Leveraging the resources of professional associations can provide the training, education and networking to build a more successful career.
There are an estimated five million accountants and financial professionals working in the United States, of which more than 80 percent work within businesses and organizations. Contrary to the beliefs of many individuals, not all accountants audit financial statements or prepare tax returns. Employees working within an organization may provide important accounting information or make business decisions that are essential to the financial well-being of the organization. Their insights influence their organization’s financial management, organizational development, and the achievement of key strategic goals. While external auditing is a very visible part of the accounting profession, sound internal finance and accounting operations are essential for the proper functioning of any organization.
The roles and responsibilities of internal accountants and financial professionals include: managing functions that are critical to business performance, supporting organizational management and strategic development, providing accurate and insightful information for better decisions, ensuring that organizations operate with integrity and proper governance, planning for the long term and helping to ensure sustainability, and safeguarding the interests of the organization and its key stakeholders. There are numerous professional associations that provide the advocacy and support for the external accounting function, but what about the equally important internal accounting function? That is the role of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA): to provide these individuals an opportunity to find support, network with similar professionals, and expand the membership’s knowledge base.
Local and National: The IMA
The IMA has served the accounting profession since 1919 and represents more than 65,000 members who work in public and private corporations, academia, government and not-for-profit institutions. Approximately 20,000 of these members are active certified management accountants. The IMA has more than 200 chapters and councils worldwide, including an active chapter in central Illinois.
The Central Illinois Chapter leverages the resources of the Institute of Management Accountants to provide accounting and finance professionals with the training, networking, and educational events and opportunities they need to build a successful career. The local chapter acts as a conduit that allows the national IMA to fulfill its core mission and provide central Illinois’ management accounting and finance professionals with an organization where they can develop and advance their careers through certification, research and practice development, education, networking, and the advocacy of the highest ethical and professional practices.
The appeal of this organization is that it attracts members of various financial-related professional backgrounds. While it is geared predominantly to the field of managerial accounting, it is comprised of public accountants, internal accountants, financial professionals, and others handling management or financial-related decisions. Additionally, students are key to the organization’s membership and success. The Central Illinois chapter has very close ties to Bradley and Illinois State University, as well as ties to Western Illinois University, while outreach extends beyond these institutions to other area colleges.
Networking & Resources
I often have students and mid-career professionals ask me a recurring question: “How do I further my career?” I respond by saying that joining a professional association is a great place to start. Networking is one of the most important aspects of the IMA, and contacts are made at the local, regional, national, and even the international level. Becoming an active member in most professional associations will translate into an expanded knowledge base, the development of a professional support group, and access to a multitude of career resources. Your association will often have sessions that can have a direct impact on your career; the organizers make it a point to meet the technical needs of its membership, bringing in experts in the applicable subject matter to discuss a given topic.
While many associations have very specific bases of membership, the IMA is widespread in its membership. It is not unique to have accountants from major corporations, government officials, not-for-profit business professionals, small business people, professors, students, and other interested parties. Whether networking within your specific profession or with a group like the IMA, a person has connections to individuals who understand your situation and can give advice when needed. And whether it is a technical accounting/business issue, an outside view on how to handle an ethical issue, or career advice from an experienced professional, networking itself is a valuable resource when you need the opinion of someone who understands your situation.
Associations are a way to obtain valuable career resources. This could be in the form of professional advice, but can also be in the form of finding targeted job positions. Job postings occur at all levels of the association, but as part of the networking aspect of these organizations, “word of mouth” related to various job openings is invaluable. Not only do members know about the positions, they can often find out the “inside scoop” on what it is like to work for a specific company, why the position is open, etc.
Benefits of Active Membership
The key to successfully utilizing the resources of an association is to be an active member. While there are benefits to general membership, active membership can pay significant dividends to an individual looking for assistance in his or her career. Being an active member does not necessarily mean being a board member. In many cases, an active member can be an individual that regularly attends chapter events. That’s why it is important to keep up on the schedule of upcoming events.
Some recent events that took place in the central Illinois chapter include a presentation by a partner of a local accounting firm on the red flags of fraud and prevention of employee abuse, a group training session covering ethics in the profession, and a student night at Bradley University where a number of experienced professionals met with accounting/business students and held roundtable discussions about the IMA, CMA certification, careers and opportunities. There was a also a member appreciation night held at the Caterpillar Visitors Center, during which the company’s chief accounting officer spoke on Caterpillar’s accounting certification journey and IMA partnership.
Other events in April and May included a workshop on utilizing pivot tables in Microsoft Excel and a site visit at UnityPoint Health – Methodist to discuss the organization’s financial operations and tour its facility. Most of these sessions provided continuing professional education (CPE) credit for both CMAs and CPAs. For more information on the Institute of Management Accountants – Central Illinois Chapter, visit centralillinois.imanet.org. iBi