CIMA president’s thoughts on a ‘pivotal’ year

CIMA president and Association board chair Amal Ratnayake, FCMA, CGMA

In this podcast episode, CIMA president and Association board chair Amal Ratnayake, FCMA, CGMA, describes his global career journey and his ambitions for the Institute during a pivotal year in its 100-year-long history.

What you’ll learn from this episode:

  • How Amal became a management accountant — rather than an engineer.
  • The steps in his global career, which has included multiple continents.
  • How the profession can be “reimagined” to ensure members stay relevant.
  • His four goals during this “pivotal year” for the Institute.
  • The ways in which CIMA continues to celebrate its centenary.

Play the episode below:

To comment on this podcast or to suggest an idea for another podcast, contact Oliver Rowe, an 
FM magazine senior editor, at


Oliver Rowe: Welcome, Amal.

Amal Ratnayake: Thank you for having me, Oliver.

Rowe: Many members and students will know you already, but for those who don't, perhaps you could briefly say how your career has led to this point.

Ratnayake: My career has taken a few different paths, Oliver. I began life in Sri Lanka, and when I was going through high school, I never imagined that I would become an accountant. I thought I was going to become an engineer. Well, one fine day I took a bicycle apart, put it all together, and then found out that there were still half the pieces lying on the ground. And that's when I kind of considered that engineering may not be the right career path for me.

Also at that time, my dad was the CEO for CIMA in Sri Lanka, and he was very convinced that I could choose no better career path than studying for CIMA. So I said, "OK, let me give a shot. Let me give it a try." And I started my CIMA programme and, hey, I did begin to like it. As I went through the educational programme, I also started working for a midsize public accounting firm, and that kind of brought everything together. Everything that I was studying kind of came to life as I worked.

And the great thing about working for that firm was that I had the opportunity to be exposed to different industries, different organisations, different accounting processes, accounting systems, accounting methodology, and even different leadership and management styles of some of the managers in those companies. So it was a great way to bring my CIMA education and my work experience together. And I began to like the CIMA programme of study.

I qualified with my CIMA. I got my designation and then moved onto industry. And industry was somewhere I always wanted to be. I started at one of the largest trading houses in Sri Lanka, and I was involved in their tea exports and nontraditional exports divisions, and that was a really, really great place to work. An organisation where I had opportunities to present to the board, and that was really a great experience for me at that early stage in my career.

From there, I moved on to one of the largest clothing manufacturers in Sri Lanka, who manufactured lingerie exclusively for Victoria's Secret. And from there, I decided it was time to spread my wings, so moved to the English countryside to read for my MBA at the Cranfield School of Management.

On completion, I figured the world is a very large place, and I needed to spread my wings even further, so I moved to Saudi Arabia, where I worked for a very large, privately owned company. It was very, very diversified. They were in retail, automotive, electronics. They were in construction. They were in real estate holdings. They were in real estate finance. And I worked for the corporate centre of that organisation. I was responsible for corporate finance for that organisation as well as strategic business planning for some of the business units in that group. And while there, I had the privilege of being involved in the first tech securitisation deal that took place in Saudi Arabia under Islamic financing instruments. So it was a great exposure to Islamic financing while I was there in Saudi Arabia.

A few years down the road it was time to make another move, and this time I moved to Canada, which my wife and my children call home today, and I work at the officialCOMMUNITY Corporation, a media entertainment company. And it's a very interesting organisation to work at. We work with the music industry and work with musicians such as Celine Dion, James Taylor, Mark Knopfler, and many other artists and bands.

Rowe: And you're in your early stages at the moment as CIMA president. What are your goals for this year, another pivotal year for the Institute?

Ratnayake: You're absolutely right, Oliver, but if I may kind of expand a little bit, my volunteer life at CIMA began a long time ago. I in fact volunteered with the CIMA Student Society in Sri Lanka while I was still a student, and then, on graduation, I joined the Education and Training Committee of CIMA in Sri Lanka.

My volunteer life came to a little bit of a halt as I moved around the world to different places, and I reconnected with my volunteer life when I moved to Canada. And I joined the CIMA Canada board in 2004, went on to become the chair of the CIMA Canada board and also joined CIMA Council and, before that, volunteered and served on some of the CIMA policy committees. And, yes, this year I serve as CIMA president, and it's an honour and privilege to serve as the president of CIMA.

You asked me about my goals, Oliver, and it is absolutely a pivotal year for our Institute. And if I think about the goals for this year, I think it's about taking the bigger picture. It's about reimagining the possibilities. I like a quote from Jeff Bezos, and he said, "In today's era of volatility, there's no other way but to reinvent. The only sustainable advantage you can have over others is agility. That's it." I really love that quote because it tells us that we need to continue to reinvent. We need to continue to reimagine.

In fact, Jeff Bezos has another quote which I like even better, and he says something to the effect of yesterday's "wow" quickly becomes tomorrow's "ordinary". And that's absolutely true because what we consider wow today becomes the new normal tomorrow, so we need to continue to reinvent. We need to continue to reimagine what we do, so that we continue to be wow.

So, as an organisation, I would say that the really big goal is to continue to reimagine the possibilities. We need to challenge convention. We need to challenge what we do today, because that is just the way we do today. We need to be able to do things differently tomorrow. We need to reimagine the possibility. We need to stay curious. We need to think about what can be done differently and how we can do it differently.

And, really, that takes us into a zone of being uncomfortable, because doing what you do, what you're used to, is the zone of comfort. And if we are to succeed, if we are to continue to reinvent and reimagine the possibilities, then we also need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable so that we can continue to reinvent and reimagine.

And we need to be bold, because if we are not bold in pursuing the future, we are not going to take those bold steps to reimagine the possibilities, those leaps and bounds that we may sometimes need to take to reimagine the possibilities.

And we need to move fast. The world is changing really fast today. If we move too slowly, others will move faster than us, and that means we are going to get left behind, so we really need to move fast. So if I am to put it in a nutshell, it's all about reimagine the possibilities and making us fit for tomorrow's world.

Rowe: Thank you, Amal. And which areas in particular will you be focusing on?

Ratnayake: I'd like to think of four large areas, four broad areas to focus on: and, firstly, member and student engagement; secondly, to demonstrate the strength of our Association; thirdly, delivering a digital profession; and finally it's all about continuing to celebrate a CIMA century. It's a wonderful year for CIMA as we celebrate our centenary, and continuing those celebrations is really important to us.

Rowe: Perhaps we could look at each of these in turn. So, firstly, let's look at member and student engagement, please.

Ratnayake: I'm happy to do so, Oliver. Members and students are always going to be at the core of what we do, and to help them continue to succeed in the future, we need to be able to reimagine the profession for them so that we continue to ensure their ongoing relevance.

And even more importantly, we must make sure that we remain relevant to them and that we are able to continue to support them in meeting their career and business aspirations as we go forward. And that means looking at many different things, including how our membership model may need to evolve and the need to look at issues through the lens of the next generation so that we make sure that we're delivering the skills that they need to meet tomorrow's challenges.

Rowe: And your second area of focus is to demonstrate the strength of the Association.

Ratnayake: Indeed, and as you would agree with me, I'm sure, Oliver, the association between CIMA and the AICPA places us in a very unique position in the profession. I think it also places us in a very strong position in terms of overall resources and in terms of negotiating power with service providers. And we need to leverage that. We need to make sure that we leverage that for the benefit of our members and students.

We also need to reinforce a position of influence in the profession by continuing to raise our voice through our advocacy efforts, and we need to show leadership on issues that affect our profession. And by demonstrating our influence, we will build pride in CIMA and the Association and attract the next generation of talent to CIMA and the Association, which is something that's really important.

We also would be looking at strengthening our relationships with other organisations and building new fast track programmes to our qualifications. And, ultimately, we want to make sure that our qualifications and designations are the ones that future financial professionals will choose.

Rowe: Thank you, Amal. And your third goal is about delivering a digital profession. What are the steps to make that happen?

Ratnayake: We've done some amazing amount of research over the last two years to create a blueprint for the future of finance. Our Reinventing Finance for a Digital World white paper I thought was a fantastic piece of research. We've done all that research, but now we need to deliver on that. We need to encourage our members to reimagine how they may add value within their organisations and to guide them to focus on influence and impact.

And we need to drive the adoption of continuous learning, because the skills required by businesses continue to evolve. In fact, I was reading a World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report recently, which said something to the effect of that we will all need 101 days of retraining and upskilling by 2022 just to keep us up-to-date with everything that is changing, just to keep us relevant. The world is changing, and if we don't keep pace with those changes, we're going to get left behind. So we need to constantly learn and unlearn and relearn new skills just so we stay relevant, because staying relevant is really key to our future.

And, of course, let's not forget that we need to match this technological intelligence with human intelligence so that we can capitalise on all that the digital era has to offer. The great thing about being human is that we all have the not-so-secret weapon of being able to understand other humans, and we know what makes them tick because we able to put ourselves in their shoes. And with other human feelings we can do things that technology cannot do. So in order for us to thrive in this digital age, we need to keep developing both our technological skills and our human intelligence skills.

Rowe: And you mentioned, Amal, the centenary, the thread of CIMA's centenary this year. Perhaps you could say a little bit about that, please.

Ratnayake: Celebrating our centenary is such a wonderful time. It gives us so much credibility and relevance. We're an organisation that has continued to evolve over the last 100 years, and we will continue to evolve by reimagining our profession. And I have the honour and privilege of leading CIMA in this centenary year, and I have the privilege of representing CIMA at events around the world.

In fact, in June I had the pleasure of attending a new member celebration in London and meeting lots of new members. And in the same month I attended a centenary gala in Toronto and met so many members there as well. I'll also be attending a centenary gala in Bristol. My opportunities to meet members this year also include the CGMA Conference in South Africa and member events in Edinburgh, Calgary, Vancouver, Australia, New Zealand, as well as Toronto and England.

Next year I look forward to visiting many of our CIMA regions, including Sri Lanka, where my CIMA journey began. And attending all these events is really a wonderful opportunity to meet members and students and get their insights on what we can do to help them in their career journey and ensure that we enable them to thrive in this fast-changing world.

Rowe: Amal, thank you very much indeed.

Ratnayake: Thank you, Oliver. It was great speaking to you.