The Institute of Management Accountants is planning ahead for next year’s 100th anniversary of the organization, which it will be getting an early start on next month at its annual conference, where it also plans to roll out its long anticipated Competency Framework.

“We officially celebrate it next June in San Diego, but start the birthday party next month in Indianapolis,” said IMA president and CEO Jeff Thomson. “We were founded in 1919 in Buffalo, and the rest, as they say, is history. It actually started out as the National Association of Accountants, but then that was viewed as too similar to the AICPA and others. Then later on we became the National Association of Cost Accountants, but that was viewed as too limiting. Now we’re the Institute of Management Accountants.”

Thomson has seen a trend over the years to more of an embrace of technology by accountants, which is where the Competency Framework comes in.

Institute of  Management Accountants president and CEO Jeff Thomson
Institute of Management Accountants president and CEO Jeff Thomson Courtesy: IMA

“It’s very exciting, the pace of automation,” he said. “Certainly we write about it, like many others, but the one thing that we’re doing that I think is a little bit different is we’re kind of rolling up our sleeves and determining what are the specific competencies that different roles in finance and accounting need. So we have a Competency Framework with KSAs — knowledge, skills and abilities — one of these detailed frameworks that talks about the different skill sets broadly, and then it delves down into detail. We’re in the process of significantly expanding that framework to cover at a grassroots level data analytics, data visualization, data governance, storytelling, all the things that maybe 10 or 20 years ago you’d never think would be part of what an accountant does.”

For the kickoff of its 100th anniversary year in mid-June, the IMA be releasing the Competency Framework for a 90-day exposure period, when it will elicit feedback from its members and constituents. “Then we cascade that down into training programs,” said Thomson. “We’re talking to various partners like Wiley about training and education programs.”

Technologies like blockchain, machine learning and cognitive computing are increasingly being cited as areas where accountants will be playing a role in the years ahead, and Thomson believes it’s a good idea for accountants to at least become acquainted with what they mean.

“In our opinion, in a hypercompetitive environment that we all face, you have to be a first mover on learning about the technology to determine if it could offer you sustained value and differentiation,” he said. “IMA itself as a growing multinational corporation is doing just that. We may or may not implement blockchain if it makes sense for our business. But in order to make those evaluations and to harness the value of automation and all this technology, you have to be able to ask the right questions, which means you need to understand how to mine data and how to analyze data. Are we saying that accountants in every role need to be PhD statisticians and econometricians? Probably not. But are we willing to accept that where we are today in our skill set and what we teach in accounting academia, even what we teach as IMA, is that sufficient? No. The sweet spot is somewhere in between those two extremes that everything is fine and dandy, and the world’s falling apart.”

The IMA itself has been expanding over the years and growing internationally as more accountants sign up for its Certified Management Accountant, or CMA, credential. Nearly half the members are in China, and the organization has plans to expand to India, Singapore and the Philippines as well.

“We’re really excited about the growth in the CMA program,” Thomson said last week. “All in, we’re about 108,000 members globally. We have two months left in our fiscal year, so we’ll see how we do, but we have about 45,000 members now in China. That’s a big market. We’re going to be opening up an office in the next few weeks, knock on wood, in Bangalore, India. I’m headed to Singapore and the Philippines where we have a lot of interest. That speaks to the increased globalization of our profession.”

He sees an interest abroad not just in accounting and financial reporting, but also in areas like sustainability reporting and integrated reporting. “The world is a complex place,” said Thomson. “There are value-added taxes and indirect taxes and different jurisdictions that impact business and value creation.”

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Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.