Brian Schwab, CPA, CGMA
Global Account Finance Advisor, EY
I had considered taking the CFA certification exam, but was unsure if I wanted to. While I was mulling that decision, the CGMA opportunity came across my desk. The sound of it caught my attention, and after speaking with members at the AICPA, the test-taking opportunity sounded unique and challenging. I liked the idea of it combining finance and business decisions, and I was sold on taking the exam early on.
How has the journey through taking the live and self-study learning and exam been?
I enjoyed the journey because it was so self-guided. The exam calls into question your ability to discuss a wide array of topics in an in-depth manner; you have to balance knowing both a little bit about everything, and a lot about some specific topics. There were online learning courses available comprised of 50+ hours of material in addition to the case-study and the live session; while overwhelming, it also felt great to know that all of the knowledge was there for me to absorb. I loved the live session at the AICPA, and I felt that the connections made there, along with the communication with so many different types of professionals, were a great way to prepare for this exam.
What are your thoughts on the CGMA exam? What did you think about the format? What are some aspects that you liked or disliked?
I thought it was a fun and creative exam; even those to whom I have described the exam sound interested by the unique style of it. The format is very similar to a real-life business scenario, and I think that is good and important. In the real world, we need to sometimes turn around, to the best of our opportunity, all of the knowledge and advice that we can pull together on a particular topic, and this exam forces you to do just that. I enjoyed that there are so many topics to touch on in each question. On the one hand, if you don’t feel strongly on one topic, you can make it up on another, but on the other, it challenges you to craft your answer in a way in which a business professional would be satisfied, whether you’re an expert on the topic or not. One aspect I would like adjusted is that if you finish one section ahead of time, you could carry that additional time forward, but I understand why that is not the case — we are treating each situation as a real-life scenario with a time limit.
What have you gained from going through the Program?
I’ve gained insight as to how those from different backgrounds may approach or analyze a situation. I always knew this to be the case, but being at the live session at the AICPA with those from backgrounds such as accounting, finance, IT, law, etc., showed me the different viewpoints people can initially take. It has allowed me to anticipate in my own day-to-day work where I may or may not get pushback and how to address unique situations with a wide array of people; I feel I can now not only better anticipate their needs, but also address any combination of concerns or apprehensions.
If you were to apply for a new job, would the program be something you’d list as an accomplishment/education? Would it be something you’d lean on to demonstrate expertise in MA?
Yes; absolutely. This certification is new and uncommon, but that doesn’t detract from its merit. I’ve described what exactly it represents to others, and the process to go through to take the exam, and it’s always met with interest and leaves a positive impression. In describing my ability to lead a team or control change management, I would definitely call on these skills to successfully do that. The strategies and ways of thinking I’ve learned to develop through the CGMA certification are invaluable.
Would you recommend the CGMA Program to peers and why?
I would definitely recommend the CGMA Program to peers, although I’d be more inclined to recommend it to those who already have the CPA designation. Having already passed the CPA exam definitely provides the test-taker with a wealth of knowledge already at their disposal; the test may be a great deal more challenging to those unfamiliar with some accounting topics. That being said, if an individual is very interested in this and wants the certification, I would 100% support their going for it. I would just advise that they definitely brush up on some accounting knowledge beforehand, as some financial implications can come into play there.
In your opinion, what is the value of obtaining the CGMA designation, both in terms of the journey to get it as well as applying your knowledge, skills and experience to your organization?
I feel that both the journey to getting it as well as the application of the knowledge afterwards are both very beneficial. The live event at the AICPA put me in contact with people from a wide range of backgrounds, and their insight opened my eyes to new ways of thinking. Additionally, the case studies provided, both for the actual exam along with the samples, discuss fields and topics that we may not regularly get a chance to work with. Seeing how those businesses operate, along with cultural and societal influences that are discussed, are definitely interesting and helpful to broaden our knowledge base. As far as applying the knowledge to the organization that I work for, in the finance world I need to have a business mindset. Not only that, but I often need to provide a quick turnaround on issues and problems that arise. This certification helped me to further craft my ability to hone in on the important information, while still providing big picture updates and results.