Management Accountants Broaden Horizons With MBA Degrees
Holders of accountancy qualifications are branching out of their audit roots with the help of business schools.
Crystal Clear, a boutique consultancy, has clients flocking to its London base from sectors as diverse as Islamic finance and luxury goods. Amarjeet Hans, the MBA who joined the group to inject a dose of accounting expertise, is a big advocate of business schools as a tool for broadening horizons.
He is one of a growing number of qualified management accountants turning to business school to stand out in a crowd.
He is illustrates the way holders of accountancy qualifications – often from professional bodies ICAEW and CIMA – are branching out of their audit roots. Many are finding careers in management. This includes roles as far removed as big data.
A career switch is something that numerous accountants are counting on, but many often lack the broader management background needed for senior roles. Differentiating is key.
“When I started to consider a career change I noticed that there were many other accountants in a similar situation,” said Amarjeet, who enrolled in the MBA at Henley Business School. “Hence, it became evident that I had to differentiate myself in such a tough job market.”
While once accountants were known as “bean counters”, many are now leading some of the world’s largest listed companies.
According to Robert Half, the recruitment firm, 50% of chief executives who are leading FTSE100 companies have an accountancy or financial management background.
While accountants still flock to audit groups such as PwC, KPMG and Deloitte, those with the ambition to change track see the value in their professional qualifications as a source of management training.
Peter Stewart is the director of learning for CIMA – the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants – one of the bodies which awards accounting qualifications.
He said the organization has moved beyond the scope and knowledge of “traditional” accountancy programs. This includes a focus on operations and risk management.
“The management finance focus of the CIMA syllabus and qualifications provide professionals with competencies that meet a wide range of employer perspectives,” said Peter.
But the evolution of accountancy careers into management functions may also be driven by regulatory changes that are shaking up the profession.
Under UK and EU rules, listed companies and big banks will now have to change auditors after 10 years.
Many audit firms are diversifying away from their accounting roots and this may pose problems for recruitment and retention of staff, with the rules acting as a catalyst for exits.
Jan Villaluz, an accountant who is studying an MBA at Grenoble Ecole de Management, said: “I realized early on in my career that accounting is something that does not really suit my personality… I want to pursue an MBA and diversify my business background [and move in] a different direction in my career.”
Gavin Aspden, director of qualifications at ICAEW, which runs the ACA accountancy exams, said there are a “lot of myths” about accountancy careers.
Roughly 50% of its members work in businesses and the qualifications act as a “passport” to employment, he said. “From the [financial] crisis we’ve learnt that finance is at the heart of everything.”
Globally, a shortage of qualified accountants is beginning to emerge. Extra incentives are being rolled out in countries including China and Malaysia to attract more talent, such as overseas workshops and lower tax thresholds for small businesses.
An MBA is a top-up tool for many accountants, but business school graduates are also finding a value in pursuing management accounting courses to gain a financial edge.
Louise Thomas, who holds CIMA status and is a graduate of Warwick Business School, said: “It’s an excellent opportunity to build on your skills and gain a well-recognised professional qualification, without necessarily having to study for four years.”
For Crystal Clear’s Amarjeet, an MBA was a clear choice. Henley is internationally recognised, he said, as well as being one of the top business schools in the UK. “Be prepared to learn a great deal. However, it may take some time for you to be able to apply your learning,” he said. “[But] when you do… You will really appreciate the value of the MBA.”