Michael DePrisco took over as president and CEO of the Institute of Management Accountants in early April, and he is hoping to expand the reach of the organization and its Certified Management Accountant credential as the accounting profession continues to experience a shortage.
He succeeded Jeff Thomson, who led the IMA for nearly 15 years as president and CEO. “Jeff’s been a great partner,” said DePrisco. “I’ve been working with him on ensuring a smooth transition. Jeff was at the helm for 15 years and really has done a wonderful job of helping IMA become a global organization. My priority as the new CEO is to ensure the long-term relevance and sustainability of the organization and, quite frankly, to ensure a leadership position globally for the next 50 to 100 years.”
He plans to focus on delivering value to the IMA’s members and stakeholders. “If we’re making an impact on the individuals we serve, in terms of helping them upskill and reskill, and add value to their organization’s success, then we’ll grow as an organization and I think that is the winning formula for us as we move forward. It’s been 60 days, and I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the community — whether it’s practitioners, academicians, volunteers, board directors, or our staff — I’m having a lot of conversations to learn about the organization and to learn about the opportunities that we see in front of us.”
First he wants the IMA to add value to every member to support their careers and professional development. A second area of focus is on looking at the IMA’s product portfolio and how to expand it to help members distinguish themselves.
“Beyond the CMA, what else do they need to further differentiate themselves in the area of skill building,” said DePrisco. “What do they need, perhaps as younger professionals just getting started, who may not be ready to take the CMA? Are there things that we can offer them to help them learn the language, learn the profession and gain some credibility to help them get to that next level.”
His third area of focus will be on the IMA’s community. “We have a robust community of chapters and volunteers located throughout the world who are champions for IMA and who are really in a unique position to deliver value locally in their communities,” said DePrisco. “I think that is a real differentiator for IMA. I want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to support them, help them and ensure that we have a dynamic and vibrant community moving forward.”
Attracting young accountants
Both the American Institute of CPAs and the IMA have seen declines in the number of people entering the accounting profession. The Financial Times reported that the number of CPA exam takers in 2022 was a little over 67,000, down from 72,000 in 2021 and short of the AICPA’s forecast of 74,000, the lowest level on record. The IMA also saw a 5% decline in CMA candidates in the U.S. last year.
“I think that, generally speaking, most organizations are trying to crack the code when it comes to how to attract more young people to the profession,” said DePrisco. “Certainly, I think the accounting and finance profession has that challenge. We see various articles and headlines around the declining enrollment in accounting programs, and in general the declining enrollment in colleges and universities and things of that nature. But at the end of the day, the accounting and finance profession is really integral to helping businesses work and function and how value gets delivered today. I do think it provides a very solid career opportunity for individuals.”
He sees the challenge as making young people more aware of the opportunities that the accounting and finance profession affords them today and to look past the stereotypes about what an accountant does.
“We have to work through changing the perception of the profession and really demonstrating that accounting and finance professions are on the leading edge of what organizations are thinking about today, whether it’s about how to optimize enterprise performance, how to mitigate risk, and respond to disruption, how to analyze data and turn data insights into actionable solutions, how to think about and report in a meaningful way on ESG-related matters,” said DePrisco. “This is what management accountants do. They’re on the front lines of helping organizations deliver value. That’s the narrative that I think we have to be telling youngsters as they go through high school and college, and when they’re considering various careers. That’s something that the IMA is well positioned to do, with a large footprint in the academic space. We continue to invest heavily in student programs that raise awareness, that give students opportunities to learn real skills, and experience what it’s like to be in a corporate environment, whether it’s through our student case competitions and other types of programs that we do. That’s something that I really want to work with my team on relative to enhancing the brand, the reputation of the profession, and how we serve organizations worldwide.”
One of the goals is to increase the number of students entering the accounting profession.
“The supply of accountants is just not meeting the demand, and there are a few reasons for that,” said Dennis Whitney, senior vice president at the IMA. “Fewer students are majoring in accounting, and I think the problem is the perception of accounting. We need to show them that it’s not just number crunching and checking that everything balances. It’s also more strategic.”
Some students and accountants are worried about their jobs being taken over by artificial intelligence programs.
“Some of the things that are happening now with AI, a lot of people talk about it as a threat to accounting, and I think it will eliminate some of the more mundane manual type tasks,” said Whitney. “But actually, I think it’s a great tool for the profession and will open up more interesting types of jobs, more strategic and decision-analysis type jobs. And I think if we can get that message across that being an accountant gives you the opportunity to be a business partner in a company, to help the company grow in a sustainable way. The second part of the equation is to show that accountants have a role in helping with sustainability. There’s going to be a lot more reporting requirements on sustainability in the future, and accountants can help attest to the accuracy of that data. A lot of that data is not as clean as it is with financial data, so we can help with that. And then we can help a company make decisions on doing something that is more sustainable for the environment and for the company in the long term.”
DePrisco is not an accountant himself, but he plans to leverage his background in education and management of a professional organization. He came to the IMA from the Project Management Institute, an association for the project, program and portfolio management profession, where he was operating officer and interim president and CEO starting in 2021. He worked with the PMI for a decade and prior to that was president of the Art Institutes, a group of art and design colleges. He served as campus president at three different Art Institute locations in the Mid-Atlantic region. Before that, he served as vice president of student affairs at Education Management Corporation.
