Storming the heights

Top echelons in the City face an invasion, by members of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.
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Deep in the City of London a small group is plotting a revolution. Members of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants' financial services discussion group are meeting regularly to discuss the way forward for Cima members in the City. The dedicated band, which was formed 10 months ago, wants to see more Cima colleagues infiltrating the upper echelons of the City, securing top posts at the country's key financial institutions. In so doing, they aim to shift the balance of accounting power away from their arch rivals, the chartered accountants, who currently dominate City and UK boardrooms.

About 25 per cent of Cima's members are employed in the financial services and banking sectors, with a further 4,400 students working towards the qualification.

So far about 110 Cima members have joined the fledgling City group, which offers advice, lectures and vital networking opportunities. John Brennan, a founder member and chief manager of internal audit at Mitsubishi Trust and Banking Corporation, estimates that there are 700 Cima members working in the City at the moment.

It is a number he is keen to see grow. "We are not as strong in the City as we should be," Brennan laments, "but the situation is improving steadily and there are more job openings for management accountants."

He believes the quality and breadth of the Cima qualification will help to achieve his aim. "It places us at the forefront of management information and that is what the City thrives on," he says. Central to Cimas' future success is the City's perception of the institute and its qualification. There is little doubt Cima has come a long way since members dropped the dowdy and prohibitive title of "cost and works accountants" 20 years ago in favour of the more authoritative and racy moniker of management accountants.

Cima's president, Norman Lyle, who has just taken up a posting as group finance director of Jardine Matheson in Hong Kong, believes that a "golden circle" of opportunity will develop for his members in the City. "The quality of graduates opting for Cima has improved dramatically over the past few years," Lyle says.

"When they get into positions of responsibility and succeed, that will have a knock-on effect for the institute's reputation." Lyle believes high-flying graduates are attracted to Cima "because of the growing emphasis on City activity in the institute's syllabus".

Revamped five years ago, it is now being re-examined as part of Cima's Year 2000 project and Lyle is keen to see the development of better corporate finance and treasury sections to further enhance its City credentials.

Change, Lyle says, is vital for Cima's survival and its ability to compete. "As the world become ever smaller and companies operate in a global environment we have to provide members with the proper skills," he adds.

Cima's central selling point is its direct entry to the work-place, whether that is in industry or finance. Unlike the chartered accountancy qualification, where trainees spend three years honing their skills with an accountancy firm before being let loose on the commercial world, Cima students are in the work-place from day one.

Years spent studying with Cima, the institute argues, produce a rounded individual with broad experience of industry and a crucial understanding of how their sector works.

There is little doubt that attitudes towards Cima are changing in the City.

A survey by the recruitment specialists Robert Half International reveals that 50 per cent of City employers now prefer the Cima qualification. Only 26 per cent place the chartereds at the top of their list.

Robert Half's UK managing director, Jeff Grout, says attitudes towards management accountants continue to improve. "Cimas are able to add value much earlier than their competitors," Grout says. "The changing role of accountants is for them to contribute much more to a business.

"There is still a high demand for chartered accountants to fill analytical roles, but the demand for Cima is greater than ever." Cima's attempt to boost its presence in the City is being aided by a series of in-house training schemes with high-profile banks. Companies committed to the Cima qualification include Dresdner Kleinwort Benson. Its finance director in London, Stephen Jack, has 20 per cent of his staff working towards the Cima exams.

He explains why the bank, which recently won approved trainer status from the institute, backs Cima. "Its qualification and training is far more geared to making business decisions," Jack says. "We need to make decisions on quality financial information all the time."

He predicts a rosy future for Cima-qualified staff. "The supply of chartered accountants will dry up and more people will see the value of training within their own organisation through Cima. More importantly, graduates now view the Cima qualification as equally attractive as chartered accountancy - they are keen to get a foot in the door straight away and get that extra three years' experience in investment banking"n

Jon Bunn is deputy news editor of `Accountancy Age'

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