Whether it’s upper level management at Manitoba Hydro or at the head office of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, accountants can be found in most facets of the professional world. Like doctors, who may focus on anything from heart surgery to the health of your feet, accountants can specialize in a variety of areas. They are CEOs, CFOs, deans, directors and instructors.
Though the three designations − certified general accountant (CGA), certified management accountant (CMA) and chartered accountant (CA) − vary in their education and training requirements, the first stage in any accountant’s career path involves completion of a set of business and accounting courses. These may be taken as part of a university degree before entering the training program.
Certified general accountants
A preexisting degree is not mandatory for CGA training. The CGA program of professional studies, delivered by self-regulating CGA associations in each province, offers what is called an open access path, with previous education determining an individual’s starting point.
Potential CGAs can start taking the courses online whatever their academic background. Students who have already completed a degree can put eligible business and accounting course credits toward their CGA certification if they have achieved the minimum grade requirement of 65 per cent or higher. Candidates coming from university accounted for about 60 per cent of the Manitoba CGA grads in 2010.
The top CGA education level is the professional applications and competence evaluations (PACE) program, which is delivered online and involves teamwork, business simulations, and indepth case studies. Because of the diverse array of careers open to CGAs, the PACE program requires candidates to choose two electives from a list that includes advance corporation finance and information systems strategy. After studies have been completed, the provincial CGA associations require candidates to accumulate 36 months of full-time employment, with a minimum of 12 months being engaged in auditing, taxation or other specified areas. An experience assessment questionnaire completes a CGA’s training.
Because a CGA may potentially get involved with a variety of business types, adaptability is an important trait. A plus of the CGA program is that it allows candidates to build on their existing strengths. CGAs commonly work in a corporate setting, the government and not-for profit sectors, dealing with everything from month end reports to payroll remittance
Certified management accountants
The courses for CMAs are substantially management-oriented and focus on such subjects as management accounting, corporate finance and international business. To enter the program, students are required to have a university degree along with a set of prerequisite courses that may be taken as part of a university degree over the course of three years, or – the usual choice − as a parttime, 10-month or, more commonly, eight-month accelerated, program. A university degree from an accredited program such as the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba is required, with a Grade Point Average 3.25.
This early part of a CMA’s education culminates with a national entrance exam, demonstrating business and accounting knowledge. The CMA Strategic Leadership Program follows, and includes fulltime employment. The program focuses on how innovative enterprises conduct business in contemporary society, looking at the methods they have adopted to succeed in a highly volatile and competitive global environment CMAs have a strong grounding in strategic thinking and business skills.
Ronald M. Stoesz, head of Certified Management Accountants of Manitoba, sees this as a key strength of the management group. “As CMAs, we deal with the future of a business,” he explains.
Stoesz also emphasizes the importance of being able to exchange information. “Over the course of a CMA’s training, there is a strong emphasis on communication skills, group dynamics and leadership to complement the technical skills.” The leadership focus is one of the main factors that differentiate CMAs from their fellow accountants.
CAs must complete a university degree with specific business course credits, as set out in their province’s professional program, and obtain working experience in a designated training office under the supervision of experienced CAs. CA training offices include CA firms, leading corporations and government organizations with recognized CA training programs in place. The training requirements are considered the most stringent of this trio of professional groups, with training offices held to CA standards that operate throughout the world.
CA students are assessed continually through their development: in their university programs, professional education programs and on the job. All CA candidates must sit for a three-day “Uniform Evaluation” where they must respond to simulated business challenges. In all, the training program and Uniform Evaluation should take about three years. After completion, candidates can apply to the CA institute in their province to be granted their CA designation.
CAs tend to focus on corporate tax, risk management, information technology and auditing. Shirley Sommer, the registrar for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Manitoba, also emphasizes the importance of communication skills in the CA profession. “Of course math is important, but the most important skill to have as a CA is the ability to analyze and communicate,” she says. “You have to disseminate information to a variety of people.” Patience is also important, as the role of a CA often involves explaining details to non-specialists.
Of the three designations, CAs have the most numerous opportunities to work outside Canada. “The worldwide mobility of CAs is one of the profession’s major advantages,” confirms Sommer. “Our mutual recognition agreements with associations in other countries are hugely important, as they allow for international job seeking.” Thirteen major financial bodies around the world recognize the CA designation. Though each accounting group has its own set of tasks, any would-be accountant needs to excel at working with details, being thorough in reporting, professionalism and critical thinking. Thanks to the array of paths and opportunities available to them, it’s clear that this profession is a lot more than just about numbers.