Prickett, Ruth

Why stop studying once you’ve got an ACMA after your name? Ruth Prickett hears from members who’ve gained other professional qualifications and finds out what this has done for their careers.


Senior internal auditor, Zadco, United Arab Emirates.

Other qualification: member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE).

I got into forensic accountancy when the organisation I was working for fell victim to fraud. The police didn’t have the budget to bring in a forensic accountant, so they asked to use me instead. Two years later, my boss in that job, who’d moved to manpower audit with the police, got in touch and I found myself working as a forensic accountant.

I found that the only qualification in this area was with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, based in Austin, Texas. I had to take a CD-based exam in four parts. At that time the organisation had about 15,000 members, mainly in the US, but it now has 37,000, about 600 of whom are in the UK. It runs regular courses and conferences in the US and Europe. I am now the training director for the association’s UK chapter and I produce a programme of between five and eight events a year to help members keep up to date with their CPD requirements. This is vital, because the fraudsters are always one step ahead of us, although most of them don’t know that people like us exist – until they meet us in court.

Joining the ACFE was hugely useful because it helped me to develop a network of contacts. If I couldn’t deal with something, there was always someone else who could. On one memorable day, for example, I had a senior partner from each of the big four firms working for me free of charge. After that, my boss gave me total support and I had no problem getting my employer to pay my membership fees.

My work often involves crawling all over the books of firms to find out where a fraud is hidden, so you need to understand business processes. My ACFE qualification adds knowledge of criminal practice, relevant regulations and techniques such as interviewing. In one case the Fraud Squad was trying to catch a director who had evaded it three years earlier. I soon realised that a case I’d worked on for my CIMA exams was relevant because it had involved separate legal entities. I saw that the director had defrauded the separate legal entity of his own firm – something that the police had missed because they hadn’t been trained in this area. So it was often a case of finding out what they knew, adding what I knew and filling in the gaps. I would also play the accused party so that the police could question me and I would find the best business argument with which to defend myself. This helped them to establish whether there was a criminal case to answer or whether someone’s actions could be defended as normal business practice. It’s important to remember that it’s not always clear whether or not a fraud has been committed. There are lots of grey areas.

Anyone who is interested in this should also check out the Association of Certified Anti-Money-Laundering Specialists, based in Miami, Florida, which is a growing network of people involved in combating money-laundering.


Procurement and supply chain director at Computacenter.

Other qualifications: deputy chair elect of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS) management board; MBA.

I qualified with CIMA about 20 years ago and I took my MBA about four years later when I felt that I wasn’t developing much in my job. I spent many years in purely financial roles in organisations including Tetley’s Brewery and Yorkshire Water before Computacenter approached me about the role of UK finance director about seven years ago. But at the interview I was asked whether I’d consider becoming procurement director instead. It seems that there weren’t enough qualified people working in procurement and the firm was struggling to find someone with the right background. There’s been lots of change in this area since then.

I had no idea about procurement at the time, although I now know that a financial background is a solid basis for the CIPS qualification, because CIMA trains you to think commercially. Computacenter is particularly good at hiring people with transferable skills, so a lot of employees here have a wide range of qualifications and have moved sideways. I realised that my team needed further training, so I asked someone I’d worked with before to set up an NVQ programme to provide training for my team at their desks. This has been awesome: it’s helped them to develop and made them promotable. They can choose from a variety of qualifications, including procurement, management, business administration, warehousing and logistics.

In my first year at Computacenter I introduced several improvements that led to our department’s application for silver accreditation with CIPS. My own application for CIPS membership was made much more straightforward because I could demonstrate my work in this area and get on the institute’s professional development route. Having all three qualifications makes me feel more rounded and it’s helped me to appreciate other points of view. I would also advise other people to do these qualifications in the same order. CIMA gives you a good foundation of transferable skills and a commercial outlook; an MBA adds academic experience, which can be very different from working in practice; and CIPS adds to both of these, because it’s more specialised. CIPS-qualified people tend to be fantastic negotiators, because it teaches you buying skills.


Associate vice-president, Amba Research, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Other qualifications: Chartered Institute of Marketing professional postgraduate diploma; Australian Computer Society diploma of information technology.

