Post Enron, professional accounting bodies have renewed calls to tighten
technical qualifications and are continually raising the bar by demanding the
highest standards from their members. This in turn has sparked an unprecedented
interest in continuing professional development and work-based learning. But in
a competitive market, is it really worth taking valuable time out of your career
to go back to the classroom?
With the industry’s focus on CPD, it’s no coincidence that we’re seeing an
increasing trend in the number of qualified accountants embarking on MBA
programmes in order to enhance their careers. If you aspire to reach the highest
echelons of the boardroom, no matter what accountancy qualification you have,
it’s essential you have an integrated and holistic set of business skills to
give you that competitive advantage. One way to achieve this is by combining the
specific expertise of a professional accountancy qualification with an MBA from
a well-respected business school.
Because the majority of professional accountancy qualifications are gained
‘on the job’, in addition to an exceptionally high level of technical expertise,
financial experts also gain exposure to real-life work experience – which counts
for a great deal in today’s workplace. With this in mind, the best MBA
programmes generally demand at least five years work experience, so a
professional financial qualification ideally positions you to get the most from
In terms of broadening your skillset, and what you can offer your employer,
the MBA offers excellent opportunities to diversify into areas such as
investment analysis, marketing, mergers and acquisitions and foreign exchange
management. It gives you the toolkit to tackle a range of business issues, which
would not ordinarily be seen to sit within the immediate remit of a financial
The most effective MBA programmes have a diverse international mix and
attract professionals with strong work experience, from a variety of sectors.
Having achieved a sound financial technical base, studying for an MBA gives you
the opportunity to widen your knowledge pool by tapping into the diverse
expertise of your colleagues. It also gives you the chance to establish an
extensive global network of contacts that will be invaluable when sharing best
practice and recruitment opportunities in your future career.
With the drive to harmonise global accounting standards and the EU’s
commitment to standardise accountancy procedures, an MBA programme with a strong
international focus (both in terms of course content and class make-up) will
give you an excellent grounding as these changes come into play.
In order to advance to senior positions, financial specialists require a wide
range of management skills in addition to their own specialised fields. However,
reading up on business theory will only take you so far, so it’s essential to
choose an MBA with a high level of live projects, which replicate the real-world
business challenges you will face in everyday life.
Despite an increasing commitment from companies to invest in the development
of their staff taking a career break, incorporating the rigorous demands of a
full-time MBA is often not practical. Flexibility is key and a part-time MBA
opens up opportunities for those seeking to enhance their career, while
remaining at work. The best business schools offer MBA programmes with flexible
structures that cater for substantial shifts in workload and international
For those looking to specialise in the financial sector, some schools offer
MBA programmes that focus on financial management through a range of specialist
elective modules. In these cases, heavier emphasis is placed on accounting and
finance in the core module MBA subject areas. In this way, the MBA sets out to
meet the more specialised niche requirements in the financial management and
financial services sector.
MBAs aren’t a career panacea and there are many other opportunities open to
financial professionals who wish to specialise in a niche area. However, in an
increasingly competitive marketplace, an MBA from a well-respected business
school sets you apart by giving you the necessary skillset to make strategic
decisions at the very highest levels.
Professor John Arnold is director and KPMG professor of accounting and
financial management at Manchester Business School
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