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Insights from Jeff Thomson’s Trip to the Middle East

When IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) President and CEO, Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE, visited the Middle East region in mid-May, business leaders and finance and accounting professionals expressed concern about the impending changes in the business landscape. Traveling to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as to Riyadh and Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Thomson learned how governments and businesses are diversifying revenue sources and implementing new taxes. In addition, many in the region are on the cusp of adopting international financial reporting standards.

“Changes in the market and existing business models can be overwhelming. An initial concern would be how to protect your business, or in the case of employees, how to protect your job against market shocks. CMAs need to rise to the challenge. Dig into the competencies they learned in the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) program to bring strategic thinking, not just technical accounting, to convert data into dialogue to help their CEOs make smart choices,” reminds Thomson.

Across the region, business leaders, management accountants, and IMA members and chapters are in various stages of preparation for the turbulence ahead. In his business meetings, talks and interviews, Thomson continually emphasized the role of finance and accounting professionals in society. He also underscored the value that CMAs bring to their organizations. Below are ways in which CMAs can play an active role in their organizations; and in so doing, help the region achieve a much more sustainable economy.

Move the focus of growth from the public to private
Accountants and finance professionals are involved in creating an ideal growth environment for SMEs. In the UAE, Thomson spoke at a conference co-organized by IMA and the Dubai Airport Free Zone Authority (DAFZA). The DAFZA has attracted foreign investors to do business in Dubai by offering a base within a modern and comprehensive business environment. Free zones need transparent finance and business systems to attract investors who contribute to the growth of SMEs in the country.

Help businesses predict growth and challenges
Companies will have to reorganize and restructure to respond to changing market conditions. During this critical time, the role of management accountants expands to that of a business partner. More than just ensuring appropriate cost-control and managing financial processes, CEOs rely on their CFOs and the finance team to support them in finding ways to cut costs. Our day-to-day record keeping tasks might be tedious, but through precise data, management accountants help determine the appropriate strategy for expansion and operational excellence.

Shape the competitive advantage of family businesses
No doubt about it. The business landscape in the region will become more competitive in the coming years. Management accountants have a role to play in helping family businesses assess or reassess their operations and potential for growth. In KSA, for example, a family-owned, Saudi-diversified multinational company encourages its finance team to take certifications especially the CMA. They did this after observing that CMAs were driving the business forward. If you are working for a family-owned business, now is the best time to help them gain their competitive advantage to bring the business ahead of the competition.

CFOs have a role to play in enabling and managing innovation
The CFO role has been evolving. Thomson has himself proven this through his personal experience as a CFO and his interviews with dozens of CFOs for his Forbes column, “CFO Insights.” CFO teams are responsible for managing innovation not just based on their oversight role such as funding approval, but also up front as a decision maker in funding the innovation through experimentation and prototyping. Check out more insights from IMA’s book, “Advancing Innovation,” now available on Amazon.
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