CGMA: Much ado about?

THERE ARE MORE than 300,000 qualified accountants in the UK and Ireland of whom 66,000 are members of CIMA. Worldwide the seven accountancy bodies have around 425,000 members of whom around 83,000 are CIMA qualified. On each of these measures CIMA falls behind the ACCA and ICAEW. Overall, on a worldwide basis, rather more than 50% of all the UK qualified accountants work in Industry and commerce.

Over the last 90 years or so CIMA has grown in size and reputation by maintaining the twin virtues of focus and differentiation. There have been occasional wobbles but the size of the current membership bears testament to the sustainability of these policies. Hence the recently announced Joint Venture with an American giant accounting body about seven times the size of CIMA is rather puzzling.

The new qualification carries the rather grand, some might even suggest pretentious, style of Chartered Global Management Accountant, not merely for the limited English speaking world, but the whole shebang.

According to the output, written and electronic, people with ACMA or FCMA have been awarded the free qualification of CGMA whether they want it or not. The Americans, with their well regarded qualification, have to satisfy some extra requirements and pay a modest sum to enjoy the normally highly protected CHARTERED designation.

The president of CIMA has described the move as the most important in CIMA’s history since it received it’s royal charter status in 1975. Given that belief, it is quite extraordinary that the CIMA Council did not feel the need, or have the confidence, to put this as a proposal to the members prior to proceeding. The take up would have been a measured positive guide to the perceived relevance of the project from the people who actually matter. Failure to do so leaves an opt-out mechanism which will be characterised by inbuilt inertia and apathy.

If members simply privately decline to use CGMA on their personal and business stationery there would appear to be no basis of evaluating it’s utility and relevance to members.

The announcements claim many virtues will attract to those with the CGMA label although CIMA members do not even have to present three Shredded Wheat packet tops to have it.

The prime purpose of CIMA Council is to protect the long term interests of its members but very little or no evidence has been provided to support the numerous assertions which have been made. There is no basis for expecting productivity gains and the substantial time spent by senior management cannot have been beneficial to the running of CIMA.

Since, for 83,000 members, the vast majority within the UK, the CIMA qualification is the only route in to CGMA, it might be assumed that the claimed extra benefits of broader skills, of greater ability and flexibility, of enhanced mobility to find demanding jobs anywhere in the world, of equivalence to an MA in most British Universities, would only accrue from some fundamental changes.

Such changes would have to flow from changes within CIMA but none are apparent. There appears to be no lifting of the height of the hurdles to entering the system and no extension to the volume, depth or width of the examinations which have to be passed. The required experience to be awarded an ACMA and the extra practical experience to be awarded the highly prized Fellowship do not seem to be changed to be even more searching and rigorous.

If the substance is remaining constant, and CGMA adds nothing to the long standing and highly respected and widely identifiable CIMA qualification, then the joint Venture is dependent on changing perceptions, especially those of recruiters.

The employers of members and students tend to be realistic and pragmatic professionals. The marketing froth on CGMA is likely to fall on stony ground and appointments are likely to continue to be heavily biased towards qualifications, which have demonstrably been earned, and subsequent experience.

CIMA has members in over 160 countries worldwide. In over 100 of those countries the volume of members could not assemble a couple of teams for a rugby match. It is difficult to see any anticipated action which will increase the penetration of even the major markets and the suggestions that this will occur in North and South America seem highly improbable

The joint venture is an inelegant staging post and obviously not the end game. The prospect of a merger must have been clearly in the minds of management, elected and salaried. As part of that, a switch of the designation of the CIMA qualification could not be ruled out, although such a move could probably only be engineered by the Executive and Council as an element in a takeover. Previous bids to come together with other bodies have been robustly rejected by members when they have demanded and received the fine print, considered it and found it unacceptable, or the minimum acceptable terms have been rejected by the other party. There may be a case here, but it seems unlikely to stem from this venture.

The videos emphasise the current and future commitment to openness, transparency and accountability but, CIMA members may have noted with interest, introduce extra and specific promises of exposure, of scrutiny and to restrict information only when the wider public interest demands. This presumably implies that future requests cannot be suppressed by those whose accountability is dependent on the information being made available, or because the exposure might simply be inconvenient to management.

This may be a major step forward.

CIMA has been generous in offering advice, much of which has been excellent, to the outside world. Unfortunately the habit of failing to practice what is preached seems to have developed. For example, the substandard Remuneration report and the Audit Committee report in the respective Annual Report and Accounts. The substantial deviations from Best Practice are clear, but management continue to conceal the full facts from the members.

In similar vein members have no idea of the annual expenses run up by individual senior staff or individual council members. Given that the Chancellor of the Exchequer personally finds such exposure desirable, Council should cease the current policy of concealment and expose the whole truth to scrutiny in the Annual Accounts.
Failure to do so runs the risk of implying there are matters to hide from members.

In this new era of genuinely open democracy, Council surely need to bring to the 2012 AGM
• proposals for overhauling the disciplinary procedures which have created such a recent, grotesque, disaster
and make the AGM the final authority for:
• proposals to change any criteria for membership
• proposals to change any element of the corporate status of CIMA with specific reference to third party involvement
• proposals for all bonus payments for the year just ended

Peter Layhe, FCMA, was president of CIMA in 1999

Image credit: Shutterstock

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