Careers in management accountancy: it's more than just number crunching
Undergraduates studying subjects like business, economics or maths have a huge range of career options, ranging from the statistical purity of a researcher to the high-octane life of a City banker. But many are looking for a career path that will be richer and more diverse – and one that combines good financial incentives with a sustainable work-life balance. Management accountancy may just be the answer.
Management accounting combines accounting, finance and management with the leading edge techniques needed to drive successful businesses. A management accountant's role includes diverse responsibilities, such as advising managers about the financial implications of projects, formulating business strategies to negotiate a competitive landscape, conducting internal business audits and monitoring corporate spending.
Management accountancy is a demanding but rewarding career option that calls for a wide range of skills. You'll need to have a strong grasp of maths. But just being good at number-crunching won't cut it; you'll need to be able to see the patterns in data and use past trends to make predictions and guide business decisions. Management accountants have to think big, so an awareness of global business – following the news to see how business decisions, successes and scandals impact markets on the other side of the world – is also essential.
As well as these background skills and knowledge, you'll need to be curious and a quick learner. This includes a desire to learn about other parts of the business; management accountants have a crucial role in joining the dots to keep track of different departments' budgets, needs and plans. To guide strategy, a pro-active and forward looking attitude is essential. Management accountants are increasingly called upon to advise the board and guide effective decision-making.
As with any multi-faceted role, the rewards are considerable. Recent researchcarried out by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) found that part-qualified students in the UK are earning on average £32,944, including bonus payments. This rises to an average of nearly £60,000 for qualified members. Meanwhile, management accountancy is typically contained to office hours – on average, UK students and members work 42 hours per week.
A management accountancy role has a broad remit that includes identifying and managing risk, analysing information and using it to make business decisions, planning and budgeting. The career is ideal for multi-talented thinkers who want a role with real breadth. When asked if they felt a CIMA qualification strengthened their ability to move across all areas of the business, 74% of respondents agreed.
Students thinking about a career in management accountancy can get started early, perhaps by reading widely around national and trade publications, helping you to build your knowledge of current developments. Work experience, preferably in the business or financial sector, is important in demonstrating your willingness to learn and develop your knowledge of the business environment. But picking up workplace skills can be achieved in many different roles and most will be relevant if you can explain what you have learnt in terms of skills, such as using data to solve problems, making predictions and reacting quickly to developments in your organisation.
In a rapidly changing world, many of today's graduates will ultimately work in roles that we cannot yet envisage. A qualification geared towards management accountancy will open doors to a range of career paths that are challenging, fast-paced and rewarding.
Peter Simons is technical specialist at the applied research unit in the Chartered Institute of Management Accountancy's education department
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