BONUS | Dennis Whitney (IMA) - CMA Update!

July 30, 2020 | 19 Minutes

Senior Vice President of Certifications at IMA, Dennis Whitney, CMA, CAE, CFM, joins Count Me In again to give an update on everything related to the CMA exam! Following some challenges due to the global coronavirus outbreak, IMA and the CMA have remained strong and candidates are again in a position to earn their certification. Dennis covers how IMA handled the global challenges, what regions are doing as far as reopening, how candidates are performing on the exam, and why CMAs have been so valuable to their organizations through these difficult times. Download and listen now!

Exam Changes:
Update for CMA Candidates:
Coronavirus Update from IMA:

Adam: (00:00)
 Welcome back to Count Me In. IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host, Adam Larson, and I'm happy to bring you another bonus episode with, IMA's Senior Vice President of Certifications Exam and Constant Integration, Dennis Whitney. Last December, I had the chance to sit down with Dennis and he talked about the changes to the CMA exam. This time around Dennis spoke with Mitch and they discussed how IMA and CMAs can make a difference through this time of need. Dennis also shared updates on CMA testing centers, exam windows  and pass rates. Keep listening to hear what IMA has been doing to support its candidates and the value CMAs have had for their organizations. 
 Mitch: (00:52)
 So thank you for joining us again, Dennis. I know last we spoke, you spoke with Adam and gave us a nice overview of the CMA exam, the certification, some of the changes that were coming up in January earlier this year. But obviously there were quite a few challenges and some changes to what's going on with the CMA. So if you wouldn't mind just starting off kind of sharing some of those challenges and obstacles that we went through earlier this year. 
 Dennis: (01:20)
 Yeah. Hi, Mitch. It's good to be with the, the program again. I appreciate you having me on. So yes, it's been a very difficult year of, in many respects in January, we introduced the new CMA content specification outline, and that went well in January and February, but then we were, toward the end of February, beginning of March, as everyone knows, we were hit with this terrible pandemic. At first it looked like it was only going to be something that was a major problem in China, and we were focused on making arrangements to change our Chinese language exam date, but then of course it spread to become a worldwide pandemic. The first impact we had was for our CSCA exam, which is the strategy certification for CMAs, and we give that exam, two windows, March and September. Unfortunately the March window, I think maybe for less than one week, some candidates were able to take the exam and then Prometric had to close all their testing centers. So that was a disappointment for us, and of course for the CSCA candidates. For the CMA exam, our testing windows don't start, you know, there's January, February, then there's May and June, and then there's September, October. So it didn't impact us or the candidates until May. Fortunately, Prometric started opening their testing sites in may, in the beginning of May, but not throughout the world. And we've seen, you know, as of now, actually all just about all testing sites, not all, but just about all Prometric testing sites are up and running and candidates are able to talk, take the exam. And, we could talk a little more about that later if you'd like, how under what conditions candidates are taking the exam, but so far, candidates are able to continue their pursuit of the certification, unfortunately, during a very difficult time. 
 Mitch: (03:41)
 So as you mentioned, this really kind of hit globally, after a couple of months, and even though the testing windows weren't effected, obviously many businesses were. So from your perspective, why have CMAs remained so essential to their workforce and why have they been able to assist their companies so much through this ongoing global pandemic? 
 Dennis: (04:02)
 Yeah, that's a great question, Mitch, and of course there, there are different categories of essential workers, including of course our frontline medical workers who have been true heroes during this pandemic. CMAs are also essential. They're essential in an economic sense. And in fact, accountants in general are critically important for the smooth functioning of businesses. They ensure that there's enough cash on hand to pay bills, to make payroll, to also ensure that processing of financial transactions are done and that managers have the results that they need to manage the business. Now, CMAs in particular, they can help companies not only survive, but they also help companies rebuild and grow. So that of course helps our economies, which are hurting during this, pandemic induced recession. And, our economies need to go rebuild and our companies need to rebuild. So this in turn, when CMAs help companies in this way, this protects jobs and it also adds jobs. So, so that workers could provide for their families. First of all, you know, from the survival perspective during the pandemic, companies need to be able to do the best to survive, to keep as many jobs as they can to meet customer demand and keep their companies in business. So that's where the risk management, cost management, and cash forecasting skills come into play. But CMAs can also use their value creation skills to help the companies not only survive, but also prosper. CMAs you know, the exam is really focused. It's a strong focused on planning analysis and decision support, and they can use these skills to help senior decision makers identify growth opportunities, which will help companies prosper, not only now, but well into the future because when the pandemic ends, and you probably reading about this, now in the business press, many companies are going to realize that they need to innovate their business models and revise their long term business strategy. So CMAs can be the trusted business advisors that they need to help guide the way in doing that. 
 Mitch: (06:47)
 I think there's a pretty good connection also to, you know, the last time you did an episode with us, you discussed the updated learning outcome statements and the different changes that went into the CMA exam, you know, incorporating a lot of the technology & analytics. So how have some of those, you know, refined skills and the different things that you're now assessing really equipped CMAs as well, and what does that look like as far as moving forward to changing these business models like you just mentioned. 
 Dennis: (07:20)
