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.

[IMGCAP(1)]But when he learned about the American Institute of CPAs’ partnership with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants to offer a new Chartered Global Management Accountant credential essentially for free, he cried foul (see AICPA, CIMA Plan Push for New Management Credential).

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.

I’ve noticed that you’re partnered in the past with the Institute of Internal Auditors and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and even had the same marketing person. Are you still separate organizations?

Thomson: All those organizations are separate, but we have many agreements and partnerships all over the world where they make sense, expanding our footprint while serving our mission. So we have a mutual recognition agreement with a major association in India, for example. We have various advocacy and research partnerships with other global accounting associations. That’s important because the objective is to serve your profession. I worked for 24 years at AT&T in a cutthroat, competitive telecommunications environment, so with all due respect to my peers at AICPA and CIMA who are incredibly respected association executives, I have significantly more experience in the competitive environment. In some sense it’s unfortunate that we even have to use that word in a not-for-profit societal type of environment, but it is what it is. It’s part of what the environment brings you, and as I said, while IMA will always stay true to its mission of serving professionals and society, if competition faces us we will approach it in a fierce but respectful manner. It’s important that we stand up and be counted. Again we highly respect AICPA and CIMA. We just are troubled by the manner in which they are awarding CGMAs during this three-year period from January 2012 to January 2015.

Accounting Today reached out to the AICPA and the CIMA. The AICPA sent this response from senior vice president of management accounting Arleen Thomas to some of our questions.

Is the new CGMA credential a sign that the AICPA plans to merge with the CIMA?

[IMGCAP(2)]Thomas: The CGMA is the result of a joint venture formed by two of the world’s largest and most prestigious accounting organizations with the purpose of elevating the science of management accounting, and promoting uniform global standards of management accounting excellence through the CGMA credential. It’s a “joint venture,” not a merger.

The IMA contends that the three-year grandfathering period for getting a CGMA doesn’t include a test, which they say should be required. What’s your response?

Thomas: All CGMAs will have had some form of rigorous testing. Outside of the United States, all CIMA members who are eligible for the CGMA have followed a very thorough multi-year curriculum and have taken a very rigorous set of examinations—10 of them including a case study. In the U.S., those initially eligible to receive the CGMA credential during the first three years must be a CPA member of the AICPA—that is, they have passed the very challenging Uniform CPA Examination and have met educational requirements set by their state boards of accountancy—and have at least three years of experience in management accounting.

So, by definition, all new CGMAs would have gone through the CIMA examination process or have taken the four-part CPA examination and have had the equivalent experience component. As a matter of fact, approximately 40,000 AICPA members who meet the CGMA criteria in the U.S are in top C-Suite roles, such as CEOs, CFOs, Comptrollers, etc. In three years, we will add an additional assessment to the CGMA program, and all CGMAs, those now and in the future, will be required to commit to comprehensive ethical standards and ongoing education to ensure their skills remain up to date with market needs.

What about the free, six-month auto enrollment period?

Thomas: It is only fair and equitable to offer the opportunity to become a CGMA to those AICPA members who already have extensive work experience in management accounting and have passed the Uniform CPA Examination. The six-month grace period gives members a chance to have the CGMA credential, receive all the CGMA benefits and experience membership in the largest and most experienced management accounting community in the world.

[IMGCAP(3)]Accounting Today also heard back in early January from CIMA chief executive Charles Tilley.

Could you address the IMA's concern that the lack of a test during the three-year grandfathering period for the CGMA credential, and the free six-month auto-enrollment period, would lessen the value of the training that management accountants need to do a proper job for their companies?

Tilley: I think it is very important to remember that the individuals who will qualify to use the CGMA credential from Jan. 31, 2012 are all CPAs who have, therefore, both qualified for this credential, including obtaining an accountancy degree. They have then had a minimum of three years practical experience in business which two years must have been in the business finance environment.

The IMA has also speculated that the CGMA could be a step on the path toward an eventual merger between CIMA and the AICPA. Do you have a response?

Tilley: This is a new joint venture between the AICPA and CIMA, and a merger isn’t part of the current plan. Both organizations intend to work together to take advantage of each other's respective strengths. When the success of the JV is established, other options, including a merger, could be considered in the future.