I gained my marketing qualification in June 2003, took my CIMA finals in May 2004 and became a member four months later. I’d started out in marketing and promotions at Eureka Online, an internet service provider in Sri Lanka, but was soon doing costing and analysis work, which got me interested in management accounting. I started the CIMA course while on a break during my marketing studies. I then moved to Ernst & Young and started using my financial skills.

My work on the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) course exempted me from a paper on economics in stage one of the CIMA exams, while my diploma in information technology from the Australian Computer Society was a real help in the final level paper on information systems. The final levels of CIM and CIMA were really interesting and it was never hard to find the enthusiasm or time for them. I never even felt that I was studying or memorising at that level. It was great experience and it felt like an adventure.

Having the two qualifications has definitely changed my career. If I’d had my marketing qualification alone, I would probably now be a marketing manager at Eureka Online. If I’d had only my CIMA qualification, I probably would have stayed at Ernst & Young or become a financial manager. As it is, I now do financial research at Amba for firms in the media industry. My marketing background enables me to understand promotions initiatives, while my financial skills help me to analyse revenues. This is a more challenging job than my previous ones and it changes every day. It’s perfect for me at the moment.

Having three qualifications will give me a wider career choice, so I can find jobs that I’ll enjoy instead of being channelled into one area. I don’t think I’ll ever move into an entirely financial role. Ideally, I would like to use all three skills, but it’s hard to find top-level jobs that offer that. I’m also considering the idea of starting my own business, probably in the systems sector. The most crucial thing is that I like what I’m doing. This is far more important than money or job prospects.


Chief internal auditor for Jobcentre Plus, the Department for Work and Pensions.

Other qualification: member of the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA).

I studied first for my IIA qualification and got that in 1989. This gave me exemptions from five of the 16 papers in the CIMA syllabus, allowing me to pass my finals in 1993. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sponsored me through both courses.

Our department had far more qualified internal auditors than accountants when I joined. This was because the Treasury had set mandatory standards in the early eighties for all government departments to have qualified internal auditors. This meant that by 1990 the DWP was spending £70bn in benefits and had a £4bn cost budget, yet it had only four qualified accountants. Those days are long gone now.

I became interested in CIMA when I was seconded to the finance team after qualifying with the MA. I soon realised that we had so few accountants and so much to do. This happened just as there was a big push to get more qualified accountants, so my employer was delighted that I wanted to do the course. I was given generous financial support and study leave, but it was still tough because there was no experience in the department to fall back on for support. It was also hard because I had three children aged under four when I was doing my exams.

I studied at Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University). This was helpful, because I got to know other students from firms such as BT. Only six people in our department were studying for CIMA at this time and they were scattered all over the country. There are still relatively few people here who have both IIA and CIMA qualifications. Having both has definitely accelerated my career. I would have had a reasonable promotion path with my IIA qualification, but a couple of the jobs I’ve taken were open to me only because I also had the accountancy skills. I’m probably three or four years ahead of where I would have been without CIMA. It’s made me a more rounded performer and it’s also broadened my options. Although I’m currently a chief internal auditor, I’m just about to start a new job in the finance department of the Child Support Agency, which was looking for a CIMA member.


Business banking manager at IIB Bank.

Other qualifications: member of the Institute of Bankers in Ireland; MBA.

I finished my CIMA exams in 1996 and started my MBA in 2002 at Manchester Business School. I was in the first class to take a tailored course devised with the Institute of Bankers in Ireland, which focused on what people working in financial services wanted from an MBA. I’d always been inclined to do a masters degree, but I needed a break after passing my CIMA finals. In 2002 I felt that my role at Anglo-Irish Bank wasn’t challenging me, so it was a good time to return to education. It also coincided with an injury that meant the end of my sporting career competing in the Gaelic Games, so I had more free time. Lastly, I was single and I knew that if I didn’t do it immediately it would be much harder to do later if I were married with kids.

I was an assistant manager at the Anglo-Irish Bank at the time, and I didn’t feel that I was getting many opportunities for promotion. I hoped that an MBA would give me the skills that the bank clearly thought I lacked. But in the middle of the course I got married and found a new job at another bank. I wouldn’t recommend anyone else to do things in this order. My new bosses at UB were worried about how much time I would spend on my MBA, so I had to assure them that I’d take a minimal amount of leave to study. It put me under huge pressure, but the job was worth it. I did consider deferring the MBA when I was getting married, but in the end I simply studied really hard over the summer so that I could take a month off for my honeymoon. The most important lesson I learned was to manage my time effectively. In the end I got an A grade.

