My accounting and finance journey started in the eighth grade in India. In the then-prevailing high school education system, I was given a choice to select a stream or major among the arts, science, or commerce (which included accounting).
My heart was in the arts. I loved reading classics at young age, including Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, and the Sanskrit epic Ramayana. My mind was saying science. Who could resist the challenge of understanding Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity? But I chose accounting (which included management accounting and auditing) within the commerce stream. It was a utilitarian choice for which I qualified by scoring high grades. Good professional career prospects were the reason for that choice.
Many people fall in love with the person they end up with only after really getting to know her or him, and a similar phenomenon can apply to an idea for a career path or “calling.” I plunged into the accounting profession and later discovered that I liked it. I found it challenging but not intimidating. It required me to learn the art of persuasion without the intricacies of drawings, with numbers backing up my words instead. It allowed me to indulge in my passion for arithmetic and articulation of analytics—and how could I forget cost-volume-profit analysis! So after graduation I chose to pursue the challenging Chartered Accountant (CA) course in India and completed it successfully.
FROM INDIA TO AFRICA AND THEN THE U.S.
My first job took me to Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania as a finance manager in a start-up organization where my study of management accounting as a subject came in handy when I standardized the company’s hourly labor rate and overhead allocation method, set up an inventory valuation system, and designed monthly management information system reporting.
I landed in the United States in the 1990s after a five-year stint in Africa. As a fresh immigrant during early stages of increasing computerization and globalization, I took stock of my career and researched the avenues open to me in the U.S. In Africa at that time, the costing profession was generally considered to be part of the overall discipline of accounting. In the U.S., I noticed that not only was cost accounting known as a part of management accounting, but it had a special certification for its practitioners.
Based on my enjoyable experience in Africa, I wanted to pursue a career in the U.S. in a forward-looking field where decisions about what the business would do in the next year (i.e., budgeting) and in the next five years (i.e., strategic planning) are made. I wanted to join the management team that plans the organization’s next steps following variances from the budget and forecast. I wanted to learn to evaluate enterprise risk and set up internal controls. I wanted to become a business partner and contribute to the decision-making process of the CEO and CFO. Based on my research, I believed I could achieve these career goals through management accounting.
ZEROING IN ON THE CMA
When I explored the means to gain mastery in management accounting, I came across the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) certification. On further investigation, I learned that not only did the CMA syllabus cover the traditional management accounting areas, but it has been updated regularly with changing professional requirements.
The CMA exam was rigorous but not insurmountable. It requires understanding concepts and their practical applicability. It trains students and professionals in strategic thinking and analytical skills. The certification is globally recognized.
The institution awarding the certificate, IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), was and continues to be at the forefront of monitoring technological changes impacting the profession (see the current coverage of blockchain and robotic process automation in Strategic Finance, and it incorporates those changes into the exam-prep and continuing-professional-education courses and member training. IMA has a rich heritage of supporting its members, the profession of management accounting, and the finance function.
Studying for—and then passing—the CMA exam taught me the importance of a thorough understanding of the principles of management accounting and critical thinking. For example, in my job with a global manufacturing corporation in the U.S., I was assigned a research project on an enterprise risk management framework, and my CMA studies and IMA resources were of invaluable help. I was also helped by the CFO, who was a CMA and an IMA member. At the same job, I successfully executed the change in the company’s inventory valuation method, which required a sound conceptual understanding of inventory management, as well as mastery of large data analysis and spreadsheet modeling.
APPLYING MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTING PRINCIPLES TO IMA
The CMA has helped me to achieve my career goals through its relentless focus on technological awareness and training while anticipating the future of the profession. One can discern this focus on the Digital Age and future technologies from the recent cover stories of Strategic Finance: Preparing the Finance Function for Technological Change, A Data-Driven Approach to the Pandemic, The Path to Industry 4.0 Implementation, and Govern Your Bots!. The monthly Excel column of the magazine has saved me countless hours and increased my productivity by showing me spreadsheet tricks and hidden commands.
As a director of global compliance and tax reporting at IMA, I’ve had to master the compliance regimes in every country where IMA operates and tailor our systems to each country’s specific requirements. This requires helping our CFO and CEO in strategic positioning, planning, and resource allocation. With the tax administrations of many countries likely going digital and implementing new data-submission and electronic-auditing requirements, creating a whole new set of challenges, our goal at IMA is to keep the organization future-ready. While doing my work related to global compliance and tax issues, I never lose focus on the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice . At IMA, we’re always guided by those ethics standards and practical guidance.
My management accounting journey has been satisfactory and fulfilling. When I started out, computers had appeared in the exam room only recently. Things have changed. Management accounting has changed. The students and professionals have changed. But the focus on ethics hasn’t changed. The dedication to smart, relevant work remains. Students and professionals who want to look ahead to the future and make a difference can surely find fulfillment in a management accounting career. Passing the CMA exam and getting certified are difficult if you don’t prepare sufficiently, but it’s easy if you approach studying for it with determination and dedication. That hard work will pay dividends in the near future and over the long term.