by Glenn Cheney

Montvale, N.J. - The Institute of Management Accountants says that it has turned a vital corner.

Despite the unfavorable economic circumstances of the past year, the group, based here, said that it has reversed a steady decline in membership and balanced its budget.

Although the growth in its membership roll was minimal - just 0.5 percent - it marked the first time in over a decade that the numbers have trended upwards. Total membership for the organization stands at about 67,000. And, for the first time in nearly two decades, the group is operating on a balanced budget that does not depend on drawing from reserves.

The venerable organization, originally known as the National Association of Accountants when it was founded in 1919, has shaken itself up over the last year, resolving to give its executive director, David Schweitz, the title of president, a position formerly held by volunteers who were elected for one-year terms. Between the temporary and voluntary nature of the earlier presidency, the institute tended to lurch without long-term direction and its progress was nearly non-existent.

“I think that the association made the right move,” Schweitz said. “For the sake of continuity, we needed to have a staff person be president and chief executive just to keep the strategic plan and our focus continuing in the same direction all the time.”

Kim Wallin, CPA, of the Las Vegas-based firm D.K. Wallin Ltd., who has become the chair of the institute, agreed with the shift of power.

“We wanted to become a staff-led organization,” Wallin said shortly after the institute’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., in June, where the changes were approved. “By being staff-led, we can focus on our strategic goals and objectives. This will give us continuity. In the past, every time a president came in, they would tend to their pet projects, which might not be in line with strategic plans. Now, with the president on staff, we can hold him accountable for following the strategic plan.”

As chair, Wallin will be in charge of the volunteer side of the organization, from the board of directors to the international chapter structure. The board of directors will continue to set strategic goals for the organization and the staff, but the president will have direct hire-and-fire control over vice presidents, managers and other staff.

Wallin said that the institute is returning to its core values: education, certification and research. The institute oversees the Certified Management Accountant and Certified in Financial Management programs. The CMA program is now 30 years old and growing.

The IMA was able to reach a balanced budget by increasing revenues while cutting costs. Staff at its New Jersey headquarters was trimmed from over 80 to a taut 61. Financially ineffective programs, such as a doctoral scholarship, were cut. Headquarters now strives to distribute information electronically, rather than on paper, in part through a new electronic newsletter. And dues have increased by 21 percent, from $145 to $175 for a standard membership.

The institute also plans to increase revenues by working with Holmes Corp. to develop a computer-based CMA review program. While third-party programs have been on the market for many years, this is the first time that the institute will develop a course and receive revenues from sales. The course should be released by June 2004.

“We’re moving carefully in this area because, in the past, we’ve lost money in course development,” Schweitz said.

Cash saved from cost cuts and new revenues earned from non-dues sources will be pumped into marketing the certification programs. Marketing, Wallin said, has been weak over the past several years. A corporate development professional will be hired to promote the IMA’s educational opportunities and the certification programs within corporations on the East Coast.

In a radical departure from current policy, the institute is considering allowing members of other associations to earn IMA certifications without becoming members of the IMA. The institute is also exploring the concept of corporate membership.

Another area of recent activity has addressed the demands of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. In cooperation with Ernst & Young and Deloitte & Touche, the institute has developed an Internet list.serve system that will help members determine the best practices relating to Sarbanes-Oxley.

At the same time, a beefed up ethics program helps members meet the new legal requirements.

In fact, Wallin said that she knows of three IMA members who have resigned from their jobs after realizing that they could not meet ethical standards if they continued to work with their management.

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