SPOTLIGHT ON PROFESSIONALISM

ROBERT JELLY (feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Feb
1 - 7, 2010

If 2009 was the year of uncertainty, perhaps 2010 should be the year of reform. It is clear that for both economic and environmental reasons we cannot return to business as usual. The commercial world has a huge task ahead of it. Its leaders must restore trust in the financial systems and develop practices which build sustainability into the core of strategy.

For these goals to be achieved, the business world must remodel itself to meet the new challenges ahead. And in order to embed this process, it is imperative that we put professionalism at the top of the agenda. In other words, companies must ensure that they recruit and develop people who are not only talented but who are guided by principles rather than expediency.

I would suggest that one of the best ways of doing that is to ensure that professionalism is embedded into each employee's professional development. Traditionally, an MBA has been seen as the best guarantee of a strong and broad understanding of the core elements of business. But MBAs have come in for a rough ride recently - primarily because they do not have a strong ethical backbone.

One of the obvious differences between an MBA and a professional qualification is accountability. Once an MBA has been awarded, graduates are able to attach those hallowed letters to their name for life. Conversely, a professional qualification, like the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants' (CIMA), compels its members to not only study the fundamentals of business ethics but to apply them throughout their careers. Membership to CIMA demands adherence to an ethical code of conduct. Those who breach this code can be disciplined and ultimately, have their letters removed.

Moreover, a professional qualification takes the lottery element out of recruitment. I cannot speak for all professional qualifications but this is certainly true for CIMA's. The range and quality of today's MBAs varies widely. On the other hand, CIMA offers a unique qualification in management accounting which stands out on its own merits. The qualification is also regulated internationally - so wherever it is studied, the learning material and examinations are carried out to the same high standards. This provides a global assurance of quality to both members and employers.

By the same token, MBAs do not guarantee continuity of knowledge. When an MBA has been awarded, the knowledge gained is focussed on a specific period of time. As we all know, the business world is a rapidly changing place and knowledge needs to be updated at regular intervals. Unlike an MBA, a professional qualification like CIMA's requires its members to take part in a programme of continuing professional development. This ensures that our members stay at the cutting edge of technical, legal and ground-breaking developments throughout their careers.

There are signs that this demand for professionalism is already being acknowledged across the business spectrum. CIMA recently carried out over 4,500 consultations with finance and senior management professionals worldwide to unearth the state of the finance function and its likely trajectory. One key area related to corporate preferences when recruiting finance professionals.

Personal characteristics came top of the list - as one might expect. However post- graduate business qualifications such as MBAs were the least preferred. To add to this, professional finance qualifications came top as the most preferred qualification when recruiting for finance. We can conclude from this that businesses would prefer to recruit talent with a professional qualification and then develop them as managers rather than recruit general managers and train them so that they become specialists.

But I would contend that this preference should not be confined to the finance function. A strong understanding of finance is central to the brave new world of business. Risk management must be an integral part of future strategy and finance professionals are the best equipped to quantify the challenges ahead. Most MBAs offer a basic introduction to finance but the approach is broad. CIMA provides a much greater depth of knowledge - particularly around the essential business elements of financial reporting and performance management. In short, if business is to take on the challenges ahead, accounting and accountability must go hand in hand.

CIMA is offering all MBA graduates a fast-track route through the CIMA professional qualification. A fee of 500 includes registration, subscription fees, a fast-track exam and online study packages.

(The writer is Executive Director for Education, CIMA)