Demand will increase for professionals with digital finance skills – CIMA president

President of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), PAUL ASH, was in Nigeria recently, as part of his three-nation African tour. During the visit, he led a CIMA team on courtesy visits to key stakeholder groups in the country, including Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN), to discuss, among other things, ways to strengthen existing relationships as well as exploit other opportunities for collaborations. After the visits, Ash had an interview with a select group of senior journalists where the reason for the visits and other related issues were discussed. ZEBULON AGOMUO brings the excerpt:

Could you please talk briefly about yourself and CIMA?

As President of The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and Chair of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the Association), representing CIMA and the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), I’m honoured to belong to and lead an organisation founded on the four pillars of learning, ethics, trust and professionalism. Together, AICPA & CIMA have over 200 years’ combined experience of educating and supporting accounting and finance professionals. It is a legacy we carry proudly today and will continue to do so in the future.

The Association serves a broad and diverse profession of our 689,000 members, students and engaged professionals in 196 countries and territories who are employed by around 164,000 firms. I know that without my Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It has opened doors that would not otherwise have opened. I have worked in many sectors – industrial manufacturing, financial services, energy, media and property and run businesses as CFO, COO and CEO with interests in over 40 countries. My CGMA designation and membership of the profession have served me well over the past 40 years. As they will serve our students and members throughout their careers, opening a world full of opportunities and enabling to taker varied career paths in organisations around the world. It is not just about the letters and membership, it is about the skills they will gain and the ongoing learning journey that they will have committed to by deciding to become a management accountant.

What is the success story of CIMA in Nigeria over the years?

We are working hard across the world to bring our global community together, help grow key markets, raise employability of CIMA students and members and build recognition of the CGMA designation. This is reflected in our activities in Nigeria. In fact, in the last couple of years, we’ve experienced exponential growth in Nigeria and we hope to continue on this path.

As you have noted, Nigeria is no doubt a key market for CIMA. But, what do you envisioned your current visit will achieve in relation to the organisation’s future growth plans?

I am here to show that CIMA, through the Association, is ready to support students, members and partners whatever the future may bring. We are committed to not only help them address today’s challenges, but also help them prepare for a business world led by digital finance. My visit will hopefully help solidify existing relationships with employers, academics, government and create new ones. In addition, thanks to the valuable insights gained from my visit, I now have a better understanding of the needs of our members, students and partners in Nigeria, which will help fine-tune our future plans.

Q: We must now use our varied experiences to enhance the value our profession provides, support economic recovery and use our wisdom and expertise to tackle other emerging issues facing society

Collaborations and partnerships remain very strategic to CIMA’s growth. This is reflected in the organisation’s partnerships with related bodies here in Nigeria such as the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN), and universities, among others. What is your assessment of these partnerships, and how do you intend to strengthen them?

The Association was formed by bringing together the biggest public and management accounting bodies, AICPA and CIMA, to form the largest accounting and finance body in the world. The spirit of collaboration is in our DNA and we have a track record of doing just that.We are delighted to have been partnering with renowned organisations such as CIBN, ICAN, and ANAN – we can be proud of what we’ve achieved together. They have enabled us to help develop highly skilled finance and accounting professionals who can guide and lead their organisations, and in turn national economies, towards sustainable success. We fully intend to further develop our partnerships with these organisations in years to come.

You chose ‘Dare Together’ as a platform to transform CIMA and take it to the next level when you came on board as the president. How relevant will you say is the platform when viewed against massive disruptions by COVID-19, war in Ukraine, environmental and governance issues?

As we continue to face global uncertainty and disruption, I believe that my “Dare Together” platform is even more relevant than at the beginning of my presidential year. What we have learnt in the past two-and-a-half years is that the future belongs to those who work with, not against, each other and, in the process, learn from one another. That is what I mean by daring together. We must now use our varied experiences to enhance the value our profession provides, support economic recovery and use our wisdom and expertise to tackle other emerging issues facing society such as climate change.

No doubt, the emerging digital skills gaps, particularly artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, etc. informed CIMA’s update of its syllabus in 2019 and the body’s commitment to periodic reviews and necessary updates. Talk us through, how the new syllabus is helping to prepare forward-thinking accounting professionals?

The professional qualification brings together management accounting, financial accounting and business skills, giving all our students and future members the practical skills employers need. Once qualified, they will be able to work in a wide range of roles in both the private and public sectors, from finance and IT to business consultancy and senior management positions.

The changes we have made reflect the advances in the world of modern finance and business, and continue to meet the employability needs of both business and people. While we have kept the main structure, number, format and length of our exams, we have added new key areas such as technology, business models, integrated reporting, and cyber-security to our core accounting, finance, and business topics.

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In addition, the updates to the Professional Qualification Syllabus, we developed and launched exam blueprints – a first for the management accounting sector. The exam blueprints make our expectations clear and articulate what students will be assessed on in our exams, ensuring that they acquire the skills they need for a successful career in business. We also made changes to our CGMA Competency Framework, first launched in 2015. We use it to clearly outline the skills and abilities that employers from a range of different industries and sectors told us are essential for their finance teams to have. It now adds and incorporates the new area of digital skills to the four core existing knowledge areas of technical, business, leadership and people skills.

Apart from the finance professionals, what other category of professionals can benefit from the learning resources offered by CIMA?

Understanding accounting and finance is a core competency of working in and running any organisation, be that commercial, public service or not-for-profit. Whilst we are best known for our Professional Qualification and the CGMA designation, we provide a wide range of learning and development opportunities that business leaders, managers and entrepreneurs will find valuable. These range from podcasts, webcasts, conferences to learning modules and certificate programmes on topics such as financial forecasting through to utilising Microsoft XL. In fact, we have created something we call the CGMA store to allow anybody who is interested in our content, not just our members and CIMA students, to access our portfolio of learning.

How do you see the finance profession evolving over the next decade?

For accounting and finance professionals who embrace and apply new digital finance skills, demand for their talents will rise. The rapid pace of change we have experienced in recent years has clearly shown us that we can no longer rely on traditional accounting and past financial performance to drive long-term business success. We must shift our focus towards analytics, using the data at our disposal to ensure business decisions within our organisations effectively enable innovations, are sustainable and create value for all stakeholders.

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