“I’ve spent 30 years of my life and career in for-purpose organizations that are very much focused on helping individuals acquire skills, capabilities and competencies for personal professional growth, whether that was in a higher education environment, or whether that was at Project Management Institute, where I spent the last 10 years,” he said. “I think that I bring a unique perspective from those different experiences to IMA, and I can help IMA accelerate some of their initiatives and plans relative to member acquisition, member retention, member value and so forth.”
He sees the opportunity to help the IMA, which went through a strategic restructuring earlier this year and had an undisclosed number of layoffs, to transform further.
“Many organizations, not just IMA, coming out of the pandemic have been facing some headwinds relative to inflation, interest rate hikes and so forth where they’re in a position where they realize that they need to make some challenging and difficult decisions relative to their staffing levels,” said DePrisco. “Like many organizations, we did face a bit of a slowdown, mostly as a result of some of the challenges coming out of China, but other markets as well. We’ll work through that. Our team is very much focused on the future. We feel very bullish and optimistic that the future’s bright, and we have a team in place that’s committed to making that happen. Some of the signals that we’ve seen from an economic and inflationary perspective suggest that the economy is unwinding from some of the challenges that we’ve been seeing, versus a bounce back or quick rebound, so we’re planning accordingly. We’re being very judicious in how we’re looking at our spending and so forth, to ensure that we can maintain the staffing levels that we have today.”
He acknowledged there have been some declines in membership, particularly in China. “If you look across our entire portfolio, membership is relatively flat, maybe declining a little bit, mostly due to some of the declines that we’ve seen in China,” said DePrisco. “If you look at our membership trends regionally, we are seeing pretty much flat growth in the U.S. But in other parts of the world, we’re seeing some really good growth, for example, in places like India, the Middle East, Europe and the Asia Pacific. So we remain optimistic that we have a really good value proposition to offer to the market, that we’re offering individuals who join IMA an opportunity to not only get certified, but to be a part of a global community that values learning, networking and helping to lift the profession to new heights.”
The dropoff in China seems to have been in part a result of the pandemic lockdowns keeping students and members from attending events. “Many of the lockdowns that occurred due to the pandemic really slowed down a lot of the training and testing availability,” said DePrisco. “Now we’re unwinding from that and slowly but surely getting the testing and training operations going again. We’ve seen some good signals. We’re seeing China coming back relative to the number of people that are signing up to take the test, joining, renewing and so forth. But it’s still down from where it was post COVID.”
Among the areas of the world growing in membership are Dubai, Egypt, South Korea and India. “I just came back from Dubai, where I attended a chapter event where there were close to 400 individuals that showed up for a day of learning, networking and connection,” said DePrisco. “Our Dubai chapter is one of the largest in our system and really doing some fantastic work. We’ve seen a lot of activity in Egypt, very much a lot of interest from students and young professionals in certification. We’re working with our team on the ground in Egypt to generate opportunities for people to connect with chapter development. India is of course a big market with a strong chapter community there. We’re seeing a lot of interest there from students and younger professionals who really see certification as a differentiator for them relative to career opportunities.”
DePrisco plans to build on the IMA’s certifications. “CMA is a 50-year-old certification,” he said. “It’s to me the gold standard for the professional management accounting area, and it’s something that we will continue to move to focus on, invest in and ensure the long-term sustainability of that certification. We just completed a job task analysis where we looked at the curriculum, and based on feedback that we’ve gotten from experts around the world, we’ll make some revisions and changes to the exam curriculum to ensure that it’s keeping pace with what’s happening in industry. We’re 100% committed to the CMA, but we’ve recognized that there’s more that individuals want from IMA.”
Some of the IMA’s stakeholders have asked for entry-level types of fundamental courses and certifications they could earn before the CMA. For those that have a CMA, they are sometimes asked for other credentials so the IMA has been developing additional certifications in areas like data analytics, risk management, sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion.
“We will continue to develop new offerings to meet those needs,” said DePrisco. “We already have what I think are really one of a kind certificates in DE&I and sustainability best practices. We released a sustainability business practices certificate program last year. It’s an excellent program. Anyone that has an interest in ESG and sustainability will get value out of that certificate. Our DE&I certificate is very much top of mind for a lot of organizations. It provides some really good information, scenarios and case studies for individuals to learn how to ensure their organization is diverse, equitable and inclusive.”
As the new CEO of the IMA, DePrisco plans to take some of the lessons he learned while at PMI and apply them to the events at the IMA. “While at PMI, I had the opportunity to help that organization transform, and really think about how we could provide value to individuals in a changing professional association landscape, where people are looking for different ways to connect and affiliate,” said DePrisco. “The model of perhaps coming together once a month and meeting in a certain city in a certain ballroom has been replaced by real-time meetings, whether they’re virtual or in person, with digital delivery of products, services, knowledge and content. Even the landscape for events has changed. People seem to now favor more localized one-day drive-in events to take advantage of networking, learning, and content consumption, versus taking three, four or five days off and flying somewhere to attend an association type of experience. All of that is changing, and it requires professional associations like IMA to rethink the overall value proposition and how they can best serve stakeholders based on what they need and want today.”
He noted that the IMA Women’s Leadership Summit that recently took place in Nashville was a one-day event that attracted 200 individuals across the accounting profession to promote the role that women play in accounting and some of the challenges and opportunities the IMA sees for the profession. The IMA also hosts a Student Leadership Summit, a two-day event that brings hundreds of students from around the country together. The IMA events in China, India, the Middle East and Europe are also typically one- to two-day events.
The IMA plans to hold its conference next week in Minneapolis, where it’s expecting approximately 600 to 700 attendees.