To tie in with the launch of our new CIMA courses, we sat down with Ciaran Phelan, Head of CIMA Ireland to find out more about the new syllabus, accounting in a digital world and the removal of exemption fees.
Q. There may be students out there who are thinking of doing professional accounting and unsure of which qualification to choose. From your perspective, why CIMA?
A. That’s a very good question. I think CIMA is as much a business qualification as an accountancy qualification. Although students study management, accounting and financial accounting, they also study business skills. leadership, people skills and strategy.
In addition, we’re a new digital era that requires a different set of skills. So after qualifying CIMA, we’ve seen graduates who are very well rounded for a professional and progressive career, both in accounting and a business environment.
Q. There is this stigma on accounting that it’s boring, but I think the role is becoming more important in a company. What’s key is the strategic advice that companies are looking for from an accountant. Do you find that?
A. You’re right. Technology is changing the way we all go about our jobs and our roles. And in fact, it’s doing away with a lot of traditional roles and accountancy is no exception. A lot of the things that camps were trained to do, in times gone by, as you said, are now done by machines, but what can’t be done by machines, machines is analysis, interpretation, and decision making.
It’s not technology on its own or people on its own. It’s the combination of both. I think that’s where finance departments are realising they have to go and train their staff accordingly. So that they’re able to bring those extra businesses and people skills to the data that’s being produced by the technology. And we’ve seen it over the last few months.
Q. CIMA is a very detailed course and seems to be different from a lot of other accounting qualifications. There’s a focus on strategy, decision making and interpretation analysis. Is that correct?
A. CIMA provides for a really good career. You start off just getting a diploma that gives you the basis for being a good accountant, a good financial person.
Then it moves you up into the advanced diploma, which gives you the management skills. And then eventually you go to the top level, and that gives you the strategic skills. So by the end of the course, if you’re going out for a job, your skills will be relevant to any employer.
Q. A big focus seems to be on digital so people can deal with the digital world. Was that intentional?
A. Absolutely, the pace of change has never been this fast. When we looked to change the syllabus, we reach out to our members across the globe who are working as very senior people in organisations and financial problems and asked what type of people they need in the future and the roles that are required for their business.
What came across from every one of them was digital skills. Artificial Intelligence, robotics, cyber risks and they’re all coming down the line at a pace. We must make sure that our students who qualify with CIMA are able to handle those challenges in the future.
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Q. When we look at your syllabus it provides a clear path about what a senior student can do. From a student’s perspective, it’s still a professional qualification and they’re not easy. Is there a lot required from a student to get the senior qualification?
A. Any professional qualification requires a lot of work and commitment because ultimately, you’re providing yourselves with skills and the training to build a career for yourself in a very fast-moving, complicated world.
The great thing about a senior qualification from our perspective is it delivers 3 things. The first is employability. The world will always require management, accountants, and financial professionals as it’s what helps drive business success.
The second is mobility as CIMA is an internationally recognised qualification so you can go anywhere in the world and get a job. Thirdly, it provides progress ability because the way the course is devised will ensure what you study will help you grow in an organisation.
Q. Have you seen a growing demand from employers with the new syllabus, particularly in senior roles?
It’s early days because the new syllabus is just been launched but the initial feedback has been incredibly positive from employers as it addresses the core needs they have.
We’re very pleased with the level of response from employers and from various lectures in relation to the content of the course.
We believe it’s a very modern course now and up to date. Plus, we do change our syllabus regularly to make sure we do stay up to date with what’s happening in the marketplace.
Q. Could you give us an idea of the type of jobs that qualified students end up in? Obviously, there is Management Accountants, but others seem to go into consulting. Is that the case?
A. Consulting is a huge one now and it’s an area that seems to be growing significantly. In the big 4 accountancy practices, we’ve seen that auditing is going down. Businesses need advice, if you have this very fast-moving environment, strategy is where people need knowledge.
So what the consultancy firms are seeing is that their consultants who study CIMA are given the tools necessary to allow them to advise companies and get under the bonnet of what an organisation does. This is not only about being strategic, but it’s also having a very good understanding of the financials within an organisation, so a lot of people are going towards that.
I think a lot of young people out there box accountancy into a very narrow field. But the beauty of CIMA is you can go down a number of different paths. A lot of our members are Chief Operating Officers and Chief Executive Officers.
We had one member who works in the public service in Northern Ireland at the Department of Justice, and part of their role was to gauge the increase in criminality to look at how many prisons will be required and how many police officers will be needed.
Q. I remember my biggest shock when I started studying was the cost. I remember getting a letter about exemption fees and it was more than 10% of my annual salary. So CIMA has done something really interesting by dropping their exemption fees. Can you talk about that?
A. For any business that’s a risk as it was a good income stream. But the view in CIMA was that we needed to encourage more people into the profession and an inhibiting factor that stops people from getting in is cost, particularly if you’ve just left college and have huge fees.
Plus, most people start to study CIMA at the start of their careers, so they haven’t got a huge amount of money. They’ve also spent 4 or 5 years studying certain elements of a particular course. So credit should be given for that.
It’s also where the world is going and we wanted to give credit for the studies that people have already achieved so we’re making it more affordable.
Hopefully, that will bring in a wider spectrum of people who previously would have liked to go into a management accountant business type qualification. It can only be positive for the profession as a whole.