For sure, if a CFO wakes you up in the middle of the night and whispers som thing about further education, he talks about a top 100 MBA, right? After the last 5 years of turmoil, I am not so certain anymore. Yes, a top notch MBA opens the path to the corner office. Yes, you are exposed to hundreds of real-life study cases, shoulder to shoulder with a brilliant cohort. And yes, your salary might jump significantly after graduation (40-100% according to Financial Times MBA global rankings). But is this what is really valued by the companies?
In his post-famous book, the organizational management guru Henry Mintzberg argued that companies need “Managers, not MBAs”. And recent studies show that CFOs, together with other C-Suite professionals, do care a lot about their finance business partners: controllers must master first the deep technical skills required to do a proper job. This for good reasons – building a professional controller takes an awful amount of time: 4 years of faculty + another 2-4 years post-grad or professional education). It also takes mastery of notoriously difficult subjects, such as accounting, quantitative analysis, auditing or corporate strategy. On top of these, the controller is also the master of the IT analytical tools, with their phenomenal proliferation seen last year.
Therefore, if a finance manager does not need (at first) an expensive and time consuming MBA, what should she do?
My advice is simple – do what the pros do – go for the professional accounting and finance qualifications. All the Big 4 audit and consulting companies apply the same system – up (including a pro qualification) or out. You work through a ton of company situations and financial statements and in parallel you take your degree. No wonder that this work-qualifications cocktail generates the most sought-after controllers.
What would be the best professional qualifications?
As the largest professional accounting body in the world, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA, based in the United Kingdom) has evolved substantially and became a sort of a mini-universe in itself. You can take the full qualification (beware of at least 3 years of your life and tough exams) or you can mix and match. It offers a solid Foundation Qualification, a Diploma in International Financial Reporting, a Certificate in Business Valuations and even a Certificate in International Public Reporting standards. I am a member of this global and fast moving accounting body – and I can honestly tell that all of the ACCA (or fellow) members I encountered were standing apart from the finance management crowd. Thus, a very interesting and challenging professional route.
There are other qualifications too, even deeper specialized. The UK based Chartered Institute of Management Accounting (CIMA) is THE Anglo-Saxon equivalent of a controlling degree, with course ranging from performance management to accounting. It is more specialized in financial analysis and management than ACCA and it is also widely recognized. The US-based Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) offers a similar qualification, named Chartered Management Accountant (CMA). Even in the German-speaking world there are several strong controller educational bodies, such as the Controller Akademie (Germany) or the “Controller Institut” (Austria), who go even deeper. The “Controller Institut” has nicely expanded itself on Central and Eastern Europe too, with the demand for up-qualifying the finance graduates increasing markedly in the latest years. The latter specialize in European and technically oriented (SAP and production oriented environments mostly, but also financial services) controlling, with member reporting an improved set of job skills after completion.
Long story short, there are plenty of options for the ambitious, upcoming controllers. And lots of good news for the more and more stretched companies, who face an increased shortage of financial management talent.