Could this qualification be your ticket to a career change in Asian banking?

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Late last year the London-headquartered Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) launched a set of global management-accounting principles in Singapore – the first ever codification of its kind.

The choice of city was significant. While the CIMA professional qualification – which lets you claim the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation – is still comparatively niche in Singapore, its numbers are on the rise.

It is also becoming more relevant to careers in the Singapore banking sector, and not just in the back office. [efc_twitter text="Management-accounting skills are now sought after within middle-office roles like risk"], explains Andrew Harding, CIMA’s managing director.

We speak with Harding about CIMA's plans in Singapore and across Asia.

How useful is the CIMA professional qualification to banking careers in Singapore?

It’s becoming more and more important internationally, partly because in the fall-out from the global financial crisis there was a recognition that we need better practices in management accounting. In Asia, Singapore and Hong Kong are cities of influence and the banking sector in the region looks to them to implement best practices. Firms in Singapore like Barclays, Standard Chartered and Deutsche Bank are looking to apply global management-accounting standards – just as they are in other major centres. Banks globally need better data and a better understanding of risk in order to help their managers make decisions. But improving management accounting isn’t just about data – it’s about the analysis that supports that data.

What’s motivating people to study CIMA?

I’ve seen a big shift in the way our students, especially young people, view the qualification. In 2005 they’d want to study so they could work on a big IPO and make a lot of money before they were 30. But now they're typically motivated by wanting to be part of a business and share in its success, which plays into the values we are promoting in management accounting.

With back-office functions being offshored from Singapore, are some banking professionals studying CIMA to help with a career change?

Yes, we are now seeing more and more people with the CGMA designation moving out of the back office and into roles such as risk, compliance and internal audit. This is also because risk and governance issues are playing a more important role in influencing decision making at banks. [efc_twitter text="We’ve seen a general increase in CGMA holders taking on business-partnering roles"] – working directly with the front office.

How much support do you get from banks and universities in Singapore?

We work, for example, with Barclays on a management-training scheme in Singapore in which the bank supports trainees through their CIMA exams at the same time as providing them with valuable work experience. It’s also helped us that universities in Singapore increasingly have to demonstrate that their students are employable after they graduate. We work with several academic institutions in Singapore. For example, in October we partnered with the Singapore Institute of Management and Singapore Polytechnic to allow students to graduate with an additional CIMA Diploma in Management Accounting after sitting only one CIMA paper.

Has this all led to more students studying CIMA in Singapore?

Yes. [efc_twitter text="Six years ago about 50 people took the CIMA course in Singapore, but by 2014 that had risen to 230"].

Away from Singapore, where are you seeing growth in student numbers in Asia?

The largest recent shift has actually been in Indonesia. We’ve partnered with the Indonesian Institute of Accountants to deliver training and it has proven incredibly popular. In mainland China, we work with the Shanghai National Accounting Institute, running a course for COOs of state-owned enterprises [SOEs] – the pass rate is up at 80%. We’re going through a new phase in China as their economy matures and the government pushes SOEs to have better management-accounting standards. Eight years ago, when we first started in China, CIMA was mainly for people working in foreign multi-nationals, but now China is producing multi-nationals of its own.

When do most people study CIMA?

While a lot study after leaving school – either via their university or independently – I now see more people study later on, especially in their late 20s when are looking to take their career in another direction.

How much study do you need to do to pass CIMA?

Generally speaking, setting aside about 10 to 15 hours a week for study should stand you in good stead. From January 2 our professional exam has been available online and on demand for the first time, which has increased flexibility for students – we’ve already seen a huge increase in people sitting the exam on a Saturday. And our case studies are now also online in four one-week windows throughout the year – this is a big innovation for us as they simulate a real-time work environment.

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