Jeffrey Thomson, president and CEO of the Institute of Management Accountants, worked for over two decades in the telecommunications industry and knows a thing or two about competition.
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Thomson recently sent a letter to Accounting Today outlining his concerns with the AICPA’s plans to “grandfather” CPAs who meet certain criteria into the program for three years and offer a free six-month auto enrollment period without any competency testing (see Coverage of CGMA Only Tells Half the Story).
Thomson also wanted to give his perspective in an interview. He emphasized up front that he “applauded” the AICPA for recognizing the value of management accounting, but objected to the way the AICPA and its joint venture partner, the CIMA, are essentially giving away the credential without any demonstration of real competency.
Do you feel like the AICPA has invaded your turf?
Thomson: At a really high level we actually applaud the AICPA, which has a 125-year-old history. We applaud the fact that they’ve recognized what we’ve recognized for 92 years, which is the importance of managerial accounting. Management accounting is what companies put a high value on, to manage their business, to grow their business, to sustain growth, to be transparent and protect the interests of investors. We’re talking about planning and analysis capabilities, M&A activity, risk management, internal controls, the more forward-looking, value-adding activities.
When an organization with the size and scope and stature of the AIPCA enters the profession of management accounting, we actually applaud what they’ve done. What we take issue with and have concerns about is the means by which they are certifying the competency of management accounting professionals who work in business. From a market perspective, when we think about the economy and organizational failures, whether they’re ethical lapses, or just bad business performance, organizations around the world more than ever need competent, certified properly qualified management accountants to help them drive performance and protect investors. While we applaud the AICPA’s entry into the management accounting profession, we don’t believe that the method by which they’re going to certify competency over the next three years is in fact going to assure that employers have the most credible, competent, trusted business advisors.
Would you have preferred that they chose your organization to partner with rather than the CIMA?
Thomson: Well, I’m not going to dodge the question, I’ll answer it. It’s really a good question for the AICPA. Just taking a step back, the concern we have is again from a market perspective, from an employer perspective, whether you’re Saudi Aramco or PetroChina or IBM, the concern we have is that in their process, in this joint venture, in the United States if you have a CPA and demonstrate three years of experience in management accounting and pay a fee, you get to call yourself a CGMA, a Chartered Global Management Accountant, which sounds good to an employer. It means that you’re fully competent and credible to sit at the table in financial decision making, but there isn’t any test. There is no assessment in that three–year period, and that’s what troubles us.
We believe the means to assure the most competent professional at the table is not only an experience requirement, not only appropriate undergraduate education, but to actually study for and pass a rigorous, relevant and focused exam. So in the most extreme example, let’s say you have a young person, they graduate college, they work for a couple of years for their local CPA, they pass the CPA Exam and become a member of the AICPA, and then, let’s say, become the controller of the local florist or local plumber. They work there for three years, and with that experience requirement, they can call themselves a CGMA. And we have concerns about that, and we respectfully believe that is not the best way to certify competency in such a critical set of skills for not only organizations, but for society.
On top of that, the joint venture has an auto-enrollment period where, as we understand it, in the United States, the AICPA will automatically award the CGMA by sort of data mining through their database. As we understand it, if you have three years of management accounting experience, you’re automatically granted the CGMA and later on you have to opt out. That just doesn’t hit us as the most professional means to certify competency and we mean that with all due respect. In terms of the AICPA choosing CIMA, you would have to ask them that. CIMA has had an 85-year head start on globalization. They started out in the U.K. and they currently have a larger global footprint, although we are doing very well globally. I believe the AICPA went to CIMA because as the AICPA grows internationally, they were looking to leverage CIMA’s global footprint.
Also, the other thing I would say, just to be a bit provocative, is that it’s pretty clear that these two organizations will merge and the AICPA will be the parent and the CIMA exam and the CIMA organization as we know it over time would go away. And perhaps the AICPA knows that the IMA has a long history. We’re proud of our CMA exam and perhaps they hypothesized that the IMA would not agree to being essentially subservient to a larger organization. I can only speculate on that. We were never approached, but at the end of the day, our larger concern is not about us, it’s not about the AICPA or CIMA. They’re two fine, respected associations. It’s about the employer and the organization and society having to be strengthened through credible, competent management accountants. That’s in essence our concern.
So you were never approached by them about that kind of partnership? Have you ever approached them about doing some kind of joint credential?
Thomson: No, we have had discussions regarding co-promoting the two credentials many, many years ago. The idea of a CPA with CMA is a very, very powerful one-two punch for employers and organizations in general, but the AICPA has always stayed true to its mission of the starting point being a CPA and adding on credentials that they develop on their own. So that’s been a philosophy of theirs. Of course, we believe that you don’t necessarily need to have a CPA as a starting point to be a credible, trusted business advisor inside finance organizations. We respect that view of the AICPA that the CPA, at least in the United States, must be the starting point for any add-on credentials. So we respect that view of theirs, and it’s important to note that we have had partnerships with the AICPA in the past in the areas of research and advocacy. We’re not enemies. We’re respectful partners, but at the end of the day, if an organization larger than yours offers a credential like yours, while we will be respectful competitors, we will also be fierce competitors.
So how are you planning to compete with them now that they are getting into this area?
Thomson: We view it less as competing with AICPA and CIMA, and we view it more as doing an incredible job of serving members and the profession. By that I mean even without this trend toward industry consolidation and getting bigger, we will stay true to our mission, we will leverage our incredible, unique competitive assets, and we will continue to grow. IMA is financially healthy, we have a strong balance sheet, and we’re growing CMAs all over the world. We’ve significantly increased our investments overseas where we have offices in China, the Middle East and Europe. And to a large extent we are just going to continue to raise the bar on innovation, on being agile, on creating local services in those various regions that truly transform lives and careers. Quite frankly, we are looking at significant partnerships of our own, but those partnerships will not only expand our global footprint, but they will stay true to our mission. And our mission does not say, “Become big. Add more members for the sake of adding members.” It’s about creating the world’s best management accountants so they can really make a difference in organizations and society.