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February 21, 2014

What do employers expect from their finance professionals?

Guest post by Peter Simons*

There is an employability crisis across the world. Too many young people cannot find work or are underemployed, yet employers say they cannot find employees with the high level of skills they need.

In an attempt to bridge this gap, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) has long sponsored academic research and conducted its own research into the future of the management accounting profession. More recently, as a means of ensuring the relevance of our updated CIMA 2015 syllabus, we have engaged with employers across the world to research what exactly it is that employers expect of their in-house finance professionals. This research included face-to-face meetings with leading organisations in the UK, US, South Africa and Malaysia, roundtable discussions in 13 countries and a global questionnaire to more than 3,000 participants.

The employers we spoke to felt that the role of finance is gradually being transformed in response to business needs, with the emphasis shifting from technical skills and the production of good accounting information, which remains essential, to the application of financial disciplines in the management of a business.

In their opinion, accounting professionals should be able to apply their technical skills in a business context as this is essential to the day to day job. But at the same time, they must have an understanding of the organisation, its strategic context, its competitive position, its business model and how it operates, as well as being able to work alongside and influence others to improve its performance.

We found their ideal finance professional would be engaged, not just someone who will sit in a back office not connecting with the wider world. Today, employers want accountants to be connected with the rest of the organisation and with things that are happening globally, including current ‘hot topics’ and developments in the role of the finance function such as risk management, cost management and big data. For example, 65% of members we spoke to felt that it was important that analytics and data mining should be addressed in our updated syllabus, with 83% of members responding that employers would expect this topic to be covered at an intermediate or advanced level.

The basics remain essential but it is the management accountants who can combine financial expertise with an understanding of business and performance analysis skill that will have the potential to support decision making from the planning to implementation stage and thus be the most employable.

*Peter Simons is thought leadership specialist at CIMA

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