to learn the strategic and project management side of business. Investment appraisals, business strategy, budgeting and project management – these are all areas pertinent to the financial services industry today, and which I was more interested in.

“My profile has evolved from being a fund accountant, moving upwards into management, and then sideways into business analysis and project management. I am now self-employed, working in consultant and project management roles. Studying CIMA has certainly given me a broader business knowledge in both a local and global capacity, which I am able to apply to my roles with multinational corporations, working more closely with senior management teams.

“I think it is important to continue with CPD once you've achieved full qualification status and worked in more senior roles. Business and finance is constantly changing and it is important to keep your finger on the pulse of all new developments, regulations and technology. CPD is a must if an individual wants to progress and move in line with the pace of change. Employers will be looking for this too. They need the right people who have the passion and enthusiasm to keep on top of industry changes in order to bring important skill sets and knowledge to the table.”

Photo: Corbis

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