You need to be great with figures and have the ability to explain financial information clearly to excel as a chartered management accountant

As a chartered management accountant, you will prepare, develop and analyse financial information so that an organisation's management can make well-informed decisions, leading to future stability, growth and profitability.

You will establish and maintain financial policies and management information systems, as well as provide a high-quality support service by liaising with management colleagues on all aspects of finance.

The role combines accounting skills with business management skills.

A chartered management accountant's role is to look to the future. You'll analyse the performance of a business and advise on how to prevent problems, adapt to changing circumstances and improve value. This is done by managing and reducing operational and production costs and implementing newer, more effective strategies.

You may work in a specific division or across the whole organisation.

Responsibilities

The role varies depending on the management structure, but responsibilities typically include:

  • preparing periodic financial statements, including profit and loss accounts, budgets, cash flows, variance analysis and commentaries
  • providing a support service by working with all departments and the management team to help make financial decisions
  • ensuring spending is kept in line with the budget
  • informing key strategic decisions and formulating business strategies
  • advising on the financial implications and consequences of business decisions
  • analysing financial performance and contributing to medium and long-term business planning and forecasts
  • negotiating on major projects, loans and grants
  • offering professional judgement on financial matters and advising on ways of improving business performance
  • interpreting and communicating financial data to non-financial managers
  • liaising with other function managers to put the finances and accounts in context
  • monitoring and evaluating financial information systems and suggesting improvements where needed
  • implementing corporate governance procedures, risk management and internal controls.

There may be some variation to the function depending on the nature of the organisation (commercial, public sector or not-for-profit) and, with larger organisations, the department or departments in which you are based or support.

Salary

  • Starting salaries vary considerably depending on location, sector and size of the firm. The highest salaries tend to be found in London. The average salary for recent graduates entering accountancy is around £28,000.
  • Salaries increase substantially after passing the relevant examinations. An average basic salary of £33,638 is usual for a student studying for a professional qualification with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).
  • CIMA-qualified finance professionals, irrespective of level of experience or role, earn on average £64,011, including bonus. Salaries at senior levels range from around £46,000 to £129,000 plus.
  • The average bonus for CIMA students is 8% of their annual salary, while qualified members receive 12% on average.

Men in this sector typically earn around 24% more than women, and female CIMA members are six times less likely to occupy senior positions such as CEO or CFO. However, women make up an increasing proportion of the new intake of accountants and are gradually beginning to gain more senior roles. CIMA has seen the highest growth rate in female members of all the accounting institutes. Help and advice to overcome the obstacles women face is offered through a campaign run by CIMA Women in Leadership.

Some companies offer excellent packages to cover the cost of studying, including tuition fees and paid study leave. For all employers who meet their training qualification standards search the CIMA Employer database.

Income data from CIMA Salary Survey 2016. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Typical working hours are general office hours Monday to Friday, between 40 and 45 hours a week. However there could be regular extra hours and overtime. Working hours do not usually include weekends or shifts. There are certain times of the month and the financial year when there are tight deadlines, e.g. month end and year end, when extra working hours may be required.

Short-term project work is sometimes available through agencies, but this is more common between jobs than as a career in itself. Part-time work is more likely with large employers.

What to expect

  • The work is office based but not desk bound, with regular meetings across the organisation.
  • Travel within a working day, absence from home overnight and overseas travel are all occasionally necessary.
  • After gaining several years' experience, self-employment or freelance work in financial or management consultancy is possible.

Qualifications

To become a chartered management accountant you must study with the professional accountancy body, the CIMA.

Although chartered management accountancy is open to all graduates, those new to business or accounting studies must first work towards the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting, which consists of five examination subjects, with computer-based assessments.

If you have a relevant degree, postgraduate or professional qualification you may be considered exempt from some or all of the certificate-level subjects. This includes:

Once you have gained the certificate, or if you possess a qualification that makes you eligible for direct entry, you can start studying for the CIMA Professional Qualification.

Some management accountants choose to train with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), taking the business management modules instead of audit and taxation options in the final part of their training.

Employers' requirements may vary. Larger employers may ask for a minimum 2:1 degree, as well as high UCAS points and good levels of English and mathematics.

Firms of all sizes offer graduate schemes, which can be highly competitive as they offer learning opportunities while you are earning.

Although CIMA accepts HND business and finance qualifications, and may give some exemptions for this, many employers will not accept them. Small and medium-sized firms (SMEs) may be more flexible.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not necessary, but professional qualifications undertaken in-service are usually necessary for progression. For example, many CIMA members go on to study an Masters of Business Administration (MBA).

