Partnership is good news for accountants

CIMA is looking to the future, writes Paul Gosling
The qualification offered by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants has a rising value. While the Institute of Chartered Accountants is largely tied to the world of audit, and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy has little relevance to the private sector, CIMA's training provides a firm basis in both financial management and accountancy, allowing members to develop skills important in any trading sector.

CIMA has ambitions to grow from the small and fairly marginal institute it once was into the leading provider of qualifications for accountants in business. Its vision can be seen in its just-announced strategic alliance with the Association of Corporate Treasurers.

CIMA members and students have now been given a fast-track route to parallel membership of the ACT. They are exempt from the first four ACT exam papers, and instead of two three-hour examinations in money management and corporate finance and funding, have only to sit one three-hour paper and another of an hour and a half. The two exams, which provide associate ACT membership, can be taken at any time after enrolment as a CIMA student. Those passing can go on to sit a second level of examinations, leading to full ACT membership, with a qualification equivalent to the finance specialisation level of a good MBA.

Fully qualified members and associates of the ACT often move into corporate treasury departments or into banking. The Association claims its training provides a practical approach, neatly paralleling CIMA's own qualification. Banks, it says, value the ACT qualification because it helps students to work with customers. It also increases understanding of the values and dynamics of their business, placing a strong emphasis on corporate finance and risk management. Accountants seeking senior jobs within corporate treasury departments will find the Member of Corporate Treasurers qualification an essential requirement. Pay is commensurate with the additional study, with full members earning 70 per cent more than associates.

CIMA's current president, David Melvill, welcomed the arrangement between the two bodies: "Employers prefer CIMA because it is anticipating the wider role of financial managers for the twenty-first century."

One of the driving forces in the agreement between CIMA and ACT was Norman Lyle, a former CIMA president and an ACT member. "The ACT qualification is complementary to CIMA," he says. "It gives a broader and deeper knowledge of finance, funding, foreign exchange and liquidity management."

These views are echoed by Philippa Foster Back, ACT president. "The senior financial management jobs of the future will require the combined skills of an accountant and treasurer," she says.

Barbara Moorhouse, group finance director of Morgan Sindall plc, and both a CIMA fellow and an associate member of ACT, endorses the value to senior finance officers of obtaining the two qualifications. "I embarked on the ACT examination when I realised that, as a group finance director, there were aspects of corporate finance and money management that could not be covered by 'on the job' training.

"I wanted to increase my knowledge and understanding as a firm foundation for the next stages of my career," Moorhouse continues. "I feel that I have benefited from doing the ACT qualification at this point in my career. It has been a useful refresher in some areas and I have been able to appreciate the full business and management context of the major issues. Both CIMA and ACT qualifications give members an excellent 'tool kit'. However," she warns, "any technical skills also depend on the calibre of business analysis and management ability with which they are used."

CIMA is now looking at other co- operative arrangements. David Melvill explains: "This partnership model has the potential to be applied to relationships with other professional bodies that can add considerable further value to the unquestioned strengths of the CIMA qualification."

David Bills, acting CIMA director for student affairs, confirms that the institute is now in negotiation with other bodies. "Obviously we recognise and demonstrate that getting a CIMA qualification within a climate of lifelong learning is only the first step in someone's personal career," he says. "We do have a fairly comprehensive career development programme and there are opportunities for CIMA members to obtain other qualifications."

It may take some months before new strategic alliances are announced, but in its partnership with the ACT, CIMA has put down a clear marker for the future. With proposals for mergers between the accountancy institutes apparently out of the question in the short term, CIMA is instead staking its claim to become the market leader.