Looking for a dose of positivity in these times of economic uncertainty, you might want to turn to an accountant.
It is perhaps surprising, but when groups of accountants get together, rather than talking about the larger and fatal sweeping economic predictions we pessimists fear, their conversation is more optimistic; it’s about business survival.
Liquidity is their lifeboat. When a business owner needs help saving their business the best accountants in 2020 advise not just how to get and retain cash but how to strategize and thrive.
“Senior leaders are not talking about profits at the moment, it’s about surviving,” says Amir Khater, Group Treasurer of Nasser Bin Khaled Al-Thani & Sons Holdings. ‘Accountants are ensuring there is enough cash available and focusing on the sustainability of the business.”
“Among us, there is also a sense of hope that after Covid-19 there will be a period of growth. Coronavirus has been a wake-up call for a lot of people,” he says. “Driven by remote working and social distancing there is a realisation that the way forward is digital transformation — and that’s good for business.”
Financial advisors such as Khater, therefore, are not just working on today’s profit and loss but have an additional skill-set that work beyond the treasury and corporate finance division. This knowledge is applicable across different business functions.
“In our industry, we used to call ourselves cost accountants and that evolved to management accountants. But even the word ‘accountant’ is becoming redundant because we are not. In many ways, we are business advisors,” he says.
It was this drive for a strategic financial perspective that led Khater to study and become qualified with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).
As the world’s leading and largest professional body of management accountants CIMA helps high-level professionals, such as Khater, achieve success in business and finance. The CIMA Global C-Suite Programme is an accelerated course with in-person live workshops, CIMA’s ethos is for members to learn the full power of management accounting so as to practise accounting not just for the balance sheet but to drive business success.
“As a treasurer, compared to other financial qualifications, CIMA appealed to me because it details the strategic business side of financial management,” he says. “CIMA provides more relevant practical skills that you can apply in your day-to-day business, as opposed to the more hypothetical theoretical subject matter.”
It’s worth noting, Khater is an industry veteran with more than 19 years professional experience as a corporate treasurer and management accountant. At Nasser Bin Khaled Al-Thani & Sons Holdings, he is accountable for a debt portfolio of over $0.9 billion and the leadership, mentoring and development of the treasury, trade finance and cash management teams.
Despite his success and already holding six world-recognised financial qualifications, Khater hoped for his career to shift from predominantly a corporate finance and treasury role to a senior leadership role.
“I’m part of the group’s executive leadership team and that requires strategic thinking on my part,” he says. “Treasury and management accounting go hand-in-hand and so having the CIMA global designations complements and strengthens the skills I have.”
That’s not to say the programme is not rigorous. “It’s unlike anything I’ve studied for before, says Khater. “It took seven weeks of intensive study just to sit for the strategic case study exam. With two young children running around the house, a lot of the study was done after work and on the weekends. I spent a lot of late nights studying through the material.”
There is also the four-day live workshop at which students read about a real company case study. The business scenario may feature a company being taken over for a merger, an acquisition, succession planning or the market risks a company faces. Students must research in advance and then, working with a moderator of the workshop, prepare an industry analysis and present solutions.
Calling from Malaysia, Venkkat Ramanan, CIMA Regional Vice President, APAC, explains that the case study is a simulation, similar to a CEO waking in the morning with a concern then sending the management accountant an email asking for their thoughts. The participants at the event have to respond to that – just like they would in the real world.
“There are a lot of robust discussions. Candidates look at the analysis and integrate financial performance, risk and business strategy to the case study. It focuses on leadership, business, people, and competency.”
“That’s what we do with the CIMA C-Suite programme,” Ramanan says. “We bring integrated thinking and join the dots.”
Being a global organisation, the C-Suite Programme brings together candidates from different countries, culture and background, thus different opinions and approaches to the case study solution. “The workshop sessions have a huge amount of networking with someone like Amir in Qatar collaborating with someone in Dubai, Mumbai or Singapore. There’s a very diverse mindset.”
In 2017, CIMA and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) formed the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the Association). “We realised the power of two bodies coming together would be able to influence the profession at large and inspire a new set of finance leaders,” Ramanan says.
“During the current crisis, it’s the strength of the two entities that have allowed us to stay relevant. Again, it’s the forward-thinking that has driven us consistently.”
Ramanan never expected to work with CIMA for 11 years when he joined the professional body in 2009 as Learning and Development Manager. Five promotions later he says it is the organisation’s drive to stay relevant and dynamic and to respond to a changing profession that inspires him.
“The changes we make in the programme and internally are driven by us responding to shifts in geopolitics, student demand, technological and regulatory changes,” he says.
One key shift is to reflect the shift of the finance function integrating with the wider business function. “The finance function is typically driven by the technicalities of preparing the consolidated reports for cash flow, group accounts, balance sheet and the P&L. There are the audit function, a treasury function and a finance controller but finance operates in isolation. It is never integrated.”
“And yet,” Ramanan explains, “the finance function should influence team members across the organisation with quality decisions made by providing information or proactively looking at business situations and suggesting scenario planning and modelling.”
Importantly, what CIMA teaches is how to better cultivate finance leaders who can influence the entire C-suite about how they should be responding to a changing world.
In this rapidly changing, unpredictable world finance leaders such as Khater respond optimistically. “Right now, the market is challenging and dynamic. It’s important for individuals to continuously pursue personal development,” Khater says. “These kinds of disruption make it even more important to do so. For me, CIMA gives that world-class designation.”