By Dilina Kulathunga
The Sri Lankan division of the world’s largest professional accounting body for management accountants, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants of United Kingdom (CIMA –UK) is willing to lend a helping hand to uplift the managerial skills of the country’s state sector employees as Sri Lanka’s unity national government is keen on restructuring the public enterprises to create wealth. To this end, a capacity building fund from the development lender, the World Bank has been allocated to the Sri Lankan government.
According to CIMA Regional Director Middle East South Asia and North Africa Bradley Emerson, discussions are also underway to revamp its syllabus to suit the public sector administration, a measure that will get implemented soon.
“The discussions are taking place on structuring the syllabus where you pull out certain subjects and include subjects in the areas of public sector accounting,” said Emerson.
Meanwhile, the visiting CIMA Global President Myriam Madden met with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last week to further the engagement with the government in uplifting the management skills of the state sector employees.
This was an extension of the talks that began in May when CIMA Global immediate past President Keith Luck met with the government officials.
Sri Lanka’s state-owned business enterprises (SoBEs) are marred by poor management and have become white elephants to the economy accumulating massive losses year-after-year, burdening the public.
According to an eminent economist and former Commonwealth Secretariat Economic Affairs Director Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy, Sri Lanka’s SoEs are a main area of instability and non-productivity in the economy and thus suggests improving their administration by accommodating professionally qualified managers in the least, if the privatization is politically challenging.
In this respect, CIMA Sri Lanka’s (SL) initiative to develop the management skills of the state sector employees is commendable.
CIMA qualified professionals are currently present in few state sector enterprises including the Central Bank, Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Employees’ Provident Fund and Employees’ Trust Fund management boards and in state banks.
“We want to be in the power sector,” said Emerson, as he knows the country’s national energy providers – the CEB and Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) are the biggest loss makers and are in dire need of qualified management accountants to take transparent cost-reflective pricing decisions, something which is currently non-existent.
Defence sector gets boost from CIMA
In an interesting revelation, CIMA-SL is expected to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) soon with the Sri Lanka Army to improve their management skills.
This is an extension of the MoU signed with the Sri Lanka Navy in 2014 as a result of the talks had with the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
“Now that the war is over, the forces can move into the state sector similar to Singapore after they gained independence. If you give them with the managerial skills, the forces have the calibre to drive results,” Emerson remarked.
CIMA-SL has proposed the government to replace the retiring senior state sector employees with the skilled officers in the forces.
However, it was only recently CIMA Sri Lanka Board Chairman Vipula Gunatilleka said that CIMA planned to offer a certificate course in the business and finance fields to the retirees effective from this year in a bid to engage them in the country’s labour force for a prolonged period.
“We recognize that Sri Lanka has a fast ageing population but the good news is they live longer due to better healthcare facilities available in the country. And why not retain them in the work force as long as they can,” Gunatilleka said.
Lack of talent – key challenge for Lanka
Acute skill shortage could become a key challenge for Sri Lanka as the country is poised to create increased economic opportunities with its projected higher growth, according to Madden.
In recent times, CIMA-SL was seen taking its qualification to local universities and schools to lure undergraduates and school leavers.
In the past, CIMA had resorted more towards a demand-pull driven professional qualification than a market-push styled product.
Asked if CIMA-SL has shifted its focus on quantity over the quality of its qualification and the members, she responded in the negative and stressed that reaching out to these segments is important to create awareness of the benefits of CIMA at a time when the corporates find it difficult to find the talent that they seek in the market.
“For us, quality is absolutely critical to the institution, brand and the qualification.”
“Reaching out to the universities and schools is important because we need to influence the academics and mostly the parents because they are much influential in a student’s decision as to what they need to do,” she explained.
Hence, Madden confided that there will be adequate demand for qualified professionals with right skills in Sri Lanka and therefore, the country must be ready in supply to provide such talent.
It was only recently human resources thought leader and former Commercial Bank of Ceylon PLC Chairman Dinesh Weerakkody said the quality of the workforce skills is inextricably linked to the economic development of a country.
