IMA Moments

Lessons from My Career in Finance Research

By Raef Lawson, Ph.D., CMA, CSCA, CPA, CFA, CAE
August 18, 2021
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Technology has transformed the accounting and finance profession, and I’ve witnessed it firsthand. My first job in accounting and finance was as manager of financial feasibility for a major real estate development company.

 

My job responsibilities included assessing alternate development scenarios for land parcels and making recommendations regarding types of development, pricing, etc. I did this using an online investment evaluation software package that the company had purchased from a software vendor, something that was relatively new in those days.

 

Our primary performance metric was return on investment (ROI), which was fine, except that one day I asked to evaluate a project where we were partnering with a company whose contribution to the project was a piece of land, resulting in my company having no upfront investment, making an ROI calculation impossible. I was able to go into the source code of our computer program and calculate additional performance metrics such as net present value (NPV) that would enable me to evaluate alternative development scenarios. It was clear to me from this experience that having strong technology skills was important for success in the field of accounting and finance.

 

CAREER ADVICE

 

My career advice, regardless of what line of work you’re in, is to be open to new opportunities and not get too complacent in your current job. I’ve tended to stay in my jobs for long periods, whereas perhaps I should have explored other opportunities more frequently.

 

In addition, always aim to expand your skills and look for creative solutions to problems and ways to overcome hurdles. For example, many years ago, I was serving as the CFO of a century-old group of closely held, affiliated companies. Drawing on knowledge I had gained in an advanced corporate taxation course, I recommended that the companies perform reverse stock splits followed by a corporate combination, which enabled the remaining entity to elect to be treated as an S corporation for taxation purposes. This was an instance when I had the clear opportunity to act as a value creator. The insight I would draw from this is the need for management accountants to possess a broad skill set, enabling them to handle the wide variety of challenges that they may encounter in their careers.

 

DECIDING BETWEEN VARIOUS CAREER PATHS

 

I’ve worked in academia, the not-for-profit sector, and the public and private accounting sectors, and each has its pros and cons. It may sound trite but my recommendation is to follow your passion to find the best fit for you. Your passion could be advancing a social goal, pursuing knowledge and practical applications of some aspect of technology, global travel, or some other interest—and you may be able to pursue this interest in a variety of settings, including a professional one.

 

PREDICTIONS FOR THE ACCOUNTING AND FINANCE PROFESSION

 

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the management accounting and finance function will be long-lasting, remaining even after the pandemic has receded. Several major changes have occurred in our field in the meantime. The first is that, in many organizations, the role of the CFO has increased tremendously in importance. As the pandemic spread, many businesses fought for survival, and it was the CFO who led the strategic planning and tactical decision making regarding managing cash flow, negotiating with vendors, and so on. The CFO is now often leading the reevaluation of their organization’s strategy in this new business environment. That enhanced role will continue.

 

Technology has been changing the nature of the finance function, changes that have only been accelerated by the pandemic, and that trend will continue. Routine, repetitive tasks are being automated, and we now have the tools—including data analytics—to provide greater business insights. This will enable the role of the CFO to evolve from that of a compiler and reporter of information to that of strategic business partner. It’s something that’s been predicted for some time now but that many organizations’ finance executives found challenging due to lack of resources. Technology has changed that.

 

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS AS THE NEXT CHAPTER BEGINS

 

One highlight of my career was the study I conducted soon after joining IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) in November 2005 of the management accounting practices in China, which included several field-study trips to numerous companies across that country. That study helped IMA to enter the China market, which is now its largest in terms of members with the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) certification.

 

Another highlight would be having served as a technical advisor on the International Accounting Education Standards Board, where I was instrumental in drafting the implementation guidance of the International Education Standard for professional accountants in business (aka management accountants).

 

On the academic side, there are the various IMA programs that I started that have helped many students, including the Campus Advocate program, the CMA Scholarship program, and the Higher Education Endorsement program. On the research side, I helped to build the research function at IMA from one that had been eliminated to one that is now world-class, launch the IMA Educational Case Journal (IECJ®), and bring back the IMA Statements on Management Accounting (SMAs) along the way.

 

But what I’ll remember most is all the professional acquaintances I’ve met and friends I’ve made over the years on my numerous trips to IMA chapters, schools, and conferences. I’ve got great memories of the warm receptions I received during trips to IMA chapters in Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam, and many other places, both domestic and international. I’m looking forward to continuing these as I move on to the next phase of my career, including now serving as the Chair of IMA’s Research Foundation.

 



Raef Lawson, Ph.D., CMA, CSCA, CPA, CFA, CAE, is the Chair of IMA’s Research Foundation and former professor-in-residence and vice president of research and policy at IMA. You can reach him at raeflawson@outlook.com.
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