Management accountants interpret financial information to make business decisions. Broadly, this role combines accounting, finance and management with the leading edge techniques needed to drive successful businesses.
Management accountants provide business data and analysis to managers within organisations to assist in business decision-making and control. They differ from financial accountants in that they tend to be more involved with general management, working with managers to analyse cost and revenues: the focus is on the analysis and reporting of a company’s financial position in order to provide insight into business performance. Specifically, they provide the monthly management accounts, and budgets and forecasts to aid business planning. They also are involved in cost analysis and cost-reduction projects, competitor analysis, variance analysis, tender preparation and review, strategic planning, long and medium term planning, as well as investor appraisal.
As management accountants can work in any sector, career paths can be quite flexible. It is possible for a management accountant to progress to the role of financial manager, who works with managers at a high level. In larger organisations graduates often specialise in a particular areas of work, function or geographical region. Management accountants working for capital-intensive companies may also complete some aspects of investment analysis or appraisal as part of their role. Large organisations such as industry conglomerates run graduate training schemes in which you will usually rotate around different divisions or departments to gain a broad overview of management accountancy. Initial inductions may be less formal in smaller organisations, and specialism is less common. As a management accountant, you will usually be based in your organisation’s offices rather than on client sites.
- Analysing information and using it to make business decisions
- Formulating business strategy to create wealth and shareholder value
- Determining what information is needed by management and explaining numbers to non-financial managers
- Advising managers about the financial implications of projects
- Explaining the financial consequences of business decisions applying accounting techniques to plan and budget
- Monitoring spending and financial control
- Identifying and managing risk
- Conducting internal business audits.
Travel: during working day is occasional.
Working hours: mainly 9.00 am to 5.00 pm Monday to Friday with additional hours necessary especially at particular times of the year.
Location: mainly in towns or cities throughout the country.
Opportunities for self-employment: commonly possible as a freelance financial consultant.
Mainly commercial organisations and industry sectors, including:
- Banking and finance
- Energy, utilities and mining
- Food and drink
- Leisure and hospitality
A management accounting qualification provides a foundation for a variety of roles. Opportunities for progression in all areas of an organisation are plentiful and varied, depending on individual interests, aspirations and abilities.
There are two main paths to follow. Progressing to head of financial planning and analysis is a route that allows access to a more sophisticated reporting and analysis environment. The alternative is to ultimately progress to a financial controller role and become finance director. In this case, it is recommended to consider a role in financial accounting. The role of a management accountant is also transferable to financial services up to manager level. There are also opportunities for self-employment.
Salaries vary considerably depending on sector, employer, location, and size of organisation. The average annual salary for CIMA members in Ireland is €84,200. Salaries are variable across a number of sectors but technology, telecoms and utilities has one of the largest packages (around €92,200 in 2009). Average salaries in Dublin are over a third higher than in Northern Ireland.
Entry requirements and training
Like financial accountancy, management accountancy accepts graduates from all disciplines. You will have the opportunity to become professionally qualified through a professional association such as The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. This involves studying to complete the required examinations while working. To thrive in this career, you require a good commercial understanding to advise managers, as well as top-notch interpersonal skills to forge positive working relationships. Keeping to deadline and having a firm knowledge of accountancy standards will also stand you in good stead.
Specific degree subjects required
Open to non-graduates and graduates of all disciplines but some degrees gain exemptions from qualifying examinations. As these are constantly changing please refer directly to CIMA for their current list of exemptions.
Other relevant degree subjects
A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not required but additional exemptions may be gained depending on the programme of study.
The professional body for those wishing to pursue a career as a management accountant is the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). There are a number of routes to study the CIMA qualifications: as a school leavers, an undergraduate, a postgraduate, or as an Association of Accounting Technician (AAT) student.
Training varies depending on the method of entry chosen but the following are the details for those with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.
Graduates with degrees accredited by CIMA may be eligible for exemptions from the certificate in business accounting and from certain exams within the professional qualification.
Graduates with relevant degrees
Graduates with degrees related to accounting, business, finance, law and other relevant areas may be eligible for exemptions from the certificate in business accounting.
Graduates with other degrees
Graduates in other disciplines will start by studying the certificate in business accounting, which will give you a solid grounding in the fundamentals of accounting. Flexible learning paths, including distance learning are offered. In addition three years practical work experience (Practical Experience Requirements – PER) is required during which expertise in three main areas will be developed:
- management accounting
- business management
- financial management.
Tips for applications
Gaining work experience in finance while you are at university will give you a distinct advantage over other graduates seeking similar employment.
Understand the difference between financial accounting and management accounting and be aware of their associated professional bodies.
Some firms confine their recruitment activities to autumn presentations (sometimes called ‘milk rounds’). Apply for these training positions in your final year and bear in mind that applications close as early as October.
Skills and qualities
- Commercially minded with strong modelling and analysis skills
- Attention to detail and the ability to work logically, consistently and accurately
- Excellent numeracy skills combined with an inquiring, analytical mind
- Good working knowledge of accounting information, while keeping up to date with changing financial rules and regulations
- Ability to discuss financial issues with both fellow professionals and those with little or no financial background
- Self-motivation and excellent time and project management skills
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- The drive and motivation to pass exams while working full full-time.
The contribution that management accountants make to an organisation's strategy and financial success has been increasingly recognised over recent years. While monitoring cash flow, profit and loss remains an essential component of the work, management accountants are increasingly expected to be involved in devising business strategy. As such, management accountancy is excellent preparation for general management and executive finance positions.
Labour market information
Skills in demand include compliance, financial reporting, financial management and risk management.