The view from the President: Embracing change, but staying human

CIMA President Steven Swientozielskyj, FCMA, CGMA

'We also develop people's cognitive abilities and mindsets so that members and students can adapt to new roles and readily learn new skills.'

It is a great privilege to be CIMA president in our centenary year. When I reflect on how our organisation has reached that milestone, it is clear that our members have made it happen. While change of name or logo can have an important role in any successful long-lived organisation, the many members who champion CIMA and management accounting are our living brand.

That's why it is a great honour to meet and acknowledge those who qualified 30, 40, or even 50 or more years ago. Throughout their long careers they have been staunch allies and advocates for CIMA and our work.

CIMA has changed fundamentally since 1919. At the end of that first year on our timeline, the Institute had 37 members; it reached the 100-member mark in early 1920. Today, through the Association, we drive learning for more than 667,000 members and students.

However, it is not just the numbers that have changed. In 1919, members were working in a range of industries — largely manufacturing and engineering. Today, in contrast, it is more difficult to define a typical member or student. Not only are they spread geographically in more than 100 countries, but the CIMA professional qualification today provides a launching pad for a wide range of roles and careers across many sectors.

Those early 37 members met regularly to share ideas; today, the scale of our organisation makes that impossible. In the increasingly digital world of the future, I see that contrast amplified even further. As we continue to prepare students for rewarding careers and support our members better, the challenge for us is not to lose the human touch. That's why, for example, I have always championed the work of CIMA's Benevolent Fund, which supports fellow professionals who have experienced difficulties and hardship.

I have worked across a range of industries, sectors, and companies, and the trend I have observed is that many roles in business and finance have become more narrowly focused. At the same time, there is a greater need for management accountants to understand the impact of business decisions on a wider group of stakeholders. There is a clear need to understand better the environment in which an organisation's business model operates.

This presents a paradox and underlines the necessity for our qualification and learning to continue to develop. For example, the updated CIMA professional qualification syllabus introduces business models, cyber risks, and the use of data analytics tools; and integrated reporting is given more prominence. We also develop people's cognitive abilities and mindsets so that members and students can adapt to new roles and readily learn new skills. This will ensure they remain high-performing, relevant, and attractive to employers. The stark alternative if you don't build competencies beyond core technical knowledge is that you face an increasing risk of being displaced from employment.

If you would like to comment on these important issues I have raised, please get in touch at

In my next column in May, I will give an insight into another strand of my work during this year as CIMA president.

Finally, I increasingly believe that success for finance professionals is directly related to learning. To quote Benjamin Franklin: "An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest."