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AICPA and IMA Continue Fight over Management Accounting Credential

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February 6, 2013

The American Institute of CPAs and the Institute of Management Accountants are still battling over bragging rights on management accounting credentials, a year after the AICPA launched the Chartered Global Management Accountant designation in a joint venture with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

The AICPA issued a press release last week to mark the one-year anniversary of the credential, claiming it had become the “top management accounting designation” in the U.S. That ruffled a few feathers at the IMA, which has traditionally given out its own Certified Management Accountant credential, and has been objecting to the AICPA’s approach of initially giving the CGMA designation to any CPA with three years of management accounting experience during an “auto-enrollment period.” That helped the AICPA reach a figure of 37,864 CFOs, controllers and other finance professionals holding the CGMA designation in the U.S., compared to about 20,000 active CMAs (see AICPA and CIMA Launch CGMA Management Accounting Designation).

“We set out a year ago to raise the bar on management accounting—a critical discipline at the intersection of finance and strategy that helps businesses connect the dots across their organizations, manage tumultuous times and navigate a path toward long-term sustainable success,” said AICPA president and CEO Barry Melancon in announcing the milestone. “The CGMA designation distinguishes those professionals who have achieved demanding levels of financial education and experience and provides organizations the consistency and confidence they need to operate across borders, around the world.”

Jeff Thomson

The AICPA claimed that U.S. CGMA designation holders are present in 91 of the Fortune 100 companies, and 440 of the Fortune 500. Nearly a third work in C-suite level roles, including CEO, CFO, COO and president. Globally, there are more than 128,000 total CGMA designation holders, mainly through membership in the London-based CIMA.

IMA president and CEO Jeff Thomson acknowledged in an interview Monday with Accounting Today that it’s appropriate for the AICPA to make the announcement one year into the launch of the CGMA. “Our perspective is really pretty simple: this is not a PR contest,” he said. “Who’s the top designation? Who’s the most prominent? We’ll leave that for others to play that PR game and numbers and things like that. Our consistent focus in words and actions has been on the talent management gap in the profession. The way you can get a sense for how serious an organization is about the needs of employers and the needs of professionals and students is in their press releases, in their annual reports, in their actions. We’re just going to take the high ground and say from a demand perspective—and remember, I was a CFO in industry—the need for qualified accountants who can both preserve value and help generate value, it’s difficult. In fact, the Manpower Group’s talent management survey just recently found that accounting and finance staff was one of the top 10 hardest jobs to fill over the last two years.”

On the supply side, IMA vice president or research Raef Lawson recently pointed out that the preparation of accounting students at the undergraduate level is inadequate to the purpose of creating an influential, well-rounded accountant, Thomson pointed out (see Accounting Education Needs to Bridge Real-World Skills Gap).

“It’s too skewed in undergraduate accounting toward audit, tax and compliance, and there’s not enough balance in terms of strategic thinking skills and value creation type activities,” said Thomson. “We’ve been working both the demand side and the supply side. Our interest is in not who boldly proclaims themselves to be the top or the most prominent, but who is taking the lead in tangible actions in addressing the needs of individuals, organizations and society. We are after all a mission-oriented not-for profit organization, so we will continue to make announcements and tangible activities that genuinely and continuously address the needs of employers and professionals and even of students in terms of career choice.”

Since the CMA program was introduced nearly 40 years ago, there have been nearly 40,000 CMA holders who have earned the credential, according to Thomson, of whom about 20,000 are currently active.

“The growth is exponential around the world for various reasons,” said Thomson. “Every single one of those 40,000 who earned the credential earned it through a comprehensive testing program, with an education requirement and an experience requirement and the requirement for continuing education credits. Is it absolute size or the quality of your credential and the influence? I came from a large telecommunications company [AT&T]. Absolute size and influence are not mutually exclusive at times. One could relate to the other. But we’re going to create our influence with a certification that one can say, ‘Wow, this person went through rigorous testing, an experience requirement, and an education requirement.'”

However, the IMA has been allying with other accounting groups and corporations such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, John Wiley & Sons and IBM to grow the number of its credential holders (see IMA Positions Itself to Compete with AICPA). “We absolutely have an objective to create exponential awareness and adoption of the CMA program,” said Thomson. “But it’s in our DNA that you will be tested for the right to call yourself a competent management accountant, not just in value preservation, but in value creation.”

Mark Koziel, vice president of firm services and global alliances at the AICPA, sees a benefit for CGMA holders, however. “We’re getting a lot of positive responses from organizations and corporations,” he said during a meeting with the Accounting Today staff on Tuesday. “You have a more global presence if people move from New York to the Sri Lanka office. If they’re specializing in an area like business process outsourcing, they can go cross-border to Canada or cross-border to Mexico, and now there’s a way to differentiate themselves.”

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