Sometimes the seeds of your future profession are planted early on but don’t sprout and blossom until later in life.
Back when I was a child, my mother worked as a financial manager for a state-owned enterprise in China, and at that time bookkeeping was still done by hand in a paper ledger. She was extremely busy at work and often had to bring the books back home and work overtime on weekends. I wouldn’t say that she liked her job or that I aspired to do something similar one day, because the overtime she worked took away valuable time reserved for family gatherings. Growing up, I never thought that I would work in accounting someday until I looked closer into what accountants actually do and the significant impact they can make on a successful organization.
The Path from University to the Workforce
After I finished my undergraduate studies and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in international economics and trade in China, I went on to do graduate studies after getting accepted into a master’s degree program in banking and finance at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. I had an internship at HSBC, and my primary responsibility was to help account managers to write the annual credit-review report, for which I had to review industry reports, various companies’ annual reports, and other supplementary information. Each industry or sector has typical patterns and benchmark financial indicators. It was my job to use that information to analyze the company’s operations, calculate its capital needs, authorize loan renewals with reasonable risk-management and control measures, and continuously monitor that data. I began to feel that financial reporting was interesting, but that alone wasn’t enough for me to feel fulfilled. If there were a role that combined financial and operational information to support decision making through critical thinking, then that would be the job I wanted to do.
Since my major wasn’t accounting, I wanted to supplement my accounting knowledge by studying for several certifications. The CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) was my first choice, because the body of knowledge necessary to pass the exams—broken down into categories in the IMA Management Accounting Competency Framework—included all the accounting content that I wanted to learn to further my career. From the first moment that I embarked on my CMA studies, my interest has remained focused on the field of management accounting and finance. I’m grateful that my first professional certification was the CMA. It has enhanced my ability to think critically, learn continuously, adapt to change, and process information to solve problems, which continues to benefit my career development and life to this day. I’m part of a larger trend: China now has the largest population of CMAs in the world. After getting my CMA, I received my CPA and CFE certifications and obtained a second master’s degree in energy economics at Rice University to further enhance my knowledge—and résumé.
Before I joined IMA, I served in various roles across the finance field, including a full-cycle senior accountant for a Fortune 500 company, where I rotated through various roles, including accounts payable, accounts receivable, consolidation, reporting, financial analysis, and forecasting; a financial reporting manager for a U.S.-listed Chinese company, where I participated in the privatizations, restructurings, and the secondary offering of that company; and a vice president of finance for a new China-listed energy company, where I was responsible for new investment projects and financing through private placement and secondary markets. In 2016, I cofounded a financial consulting firm with a business partner.
At each stage of my career, I experienced different challenges, but luckily I hold a skeleton key to solve almost any problem: Continuous learning enriches my knowledge and skills required for these tasks. I strongly encourage new graduates and people working to move up the career ladder to never stop improving yourself and your skills, as opportunities tend to present themselves to those who are willing to work hard for them.
Transitioning from Working in Finance to IMA
In February 2020, I joined IMA as a senior manager of the China research team. Working for IMA, a mission-driven not-for-profit organization, enables me to realize my full potential and challenge myself in ways that a corporate job wouldn’t be able to. Being able to accomplish real results and feel like I’m making a positive impact on management accounting and finance professionals is a very rewarding experience.
PMP and CSCA® (Certified in Strategy and Competitive Analysis) are the two certifications that I obtained since I joined IMA. Management accountants are key to executing finance tasks using sound accounting practices and providing insights to business leaders. All CMAs should focus on helping companies to achieve their strategic objectives. To that end, the CSCA helps finance professionals in this undertaking while becoming well-rounded and adaptive enough to weather changes in our profession and the business world at large. With IMA sustaining high standards for CMAs and CSCAs, we can absorb and apply a wide range of knowledge and skills to improve our professional development and provide a boost to our career.
Due to the impacts from the current era of the digital economy, AI, automation, and data analytics, traditional accounting has undergone a fierce reckoning. As more manual traditional accounting tasks become automated, management accounting and finance professionals contributing to strategic goal-setting and higher-value financial planning and analysis has become a major trend transforming the profession. As the finance function continues its dramatic transformation, the value of management accountants has been widely recognized and continues to grow in China and the rest of the world as well.