Every May, IMA celebrates International Management Accounting Day, a day to reflect on the value of management accountants to their organizations and society. They are the financial stewards of organizations, deciding how to best use limited resources for the maximum benefit of the organizations they serve. When I try to explain management accounting to my non-financially savvy friends (who studied liberal arts and relate best to books and movies), I sometimes use the plot of Moneyball to explain the true worth of management accountants.
Quick plot synopsis of Moneyball is Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) is the Oakland A’s general manager who is laboring under the lowest salary constraint in baseball. He needs to build a World Series class team with considerably less money than the Yankees. Enter Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) a recent college graduate with a knack for data analytics. Together, Beane and Brand build a model where they recruit players who get on base (as opposed to high-priced home run hitters) and their model takes them all the way to the playoffs. Their groundbreaking model threatens the traditional model of baseball and changes the game forever.
Though they don’t have CMAs (Certified Management Accountants), Beane and Brand think exactly like management accountants. They ask the right questions, challenge assumptions, and analyze copious amounts of data to build a new model. As financial stewards of their baseball franchise, they extract the most value from their limited resources. Their ambition is not just to do their jobs, but to change things for the better. As Beane eloquently states, “Any other team wins the World Series, good for them. They're drinking champagne, they get a ring. But if we win, on our budget, with this team...we'll have changed the game. And that's what I want. I want it to mean something.”
The work management accountants do means something. They enable better decision-making by management and set the strategic direction of the organizations. CFOs, controllers, treasurers, finance heads, and financial analysts are all examples of management accountants. With new technology and new models, management accounting work is expanding into new areas like data analytics, AI, machine learning, and blockchain.
Management accountants are usually the people standing in front of the “headwinds,” “storms,” and “turbulence” so frequently spoken of in global business trend analysis. Management accounting leaders and their teams must be comfortable with volatility and complexity, not smooth sailing. McKinsey’s December 2022 Global Survey of CFOs finds them focusing on managing inflation, interest rate hikes, and supply chain disruptions. Among their other concerns are geopolitical instability, transitions of political leadership, increased economic volatility, upskilling the workforce, and recruiting and retaining top talent (at the right price, like in Moneyball).
One way accounting and finance leaders build their bench of talent is through the CMA program. This program is based on IMA’s Management Accounting Competencies Framework, whose six domains of knowledge directly relate to high-functioning finance teams. CMAs understand concepts like how to maintain profit margins, how to implement internal controls, how to forecast risk, and how to make every dollar an organization spends generate a return. They see the big picture of business and the “why” behind the numbers (like Brand in Moneyball).
In addition to technical knowledge, IMA also emphasizes the importance of ethics. Every member must abide by a Statement of Ethical Professional Practice and members have unlimited access to IMA’s Ethics Series courses free of charge.
On this International Management Accounting Day, the worth of management accountants to their organizations is undisputed. Everyone wants a CMA on their team for the value they bring. To bring this blog full circle to Moneyball, when Beane removes Johnny Damon (yes, the Johnny Damon from Red Sox World Series fame) from his roster because his salary is too high, everyone disparages the move. But Brand, like a skilled management accountant, has this to say, “I think it opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities.”