career-development-510

The top development priorities for management accountants


By Samantha White

Career progression is top of mind for many management accountants, and the scope of a role and the prospects it holds for promotion are strong motivating factors for those considering their next move. 

Forty-nine per cent of finance professionals plan to move to a new role within the next two years, according to the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants’ (CIMA’s) annual salary survey, which gathered data from 6,625 members around the world.

More than half (58%) of respondents said that financial reward was among their motivations for such a move. Forty per cent of those polled prioritised broadening the scope of their role, and 33% highlighted the importance of opportunities for promotion.

Developing the right skills is essential to achieving these career aspirations, and strategy is the area management accountants worldwide want to work on in the coming year; 37% of those surveyed flagged it as a priority. Driving performance was a goal for 27%, followed by mentoring (26%) and project management (25%).

Members in India (30%) and China (29%) indicated a particular interest in change management, while in Sri Lanka, negotiation and decision-making (41%) and business planning (37%) were among the continuing professional development (CDP) priorities.

Strategic partners

The ability to drive the strategy of their organisation has become increasingly important to management accountants over the last three years. In the 2014 edition of the survey, 34% said strategic planning and implementation was a key CPD goal for them that year, while the top priority was developing leadership skills (39%).

Strategy was the most sought after competency in the 2015 edition, with 31% of respondents planning to work on that area. Soft skills were a popular focus, with 25% of members looking to improve their ability to influence others, and 23% flagging each of the following: motivating and inspiring, coaching and mentoring, and negotiation and decision-making. 

The latest developments in accounting information systems and the type of additional insights these might allow finance professionals to provide to the wider business was another subject members were keen to explore in 2016.

Asked which methods they would use to build these skills, 70% of respondents said on-the-job learning. Mentoring was part of the plan for 44%, and 36% intend to attend a course in person.

But CPD is not a one-off task that we can tick off our to-do list after a training event. Newly acquired knowledge has to be put to practical use, said Lisa Kiew, ACMA, CGMA, head of finance and resources at the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers.

“People can go on courses and learn theory, but it’s really when they begin to work with peers, both within their function and outside, and acquire experience that knowledge embeds and becomes real and productive,” Kiew said.

Kiew works for the national organisation which supports Quaker meetings throughout England, Scotland, and Wales and seeks to raise awareness of the tenets of the Quaker faith. She leads a team of six finance staff, as well as four employees in IT and HR roles.

She encourages staff to share their learning when they return from a course, partly because re-expressing it to others keeps the knowledge fresh. And she ensures that the team knows to go to that person for questions on a particular topic he or she has studied, with the bonus that her employees get to meet more people out of their normal space.

This fits in with her aim for her function to move beyond technical expertise, and beyond the finance silo, to work with operational staff more closely.

Tailor your training

Kiew recommended that professionals go to training courses with questions in mind that they want to answer to gain more from the experience than simply taking in what’s on the agenda.

It is also important to find the most appropriate method of acquiring each skill on your CPD plan. External training courses can be generic; the challenge is how to translate that general theory into how your organisation operates on a practical level, Kiew explained.

In this context, peer-to-peer networking has proved a valuable development tool. She has fostered relationships with counterparts in the religious charity sector and extended her network through referrals.

Traditionally, charities have tended to focus on delivery, and there has not been much opportunity to look at what underpins the delivery, how you support the message you put out, and how you invest in the resources to ensure you work effectively and efficiently, Kiew said. “Generally, we don’t have a lot of resources, so working together is the most sensible way to identify what best practice really works in the field and in our sector,” she said.

The challenges facing non-governmental organisations in the UK today have informed Kiew’s own CPD goals. The sector is coming under increasing scrutiny and regulatory control, and there is demand for greater accountability and value for money. Consequently, Kiew is looking to develop skills in impact reporting.

The UK’s referendum vote to leave the EU has potentially significant impacts for the sector and the wider economy, and means the organisation is looking at its income lines and costs.

“Given the level of economic uncertainty, the key things for us are forecasting and scenario modelling skills, supporting risk identification and risk management,” she said. “These skills are not new to the function but are becoming far more important because of the Brexit decision and uncertainty in the general environment.”

The importance of strategic skills revealed in the CIMA survey is reflected in Kiew’s organisation. One of its current priorities is to ensure that budget planning is integrated with the delivery strands, and strategic and operational planning, so that the two work hand in hand. 

Finance professionals are well-positioned to provide insight based on the data they hold, and there is a need for them to communicate how that insight should underpin decision-making. Look at the key questions and the patterns in the data, and talk about the big trends, the changes that are happening, and use that to support decision-making, Kiew advised.

Strategic skills become particularly important when you become an operational manager, particularly in a financial controller or business partner role. But you can develop them earlier in your career, and building relationships with other areas of the business is key to that, Kiew said. “I have staff at finance assistant level who have personally taken a great interest in the business and been very proactive in speaking with colleagues across functions, asking questions, and proactively seeking answers to those questions.”

Samantha White (swhite@aicpa.org) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.