IMA begins new campaign to promote the CMA

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The Institute of Management Accountants launched a new global promotional campaign Monday for its Certified Management Accountant credential, with advertising spots showing how accountants can add value to their organization, as the IMA expands its outreach to accounting students this semester about the skills needed in an accounting career today.

Like previous IMA ads, which featured an accountant getting a tattoo of the CMA logo on their back or robot CMAs, the new ad presents a humorous take on business and accounting. It depicts a meeting in a conference room where most of the participants slide off their chairs to hide underneath the table when a question comes up from the boss, except for one accountant who has the confidence and knowledge to remain in his seat at the table.

"Earning the CMA certification is not just about staying relevant in today's digital workplace, it is about thriving in it," said IMA president and CEO Jeff Thomson in a statement. "Management accountants who have an understanding of advanced technologies and strategies will excel as the profession moves forward, and the CMA certification allows them to reach that potential. As a global association, we hope this campaign educates professionals on the importance of CMA certification in developing the skills necessary to succeed both today and in the future.”

The IMA has been encouraging more accountants to acquire the business skills needed to remain relevant in the corporate world, including strategic development and technology know-how in areas such as data analytics. It has been updating its Management Accounting Competency Framework to include such skills and encouraging more colleges and universities to teach communication and management skills to accounting students.

Technology skills in particular have become more important to accountants. “It’s really a reflection of what’s happening in the environment in general,” said IMA chair-elect Dr. Paul Juras, a professor at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. “We’re seeing what some people are calling a technological transformation, or a digital transformation.”

Accountants and their organizations are coming under pressure to adapt to all the constant technology changes, and some feel threatened by the increasing amount of automation in the field.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty out there,” said Juras. “We hear about artificial intelligence and robotic process automation. Some of the traditional jobs that accounting and finance people have might be threatened by this automation. There’s a growing demand for people who can not only do more of the analysis part. We hear about data analytics and big data. That’s beyond the traditional accounting and finance roles. But I think what’s more important is that people have to be good communicators and translators. With all this data that’s out there and all this technology that’s evolving, there’s an incredible wealth of data that’s being generated and analyzed. But the question is what does it really mean for business. I believe that the accounting and finance people are the ones who understand the business because of their training, but then are in a position to translate what that means.”

He believes it’s necessary for accountants to go beyond traditional accounting and finance functions and help communicate the information to their organization.

“You can’t just sit in your own little siloed world and be able to expect to clearly communicate a message that helps people understand the meaning behind the analysis.” said Juras. “Envisioning where the opportunities and challenges are going to be coming from, you really have to keep your eyes up and scanning the environment. You have to have an appreciation for what these technologies might mean with respect to opportunities and challenges, and then be in a position to help craft a business case for what changes an organization might want to undertake.”

Accountants can play more of a role in setting strategy in the companies where they work. “If you don’t understand where the organization wants to go, which is really what the strategy dictates, it’s hard to make recommendations on how to get there,” said Juras. “Understanding strategy is important. Accounting and finance to a large degree are about performance evaluation and performance management. ... The idea there is to say we need to develop key metrics to help drive the business forward in alignment with our strategy.”

Accounting students should not only take business courses to prepare for discussions of corporate strategy, but also the liberal arts. “Yes, strategy would be important, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a background in some of the liberal arts areas because there’s a different way of thinking,” said Juras. “I think there’s an argument that the traditional business functions are less focused on creativity, and are more deep dives into how to do something, whereas an appreciation for the implications for humanity might be more important. It might seem a bit broad, but we know organizations are starting to focus more on sustainability. They are dealing with things like integrated reporting. They are being more socially conscientious. To have an appreciation for the effects on the humanities, courses like sociology and economics are very important. I hate to see schools focusing on the tools of accounting and finance without recognizing the impact on humanity of the decisions that are made through accounting and finance functions.”

The IMA has been updating its Competency Framework to include more skills in areas like strategy and ethics, and extending those to the CMA Exam and university courses endorsed by the IMA.

“Certainly our goal is to try to get more schools to become endorsed and we have modified the content of the CMA Exam so it more closely aligns with the Competency Framework,” said Juras. “Schools in the future that become endorsed will be endorsed recognizing this new content. By default that means they’re saying that students have the ability to take courses aligned with what is on the revised exam, and what’s on the revised exam does map to what is on the Competency Framework, so they all do go together.”

He would like to see accounting students taking more courses in areas where they see themselves working in their future careers.

“While schools offer curriculums, students need to be proactive, not passive,” said Juras. “Normally an accounting student or finance major takes X, Y or Z. I think the students really need to be a bit more proactive, to try to have a feel for the kind of job they would like to have and then try to figure out what courses will help get them there. It might not be the traditional courses that people would recommend because many times the traditional recommendations were focused on the jobs that used to exist, and the recommendations may not be aligned with the jobs that we don’t even know will exist yet because they haven’t even been defined. I think students just need to be more proactive and think outside the traditional business disciplines in order to make themselves more adaptable.”

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Certified Management Accountants IMA Accounting students Accounting education Jeff Thomson