 Well, CMAs, even before this new content specification outline, CMAs, in my opinion, are well equipped to support organizations during this difficult time. But of course the profession does change as it evolves and becomes more sophisticated, more advanced, and that's reflected in the new content specification outline with a stronger emphasis on technology and analytics and decision making. And, you know, so skills like AI, RPA, data analytics, those are tools that can help CMAs provide a faster and more accurate forecast for example. Mining data, performing advanced, predictive, prescriptive analytics. These are new topics on the CMA exam, and adding these topics to actually it's part one of the content specification outline that helps the CMAs, that helps their companies, whether this pandemic. And also, it will help companies prosper while into the future because they have now the skills to better forecast the future, better manage these changing business models and help senior decision makers make the decisions that they need to, to grow their businesses. So at some point, you know, I hope soon we're going to conquer this virus, and when that happens, the companies who are planning now for the future, with the ones who are most successful for, for themselves and for their employees and their customers. Now, of course, there's these new skills applied to new CMA,s people who are taking the exam. Now beginning of January. For those who are already certified and want to develop those skills and they should, these are very important skills. IMA has ways that they can do that. In fact, IMA has two excellent certificate programs in Data analytics, which you should check out another skill that's, equally important today is strategic thinking. Cause as  I mentioned before, you know, when this pandemic ends and the future, it's probably going to be a different world. And as companies plan, they'll need to have employees on their finance teams who have strong strategic management skills and CMAs can take the CSCA certification. Which is   ertified in strategy and competitive analysis. And this will help them develop those skills. And as part of that, or even if you're not interested,  CMA is not interested in earning the certification, there's also, IMAhas a course called Strategy and Competitive Analysis Learning series, and this is something that I encourage you to take it that too can develop a strategic management skills, because in the future, not only in the future where you've been now, you need those data analytical skills, but also the strategic thinking skills.  Very important in these very difficult times. 
 Mitch: (10:41)
 So you've mentioned both exams now that IMA offers and the different certifications. Obviously, you know, we're looking to support the members and you just gave a lot of great resources, and earlier you referenced some of the different accommodations that are being made for candidates and some of the things that are going on now that testing facilities are opening and there are windows. So let's just take a step back if you don't mind for a second. And can you give us a little bit of an update on, you know, what these testing centers, what these windows are looking like right now? 
 Dennis: (11:10)
 Yeah, so as this pandemic, you know, became a worldwide problem, we quickly realized that candidates were going to have a difficult time scheduling their, their exam date, and also they would have some anxiety about taking the test. So to accommodate candidates, what we did was we wanted to give them more flexibility, and so we made some changes to the testing windows. The first thing we did is we extended the Maym June testing window to the end of July, and then we also extended the September and October testing window to include August. So this provides six consecutive months of testing, and hopefully this should alleviate some of the anxiety candidates have about scheduling the exam. Now, the other thing we did for the Chinese language exam, we postponed the April Chinese language exam to the end of July. It was supposed to happen at the beginning of April, and we've moved that to later in the month of July. As far as Prometric testing centers are concerned. As I mentioned a little earlier, they did start opening in the beginning of May and almost all of them, around the world are open now. Tt was a progression as to which ones, which countries opened first, dependent on the country and they followed the guidelines of the government and the health and safety of the examinee's is a priority for both IMA and Prometric. So, actually the first sites to open where in China, because China had pretty much moved to leveling out the, the virus situation. So they opened first and then many sites in the U S and a few sites in Europe. Sites in, for example, the Middle East opened just recently and also the Philippines, but pretty much all sites are open. Now, the testing is different, however. because of the health and safety priority, Prometric made modifications to their testing centers, and they also implemented new safety guidelines to ensure a safe testing experience. So all examinees and old Prometric employees are required to wear face mask and social distancing is enforced at all the sites. So that's one big change, the face mask in particular. Also the centers undergo continuous deep cleaning. And the good thing is that Prometric is working very closely with scientists at John Hopkins University, which is one of the leaders in this field and they are consulting. They're actually visiting testing sites to ensure that there's a safe testing environment for our candidates. So, it's going well. Since the beginning of May, we've administered almost 1500 exams. Of course, in May that was the smallest number. June the numbers got bigger. And now in July, we actually have about 3000, tests that are scheduled in the month of July. And of course, candidates are scheduled in August and September and October. So we're starting to see the momentum and people getting back on their, their journey of pursuing and finishing the goal of earning CMA. 
 Well, that's all great news and that's very good progress, and thank you for sharing that update, globally, specifically, but I guess the next question is to really wrap up this conversation as far as an update on the CMA, how are the results looking? I know IMA recently released a report on the pass rates. So would you be able to share some of, or at least summarize the findings from that? 
 Dennis: (15:14)
 Yeah, sure. So, the candidates have actually done quite well. We introduced the new exam in January, and that included the new section of part one on technology and analytics. And in part two, we had the additional emphasis on business ethics and decision making. So the global pass rate for both parts during the January, February testing window was 45%. Now for part one, this is actually an increase from the 35% pass rate that we've been averaging over the last several years. And for part two, it's comparable to the 45% pass rate is comparable to what the average has been over the last several years. So in part one, where the pass rate increased, that's where we have the new technology and data analytics content domain. So to me, this shows that the candidates understand the importance of the subject matter. They really want to learn on it. Of course, it's all about passing the test, but it's also about learning, you know, and getting the skills you need for the job. So they understand the importance of this subject matter, and also, I think the review course providers have done a good job at preparing the candidates with their learning material and the instructors in the live or online courses. And then of course it also shows that the candidates studied hard. You know, the CMA exam is definitely, something that can be passed, but you do have to study. It's a rigorous exam you have to put in the time, and it really does show that candidates have studied hard. Now, you can't really project these past rates into the future. But, it's encouraging. And, you know, we will look at the pass rates again after we finished this testing window of May, June, and now it's been extended to the end of July. So far looking at the main results they look pretty good. So, it is very encouraging. And just as an aside, Mitch, you know, we've also received a lot of positive feedback from not only our candidates, but from other stakeholders, you know, corporate executives, CFOs, controllers, that this was really an important change to the exam, heading the new content with technology and analytics. It really matches well with where the finance team needs to be today. 
 Closing: (18:01)
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