I feel that an MBA gives me greater bargaining power and opens up lots of avenues. The CIMA qualification was a great basis for the MBA, which often mirrored CIMA modules, but in more detail. It also allowed me to gain exemptions for three of the 12 modules, and papers such as corporate finance and international capital markets were easier for those of us with CIMA training. I’ve gained lots of work experience at the two banks, while the two qualifications have put me on a far better platform for career progression than I was on three years ago.


Financial controller at the Halifax Estate Agency (HBOS Group).

Other qualifications: certificate in management from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and postgraduate diploma in management.

After graduating with a degree in business management, I took my certificate in management in 1998 and then my postgraduate diploma, which was the first year of the MBA programme at Nottingham Business School. I passed my CIMA finals in November 2001 and became a member the following April. At that time I was a graduate finance trainee at Anglian Water, so taking the qualification was an integral part of the job.

I’ve found that combining management and CIMA qualifications has allowed me to lead my team in a different way. Management tools such as mentoring and regular one-to-one interviews are part of retail finance culture at HBOS, but I’m one of most passionate people about this and I probably wouldn’t be if I hadn’t done management training.

Having both qualifications means that I could go into either finance or general management – and I also plan to finish the MBA one day. At the moment I head a team of 40, so I’ve plenty to do and I’m getting lots of experience. I was delighted when we received one of the best scores in the whole of HBOS for motivation and management quality in last year’s staff survey.

I’m now on the project team that organises HBOS group finance master classes, which are all about sharing knowledge, communicating best practice and challenging established practice. I think they’re fantastic. I’ve also trained to be a trainer for our two-day coaching course. Good management isn’t only about results – it’s also about how you get them. I’m sure that management training helps your career to progress faster.


Head of reward, Computacenter.

Other qualification: member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

I passed my CIMA finals in 1989 and my CIPD exams in 1995. I knew early on that I didn’t want to work purely as an accountant, so I took CIMA because it was a business qualification rather than a completely financial one. As soon as I became a CIMA member I went travelling. When I returned I became a recruitment consultant at Michael Page and took my CIPD exams. That led to a job as an executive pay consultant at KPMG. The logic was that I needed CIMA to give me credibility in business, while my work in the recruitment industry gave me commercial exposure. My role at KPMG used both my accountancy skills and my people and selling skills.

The CIPD qualification is important if you want to work in HR at a large organisation. But many HR departments still struggle to be taken seriously at board level. Accountants, on the other hand, tend to be taken seriously by boards unless they actually prove otherwise. In my current role the CIPD qualification gives me credibility with my colleagues and helps me to understand what they’re doing, while the CIMA qualification allows me to analyse compensation figures, make decisions based on financial analysis and be credible to the wider business.

I enjoy combining an analytical role on projects that change constantly with being head of a function that builds on my sales skills, since I’m always trying to persuade the business that it’s in its own interests to change.


Company secretary, CODASciSys.

Other qualification: member of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (and this year’s ICSA company secretary of the year).

I qualified with CIMA years ago and went down the typical chief accountant/financial controller route. As the company grew, it needed more corporate administration experience, so I decided to get the chartered secretary qualification. I had already got a law degree, which helped. I needed to do only four ICSA exams because my CIMA qualification entitled me to go straight to the second professional stage. CIMA members still have to take four exams today: corporate secretaryship; corporate governance; corporate administration; and corporate financial management.

Becoming a chartered secretary was a natural extension for me. My CIMA qualification helped with two papers and my law degree helped with the other two. A lot of FDs end up being company secretaries by default, but there’s an awful lot you really need to know. If you don’t know, you can’t ask the right questions. I’m now doing a professional award in corporate governance with ICSA.

Getting the ICSA qualification has made a difference to my job and I haven’t felt the need to look outside the company for new challenges. I do occasionally check the market, but the kind of job I’m using as a benchmark has changed. If I hadn’t done the ICSA exams I would still be looking at accountancy roles. Now I’m looking at company secretary jobs. The two qualifications fit together well because there’s a lot of common ground – for example, pensions, share options, insurance and preparing the annual report. It helps to be able to see these from more than one perspective.

Copyright Chartered Institute of Management Accountants Sep 2006

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