Globally, there are 227,000 CIMA members and students scattered across 179 countries. In Sri Lanka, there are 3,450 members while another 2,200 members practicing abroad. Also, there are 13,300 students currently studying to obtain the CIMA qualifications.
Broken glass-ceiling- really?
Madden, who is the second woman CIMA Global President in the institute’s history, observed that a lot of Sri Lankan women hold C-Suite roles in the corporate sector as she met over 40 women business leaders during her visit, who are either Chief Executive Officers, Chief Financial Officers or directors.
She was also quoted as saying in local media that at least 60 percent of CIMA students in Sri Lanka are female and they would exert more influence in corporate Sri Lanka than anywhere else in the world, once they become members.
While it appears that by and large the Sri Lankan corporate woman has broken the glass-ceiling, her representation in the country’s legislature remains strikingly low.
No more half-empty finance departments
With the new online assessment structure, which gives the flexibility and the choice to candidates to sit for exams, the companies no more see half-empty finance departments due to students wanting to take study leave, Madden said.
CIMA revised its syllabus and migrated to completely a computer-based assessment structure since this January that helps both the employer as well as the candidate.
Even though there was a slight drop in exam enrolments at the first exam diet under the new assessment structure, Madden said the situation has now stabilized.
“In terms of meeting business needs and helping our members succeed, the new assessment structure is the right strategy.
On the other hand, in terms of the training and assessments of the students, the new assessment structure reflects today’s workplace.
We are not only testing the knowledge of the students in business and finance. Through our case studies, we test their ability to think on their own feet and their ability to use technology and social media.
No company rewards you for what you know. They reward you for your ability to research using online sources, bringing them all together into a meaningful presentation and enabling better and informed decision-making,” she said.
CIMA in Mandarin and Spanish
Already present in 179 countries, CIMA is now progressing on its quest to offer its course and the assessments in Mandarin in the mighty Chinese market.
“Those (projects) are progressing very well. This is one of our first initiatives to conduct CIMA in a language other than English.
We watched the trends around the world, in terms of the emerging business trends and Mandarin is clearly coming in to the fore,” she commented.
CIMA’s new computer-based assessment structure, which offers scalability and flexibility, will facilitate conducting CIMA in Mandarin much easily.
Besides Mandarin, CIMA is also planning to offer its qualification in Spanish.
CGMA, a passport to US
Madden, who also served on the board of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), said the partnership between CIMA and AICPA has clearly made the qualification truly global and thus, a CIMA member is readily recognized in the United States (US).
The CIMA-AICPA joint venture created a new professional accounting designation - Corporate Global Management Accountants (CGMAs) – in addition to the current designatory letters used by CIMA members.
Before this partnership, “we were not very strong in the US. AICPA has over 400,000 members in 145 countries and the partnership with them give us a true global footprint,” she added.
During little less than five years into the partnership, there are over 50,000 CGMAs practicing in the US.
“Now CIMA is truly a global passport,” she stressed.
The partnership also fast tracked the launch of the global management accounting principles this year, in less than two years, a task which benefits the development of the management accounting profession globally.
When revising the assessment structure too, CIMA leveraged the experience and the expertise of AICPA in introducing the online assessment structure.
CIMA-SL is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and Madden’s visit coincided with celebrating this occasion too.
For CIMA-UK, Sri Lanka has continuously been a strategic market as Sri Lanka has the second highest student and member fraternity after the UK.
Therefore, when asked where Madden likes to drive the CIMA qualification and its brand in the global corporate arena, she said that CIMA wants to extend its global footprint while it continues to remain as, ‘the business qualification’.
“We equip people for business leadership. So, typically what we expect is, if you want to be in a leadership role or if you want to be in the C-Suite – a CEO, CFO – then you need to have the breadth across the business, including business acumen, long-term perspective and creating values and with influencing and negotiating capability.
So, our qualification is around business leadership,” she finally said.