Lindsay Stevenson, CPA, CGMA

VP-Finance, 1st Financial Bank USA

Motivation to get the CGMA Designation
When I left public practice in the summer of 2015, I really had no clear understanding of what the CGMA was about so when I joined the bank and started thinking about what was next for me in my career development, I started with the CGMA. I googled it, ended up on the website looking at the CGMA Competency Framework and felt like I had been missing out! For years, I have felt like the technical competency of the CPA is unmatched, however, we were missing a develop piece for becoming a better advisor our clients’ businesses on the whole. The CGMA Framework brings that opportunity into focus by leveraging our technical skills as a CPA and translating the outcomes into business acumen and leadership.

Once I started reading about what the CGMA stood for and the skills I could learn by going through the examination process, I was hooked. I work with executives in various departments within my organization and I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to develop skills that would allow me to cross operational lines and have a positive impact on their decision-making process.

Journey through taking the live and self-study learning and exam
To be perfectly honest, it was harder than I thought it was going to be. Not that I am a genius or anything, but I believed that because I had passed the CPA exam, I would already know most of the technical material and the rest would be easy to pick up. What I came to realize was that although my technical CPA skills were high, my ability to translate those into real business cases where the end result was not issuing a financial report but instead determining whether to build a new factory in a foreign country were not nearly as strong as I thought they were.

The live learning was really great because the instructor had real life experience with the materials. It made understanding the concepts within an example from actual business scenarios much easier. I watched most of the videos first to get a high-level overview of the various topics, but the most helpful materials were the self-study guide and the case studies. In reality, I wasn’t just reviewing topics I had learned before, I was learning some material I had never seen. Methods for interpreting economic markets and managing people, concepts in leadership and strategy and approaches to communicating with non-accountants.

Thoughts on the CGMA Exam
The exam was a lot harder than I expected. I assume there are a number of us who do not pass the first time around. There are no multiple-choice questions or fill in the blank. There is no room for guessing or getting halfway there. You have 3 hours to recommend solutions to a case study from beginning to end. And your responses are all typed from scratch! Talk about pressure to put your thoughts in to cohesive arguments and point out relevant and impactful data!

I liked that you get the company background before the exam. You have weeks to read up on the company and to learn about the industry at large. You meet the player and gain an understanding of the “role” you will play in crafting your responses. I also really liked that everything you do is in your own words. You have to practice communicating clearly in writing and rereading your content for issues. I feel preparing for and taking the exam improved my writing style and communication skills ten-fold.

I disliked some aspects of the exam in that you are asked to opine on the impact of some decisions on areas that are well outside your realm. For instance, I was asked to summarize the impact of building a new factory in a foreign country on both the future employees in that country and the current employees of the company. While I can give my thoughts about these impacts based on the market information I have available and my understanding of our current company culture, in real life I would be collaborating with our HR team to determine if my opinions are valid and if I have missed any blind spots. If the exam is going to ask us to apply our technical skills in the context of business to influence people and lead within the organization, then somehow an element of collaboration has to be built in.

I also disliked the time constraint. I was really stressing by the end feeling rushed and like I didn’t have time to fully flesh out my thoughts. In the real world, business decisions of the magnitude reflected on the exam are not pushed through in the course of 3 hours. You have time to digest the issues and potential obstacles and formulate a response. The exam is designed in a way that if you don’t start writing immediately, you won’t have time to finish your response. There is not enough time to outline your thoughts and organize your approach.

Value of going through the CGMA Program
I feel like I better understand which strategic approach might make more sense given a set of facts. I know how to analyze a local or global economy and make recommendations on entering and exiting the market. I feel better equipped to coordinate efforts across multiple business units in order to accomplish an organizational goal. Overall, I feel like a more effective advisor and that I am not just a technical CPA any longer. I am very proud of the CGMA and I feel like have more expertise in my career as a whole as a result.

The CGMA Program strengthens your skills as a CPA and expands your ability to service your clients, whether they are internal to the organization or external to your practice. In addition, you will be able to serve as an example to developing CPAs in how to better leverage the technical skills realized through acquiring and maintaining your CPA license. Beyond all that, you provide a better representation of what the CPA profession is all about, being a trusted advisor.

Value of obtaining the CGMA designation
The value of obtaining my CGMA in terms of the journey was the opportunity to learn new ways in which to leverage my technical expertise to better service my clients. I learned concepts that made me redevelop my approach to communicating with executives outside the accounting profession. All the studying and the exam itself also helped me to build my confidence, not only in my technical abilities, but just as importantly, in my overall business abilities. I was able to recognize that as a CPA I bring more than just accounting knowledge to my role and can be a valuable partner in strategizing the overall operational vision in an organization.

In terms of the value applying the knowledge, skill and experience to my organization, I have been so pleased with the results. I have been able to leverage my financial understanding in our business to find better approached in solving operational challenges.  I have had the opportunity to work with HR, IT, Legal, Risk and Marketing to develop strategies dealing with personnel, structure and management. I have been able to communicate complex accounting and tax scenarios and implications to the executive team in real time and respond to their concerns and questions in a language they can understand. I am looking forward to the continued development of these skills within the framework defined by the CGMA. I wish I would have done it sooner!