While Prerna Sood, ACMA, CGMA, director of finance at Jumeirah Group, often thought about doing another professional qualification, she was unsure if she had the time to properly devote herself to further studies. She already has a bachelor’s degree in finance, as well as a Masters and an MBA. She has also completed a CPA, which she says was a demanding qualification to undertake while also working. “Doing CIMA the traditional way, taking the normal path, was never possible with my work commitments because it takes three to four years and involves a lot of exams.”
When Sood discovered the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants’ (CIMA) Global C-Suite Business and Finance Programme, however, she felt like it was tailor-made for her situation. “It’s exactly for people like me who do not have much free time available to study,” says Sood who has 15 years’ experience as a finance executive in the hospitality sector. “My relevant experience in finance, business and leadership roles meant I could take the accelerated entry option and I only had to do the final exam to gain accreditation.”
Sood is quick to point out that the programme is certainly not easy, however, and participants must put in a lot of effort to pass the final exam. “I knew I was getting into something that requires a lot of commitment,” she continues. “I knew it would be demanding, but I also knew that it was what I wanted and that I would be able to achieve it if I devoted the right amount of time and attention.”
Developing a strategic approach
In order to gain her Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation, Sood completed a multi-day workshop followed by a three-hour exam based on a case study that was provided in advance. She says the aim was to show how well you could process new information about the case study in a fast-paced situation. “It tests strategic thinking so you must answer questions like it’s a real-life situation, processing information quickly and accurately as the situation evolves,” she explains.
The end-result, according to Sood, is the development of a more holistic approach to problem-solving. As the decision-makers when it came to solving problems based on the case study, the Programme participants had to learn how to think strategically. And although all were professionally experienced and qualified, Sood points out that learning enhanced communication and influencing skills was helpful for everyone. “You may not have a second chance to impress senior leadership,” she says, adding that the Programme helped her not only to learn how to solve problems strategically, but also how to explain her solutions properly to a wider audience.
As such, the experience was much more than reading a case study in advance and answering questions about it, Sood says. How the example situation would evolve was unknown to participants before the workshop and the exam. “And we had to put on our thinking caps and come up with solutions to handle the situation as if it was real life,” she says of the exam and the workshop.
The workshop involved brainstorming sessions and exercises that also required participants to answer within a certain timeframe. Sood says the CIMA tutor, Adrian Sims, guided the participants through the situation, providing tips on how to stay calm and develop robust strategies in response to these challenges. “It helped to refresh and also boost my knowledge and experience, but it also really helped me to think beyond the horizon,” she says. “This means that, as a finance leader, I'm not limited to finance and accounting or reporting only - I am a business partner and I engage with different stakeholders. We make decisions together and we think strategically. The Programme really helped me to learn how to think differently.”
Investing in your career
Smart employers will recognise that investing in or supporting employee efforts to gain such qualifications will provide a return on investment, argues Sood. She feels fortunate to work for a company that believes in investing in its people. “The company already encourages and supports employees to learn and grow and then apply those learnings into business as well as your personal life. So, I was actually encouraged by my employer to do this course.”
Sood advises any finance professionals that are currently considering taking a CIMA professional qualification to “just go for it”. The range of entry levels mean that finance professionals at any career stage will be able to get a lot out of the programme - from graduates starting at the beginning, to mid-level management and finally C-Suite executives that only need to complete the final workshop and exam. “A CIMA qualification offer opportunities at different levels to pursue your education and career development in a way that is tailored to your personal situation,” Sood says. “It’s a demanding Programme, but if you are dedicated and do the work needed, it’s one of the best investments you can make in yourself as a finance professional.”