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CIMA Is Tapping Into Management Accounting’s Big Data Revolution

CIMA’s head of future of finance research talks big data, the Beatles and why an MBA’s professional journey is not complete without the CIMA qualification

Tue Sep 6 2016

In 1962, the Beatles were rejected by British record label Decca Records. “Nowadays, that wouldn’t happen!” says Peter Simons, head of future of finance research at CIMA - the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

In the past decade, Peter has seen big data transform accounting as it has all walks of business; informing decision-making to enable the best outcomes.

If the Beatles had approached the people at Decca Records today, he’s sure they would have relied on data – social media mentions for example - to measure the band’s popularity and potential for success. One of the biggest mistakes in music industry history would have been avoided.

From music to management accounting, in business today big data is a big priority. The big accountancy firms - Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young and KPMG - are all investing in advanced analytical tools. And MIT Sloan School of Management research has found that companies using data-driven decision-making achieve a 5-6% boost in productivity.

However, according to a CIMA and AICPA report, 86% of firms struggle to get valuable insights from their data.

In steps, the largest professional body of management accountants in the world. The CIMA qualification - favored by over 200,000 students and members in more than 170 countries - is tailored to match employers’ ever-changing needs.

It extends beyond the scope of traditional accountancy programs, covering technical accounting as well as hot management topics through task-based case studies reflecting a real-life working environment. CIMA’s Master’s Gateway offers a fast-track route for MBA holders exempting them from 12 exams.


Peter, a CIMA holder and an MBA graduate from London’s Cass Business School, is charged with keeping CIMA’s curriculum up to date.

How is big data changing management accounting as a profession?

Often in business, decision making is influenced by personal bias. And management accountants talk about a constant struggle; where they’re on the side of sanity against vanity. But nowadays, more and more information is available, and people don’t always need to exercise judgement.

While management accountants used to provide data analysis in a monthly information pack, now people expect to get information on their phone; when they want it, where they want it.

What skills do management accountants need now that they didn’t a decade ago?

They need the same skills but in more depth now.

In any business you tend to have silos of data. And the owner of the data - people in sales, marketing, logistics - tends to be whoever owns the process that generates the data. A management accountant’s role is as a broker; to ensure the information is brought together to inform decision making, and to validate it so people can trust it.

They need to be alert to the data sources in the business, to develop working relationships with people in the business who have the data, to understand how the data might be analyzed and presented, and to see themselves as players on the team rather than reporters on the side-line.

Why should an MBA take the CIMA qualification?

A lot of an MBA’s value is attached to the business school you went to. A professional qualification like CIMA is more uniform; people don’t have to question where you got it from.

From my own experience, your MBA says a lot of positive things about you - it says you’re bright, ambitious and prepared to work hard - but it doesn’t really say that you’re practical or that you’re grounded in commercial reality, which accountant certainly are.

The combination of an MBA and CIMA, shows that you can see the big picture and also have attention to detail.

How are you bringing big data to the CIMA curriculum?

We have three columns to our syllabus; financial accounting, business understanding, and the column that combines the two is analysis. Data and analytics is covered throughout.

The way we develop our syllabus is that we talk to employers and identify what it is they expect their financial professionals to do. We’re told again and again by employers that it’s not efficient to have a core accounting skillset; you have to be able to apply that in a business context and influence others.

What developments do you have in mind for the future?

It’s going to be about technology and more self-service learning. The major tuition providers are providing online learning modules so people don’t have to come to class.

The nature of a professional qualification is that it’s practical; it’s not about theories, it’s about how you do things. The way people can play games like flight simulators; I think we’ll have more learning through simulation.

Businesses do need people who are good at data analytics. But as tech progresses, data tools will come along to allow the layman to have access. And the first layman that’s likely to have access will be the accountant.

Be equipped with the up-to-date knowledge and practical experience employers are looking for. If you hold an MBA or Master’s in Accounting, you can take the accelerated Master's Gateway route to the CIMA Professional Qualification.