CIMA Global Chief’s key insights to uplifting management accounting

Wednesday, 26 March 2014 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

CIMA Global President Malcolm Furber is in Sri Lanka this week as a part of his official tour to the South Asian region. To learn more about CIMA’s recent plans, the Daily FT met up with Furber for an interview, in which he shared his thoughts about the continuing initiatives, the Management Accounting (MA) profession, the demand for it, the newly-launched syllabus and other areas. Following are the excerpts of the interview: By Shabiya Ali Ahlam Q: As CIMA Global President for 2013/2014, what new initiatives have you introduced? A: I wouldn’t say new initiatives, else we will have new initiatives every year. We are trying to get the continuity going through. Obviously there have been some major themes during the first part of 2014. One of the areas that I have been emphasising is a need to match what is required in a market place to what is being delivered. In that context, the members must not become complacent with the qualifications they probably got about 20 to 30 years ago. Therefore one theme is to ensure that our members are continuously learning. The second is looking at how CIMA can attract good talent and create an attractiveness to come into the management accounting profession. Backing that up is the new syllabus and the novel way in which we are examining and testing while making sure that at the end of the productivity is fit for purpose. Those two areas have been the two messages that I have been pushing out as President of CIMA. Q: You mentioned that a key focus is to attract people into the MA profession. What is the trend? A: In general in the finance world, demand for financial management is not increasing. With information technology and automation, annual financial statements are produced automatically and transmitted electronically. This is reducing the demand in that area. I would say that we still need that assurance on demand to push for the profession. It is essential for going forward but it is an area that is shrinking. However, organisations are still looking at some form of financial professionals with a code of ethics and standards around them so they are able to look at the organisation with financial core competencies and a more value-added role. We talk about MAs glancing in the rear view mirror but really looking through the windscreen, looking at the bend ahead and anticipating what is going to happen at every corner. So it could be said that there is a lot of demand for that added value space. To do that the management accountant must not sit behind the desk crunching numbers for numbers’ sake, producing reports. With predicted analytics coming more and more to play, the person who can understand quickly, analyse data, and be able to put it in some information format is now critical for any organisation going forward. Q: What is CIMA doing to attract youngsters into the MA profession? A: We call it the ‘wow’ factor. It is the factor that one will not sit behind the desk, but be forward. Be able to talk to the bankers, engineers, and all other groups to understand the business better. I think that is the excitement. We provide our members and students the platform to be a professional who is bound by ethics and professional standards. However, they should realise that they will gradually move around the organisation. It should be noted that a lot of MAs are not in finance markets, and this where IFAC demands continuous development.  They need to look at where they aspire to be in a year’s time, what needs to be done to get there, and that might not be in finance. That is one of the most critical things that we must remember. That is one of the attractiveness about the qualification. It is transportable. Q: CIMA recently launched its new syllabus. How is this different from the previous one? A: We are moving into a computer-based assessment for all of our examinations. At each level of qualification there will be three objective tests of an hour and a half each, and overriding that will be a case study at each level. One the problems professionals face when they sit for their examinations is testing the breadth and depth. It is becoming increasing difficult to assess this since employers demand more. One of the ways to achieve testing in all areas is to have assessment methods such as those we have conceptualised for our new syllabus. With computer-based examinations the days of question spotting have gone, so you cannot memorise parts of the syllabus and be confident that it is the only area that will come up. CIMA is of the view that this is more rigorous and rigid. Also since it is computerised it will show immediately areas in which the students have gone wrong so they can focus more on those topics. Therefore it will help progression. Q: What are the key characteristics that make an MA successful and stand out from the rest? A: One of the things that have come out in the qualification is a need for accountants to have other skills as well, such as marketing. In my days an accountant was never really expected to talk to engineers and other functions. If I look back over my career and note the number of times I had to stand up in front of a board and sell a concept on behalf of an engineer. Confidence is necessary. MA should be a person who can listen and be creative. That is one of the key things in our game. You need to understand how the business works and that is essential. You have to be competitive and be prepared to take some knocks. Q: About CIMA Sri Lanka, how is it performing and where is the room for improvement? A: CIMA Sri Lanka is doing excellently and it is the second largest body outside the UK. It is progressing very fast. It is pushing people to other parts of the world, which once again shows the versatility of the qualification and certainly the younger generation is eager to move to other countries. It is a fantastic breeding ground for CMAs and the quality here is very high. The institutes are producing a very good product and have a good relationship with their stakeholders. The products coming from Sri Lanka are highly regarded and if an initiative comes from the local staff or members, it is listened to very strongly at the global council. Q: Are you expecting any support from the Government to further promote CIMA in Sri Lanka? A: This is one area that is starting to crop up significantly around the world. We have a significant number of members and students in the public sector. The awareness of CIMA in that sector is increasing dramatically around the world, particular in emerging countries. Taxpayers are seeing tax as a burden and they want more from less and that is one of the reasons why governments are struggling. For this our members can assist in areas such as outcome based budgeting programs, where it is more transparent to the end user and the tax payer. And CIMA can help create that transparency. I think we have a lot of power to assist the governments and they are more interested in helping us. Q: Which Government officials do you plan on meeting during your stay here? A: I will be meeting the Central Bank Governor. We will be having the CIMA President’s Dinner and there I will be meeting the Secretary of Ministry of Education along with senior members of the private and public sector. Q: What will you be discussing in your meeting with the Central Bank Governor? A: I have been greatly involved with the power sector in South Africa and so I will be talking about the skills CIMA has to help transform that sphere. More than pushing CIMA, it is about helping the State sector understand. We have also done a lot of work on business models where it is about making the most out of resources. So it will be about talking on models that will add value to the social environmental issues rather than just looking at just the financial side of it. Q: What is your message to the CIMA members? A: You are entering an exciting and progressing profession where opportunities will come at you if you put yourself out correctly.