Entry to training schemes with large companies can be more competitive than with smaller firms. Large employers tend to recruit in the autumn, whereas smaller firms may recruit at any time and advertise locally. Job titles vary so keep an open mind when looking for vacancies.

When choosing a firm, look at the support given for study and the work experience offered - if you are offered a position you may need to negotiate a training and study package.

Before accepting an offer, find out if anyone else within the organisation is currently studying for the CIMA qualification or has recently qualified. This will give you some idea of how committed your potential employer is to training.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • commercial awareness, with an interest in business and an understanding of how an organisation works and manages resources
  • a high level of numeracy
  • the ability to explain complex financial information in a clear way
  • professionalism and commitment
  • excellent oral and written communication skills
  • IT proficiency
  • project management skills
  • strong interpersonal and teamwork skills, with the ability to work with colleagues at all levels including non-finance members of staff
  • confidence to know where your expertise ends and another team member's begins
  • the ability to remain impartial
  • a lively and enquiring mind with a logical approach to work, combined with analytical and problem-solving skills
  • organisational skills with the ability to work under pressure and to deadlines
  • stamina and motivation to balance the demands of work and study.

Language skills can also be useful.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience is not essential but can be highly beneficial. Experience can include vacation placements, sandwich courses or part-time employment that offers business experience. Relevant work experience may count towards the three years necessary for CIMA's practical experience requirements.

Employers

Many employers including all types and sizes of industrial, commercial and public sector organisations respect the CIMA qualification. These range from voluntary organisations to international companies. In addition, many members also run their own businesses.

CIMA members are well represented in many sectors, not just financial services, including:

  • consultancy
  • health
  • manufacturing (covering automotive, aerospace, electronics and pharmaceuticals)
  • retail
  • technology
  • travel and tourism
  • transport.

Some organisations employ their own management accountants; however, there are also private accountancy firms, which offer accountancy services to fee-paying clients.

Employers can also be found in the following areas:

  • banking
  • insurance
  • local and central government
  • utilities.

The CIMA qualification is globally recognised and there are a large number of companies worldwide employing CIMA students.

Look for job vacancies at:

Vacancies are often handled by recruitment agencies.

Agencies with a financial bias may handle training vacancies, and can be a good source for positions with smaller companies, as well as large multinationals.

It is advisable to register with several agencies in order to maximise your chance of finding suitable vacancies.

Professional development

Training is a combination of examinations and practical experience.

To qualify as a chartered management accountant, you must successfully complete:

To achieve the CIMA Professional Qualification you will need to complete:

  • three exams at operational level
  • three exams at management level
  • three exams at strategic level
  • three integrated case study exams.

There are stopping-off points and interim awards if required by an individual or an organisation.

For example, if you complete the operational level you are eligible for the CIMA Diploma in Management Accounting, and if you complete the management level, you will be eligible for the CIMA Advanced Diploma in Management Accounting.

The syllabus for the CIMA Professional Qualification is built on the following three core pillars of learning:

  • enterprise
  • performance
  • financial.

Many employers offering CIMA training to graduates will have a structured programme that combines the practical experience required, with opportunities to study for the examinations. Although many employers will give employees time off for study leave, there is a substantial amount of private study required.

To be successful in gaining this qualification, the amount of study required while working demands significant amounts of personal time, dedication and determination.

Study methods vary and can include full-time, part-time or evening classes, or a combination of these. There are opportunities for self-study, through colleges which provide distance learning packages and online study with CIMAstudy.com, the only CIMA-endorsed online study system.

Career prospects

Career progression is dependent on the successful completion of the CIMA qualifications.

Post-qualification promotion depends on experience gained and skills developed, such as project management and transferable skills, such as communication and teamwork.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is also very important and CIMA-qualified accountants are invited to attend training workshops and industry-networking events on a regular basis.

Experience of working on specific projects may lead to a specialist role in a certain field. It may enable a move to a more strategic role in general management.

Mobility will aid advancement and it may be necessary to look outside a company to gain promotion. Companies may also expect employees to move to different locations while training, in order to gain maximum exposure to the business.

The skills gained from studying the CIMA examinations, combined with related experience, can open up other career options.

Many CIMA members work in diverse areas such as:

  • management consulting
  • business analysis
  • operations management
  • risk assessment
  • project management.

Many will also use their financial management skills to become successful entrepreneurs.

After three years' strategic experience in a senior role, it is possible to apply for Fellowship of CIMA (FCMA), which offers increased recognition and career potential.

CIMA's Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation is a joint venture with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and effectively combines the international prestige of two of the world's leading accountancy bodies. As a CIMA member, you are automatically qualified for the designation.