There is talk among some financial circles that the role of the accountant could become obsolete.
With the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) that can automate analytics with the click of a button, the mathematical mastery of an accountant is a skill easily out-sourced. Already, AI technology can scan an invoice and understand the debit and credit of the account.
But not everyone in finance is worried.
Deepa Varghese ACMA, CGMA, Senior Manager of Financial Planning at District 2020, the Legacy Development after Expo 2020, Dubai is an accounting expert who sees opportunities for analysts who develop relationship and managerial skills.
“Robotics can give trends and analytics but can’t put what it means into words for the client,” she says. “You still need someone to explain the thought process behind those numbers. It can only be done by people who have the aptitude.”
And how to acquire that kind of aptitude? Varghese credits the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) for giving her the professional advantage to push her career in the direction she aims.
CIMA is the world-leading and largest professional body of management accountants. Formed a century ago, in 1919, CIMA has evolved to help professionals to gain a deep working knowledge of management accounting which means accounting not just for the balance sheet but accounting for the business. Students and members who reach CIMA qualification often go on to achieve success in both business and finance.
CIMA’s centenary year in 2019 celebrates their past and fully embraces the future with the Future of Finance initiative to lead the management accounting profession into the next 100 years.
In 2017 CIMA entered a joint venture with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and together formed the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the Association) to unite and strengthen the accounting profession globally. Representing a network of more than 657,000 members and students in management and public accounting, the Association prepares professionals for challenges and opportunities in the industry that are relevant today and for the financial world of the future.
Varghese had long wanted to study with CIMA, despite already achieving two Masters Degrees, including a Masters in Financial Management. She became a CIMA qualified Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) in 2018, a designation which means she is qualified to work across the business at every level — not just in finance.
Unlike some accreditations, CIMA students learn more than how to crunch the numbers. They develop critical knowledge and skills to drive business performance and make critical business decisions.
“CIMA gives you the overall view,’ says Varghese. “If I compare to other bodies, they seem more accounting focused and CFA seems more investment and risk-focused. CIMA not only focuses on accountancy but the management level too. It’s a complete package for a financial professional who wants to be part of the senior management of an organisation. ”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Nassima Kaddache, Country Manager based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the Association). “The qualification helps you to understand the business and upskill your leadership skills,” she says. “We had a member who started the qualification in finance but in his career moved into business development because of his understanding and the way he went about the course.”
“Working with clients around the region, many say the qualification is useful for many industries, not just finance,” she adds. “We had one member who was working as a fitness trainer but she did the qualification and become a senior finance manager.”
In the Gulf region, many CIMA members are expats. As ambitious working professionals, many say the CFO programme is of greatest benefit. This fast-track programme for C-suite executives, see many qualify and advance to the senior management ranks within five years.
“Change has never moved faster than it does today. And it will never move slower. We must embrace technology to accelerate what we’ve been doing for years, improve our critical thinking, emotional intelligence and leadership skills. To keep moving at the speed of business, we must rethink, relearn, reskill and reshape what we know about accounting and finance. In a word, we must reimagine, and CIMA can help an individual to do so,” added Nassima.
Of course, studying for the qualification takes commitment and time. To reflect up to date study methods, the programme allows members to format a study programme via app or desktop portal to suit their preferred method of learning, which may be alone via online programmes or alongside an approved training partner. They can also start or join study groups and attend online ‘ask the expert’ sessions, covering topics such as time management in objective tests and analysis of pre-seen material for upcoming case study exams.
Varghese says it was a challenge to study alongside her job and family commitments (she has two children and a husband) but the flexibility of the programme allowed her to adapt her study schedule. Papers can be attempted one at a time and there is no time limit to complete the course. She started in 2011, even pausing her studies for a year due to health reasons and graduated seven years later.
The impact on her career was instantaneous. After qualifying Varghese was promoted to the role of Head of Financial Planning and Analysis at Aujan Group and soon after began her role as Senior Manager Finance at District 2020. “I have now reached the top management level and being CIMA qualified has definitely helped,” she says.
At District 2020 she heads up the finance function. Putting into practice what she learnt from her CIMA studies she says, she often has to consider the business from a strategic point of view — knowledge she learnt from CIMA. “I’m looking at the bigger picture behind the analysis. That’s the advantage that CIMA gives you,” she says.
Varghese is fast-talking with enthusiasm and optimism about the future of finance. “You have to look at the bigger picture behind the analysis,” she says. “Focus on where finance is going.”
It’s this future-focused attitude that is perhaps her guiding light. Beyond the core budgeting, planning, analysis and reporting skills on which her career has been successfully built, Varghese has a goal towards which each day she aims.
“My development plan has always been to grow to become the CFO of a large organisation. That’s my motivation for getting up each day. People have always said that I am a people’s person, an attribute that CIMA covers in its organisational behaviour studies.”
The future is to see the degree to which AI and robotics will impact the roles of accountants, however Varghese advice is clear: “Someone wanting to succeed, needs to change their thought process,” she says. “It’s important to stop thinking in terms of just pure accounting and focus on strategic decision making for the organisation. We should ensure that we are up to date on the developments in the finance field and update our skill sets accordingly, which can be achieved through the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) program provided by CIMA.
And so it seems that until robots can develop real relationships and develop a personal drive for success, we needn’t fear for our jobs just yet.