EXERCISE FOUR – Evaluation of Certifications

QUESTION ONE: Evaluate academic and certification requirements for senior positions as a Controller of CFO in industry. What is required in virtually all positions?

QUESTION TWO: Evaluate academic and certification requirements for senior positions in Corporate Finance. What is required in each position?

QUESTION THREE: Evaluate academic and certification requirements for senior positions as a Financial Analyst. What are the most common requirements?

QUESTION FOUR: Evaluate academic and certification requirements for senior positions in public practice. What is required in every position?


QUESTION FIVE: Review the requirements for each of the listed bookkeeping positions. Which positions specify a Certified Professional Bookkeeper (CPB) designation?

What about the CB or RPB designations?


QUESTION SIX: Review the 2013 article from PRO FORMATIVE who specialize in CFO searches.  What in their view is the relative importance of experience, a CPA designation and an MBA?

Do the people commenting on the article shed any insights?


When I first decided to pursue a career in accounting in 1980, I believed that I wanted to pursue a career as a management accountant in industry – particularly the forest industry. This was my second career – my first career as a chef was not well-paid and meant that I had to work nights and weekends.

With a new family I realized this wasn’t what I wanted to do.

There were large shortages in the hospitality field and my qualification as a red seal chef meant that there were a great many jobs to choose from – none of them well paid. At the time I sought advice from the equivalent of HUMAN RESOURCES CANADA. The advice came straight out of an introductory economics text: “supply and demand would suggest that this was a career with a future”.

Fast forward 35 years and the wages are still unbearably low and there are still huge shortages throughout the hospitality industry. That experience taught be to be skeptical of the kinds of advice disseminated by government bureaucrats and to take the opinions of academics in the social sciences with a grain of salt.

After I finished my cooking apprenticeship the only well-paid job around was with the BC FERRIES CORPORATION. While I had far superior qualifications to my counterparts in the corporation, I was informed that I had been screened out because I didn’t speak mandarin. At the time virtually all of the staff were of Chinese origin – and apparently their union allowed them to practice nepotism (or racism?) with impunity.

Luckily, rather than bucking the system I took an introductory accounting course at a local community course and aced it. I then began my pursuit of an accounting designation.

Like most people embarking at an early age on a second career, I didn’t really know much about the career I was trying to train for. I did know that I couldn’t afford to take the traditional route of spending four years in university first. I needed to get back into the job market quickly and start earning as soon as I could. So when I discovered an accelerated program that gave me the first 2 ½ years of either the 5 year CMA or CGA program, I jumped at the chance to go.

At the time the Certified General Accountants (CGAs) and the Certified Management Accountants (CMAs) offered a correspondence education option which was perfect for a new father looking to earn while he learned. So I took the accelerated 10-month accounting program at Malaspina College in Nanaimo.

Once again I aced the program and earned the 2nd highest marks (of any academic program) at Malaspina College that year. This earned me a scholarship into the CGA program which I promptly accepted.

Unfortunately when I graduated from the 10-month accounting program in 1981, the deepest recession of my lifetime had just begun. Forest companies began trimming their administrative staff. At the same time the introduction of micro computers and spreadsheets improved the efficiency of management accountants.  The competition was further exacerbated by the increases in participation rates of women in the workforce. This was true not only in traditional female occupations like teaching and nursing, but also in accounting.

60.6% of all accountants and auditors in the United States are womenWomen are 51% of all full-time staff at CPA firms, but make up just 24% of partners and principals. The percentage of women on management committees is growing: 25% in 2018 compared to 19% in 2014.May 9, 2019

https://www.catalyst.org › research › women-in-accounting


The baby boom generation was not only a huge cohort, there was a huge shift in the participation rates of women in the workforce. Most of us drank the Kool-Aid sold to us by the education industry and the accounting profession. The amount of competition we faced made it more difficult for all of us to progress in our careers. Too often we blamed each other for ‘affirmative action policies’ or ‘sexual discrimination’ when it was probably raw numbers that held us back as much as anything.

In the late seventies and early eighties, interest rates went through the roof as my generation competed for money to buy homes, cars and educations. Now in the early part of the 21st century we’re all competing to invest money as we near retirement. The interest rates now are at historic lows.

In any event I hit the pavement running in 1981 and had to compete with out of work management accountants for a somewhat limited number of jobs in public accounting. It turns out that experience as a management accountant isn’t all that useful in public practice. My marks were great and my salary expectations were lower than theirs. As a result it was easy to find a job.

Much later I found out that it works better the other way round. Large corporations often hire managers from large CPA firms to fill roles in their tax and financial reporting groups. However if you live in a small city and work for a small, local CPA firm, it’s much more difficult to land a senior accounting position in industry. The experience you get in a small practice simply doesn’t line up with the needs of multi-national corporations.

However experience in a small firm does provide a more integrated understanding of accounting and tax. Accountants in small local firms were able to see the whole picture for their small clients. Big audit firms typically push their entry-level staff through the audit group to deal with large, top-tier clients. Manager-level staff from a small firm can often exploit their more integrated understanding to successfully make the transition to a BIG 4 or other large CPA firm.

About the time that I had earned my designation, both the CMAs and the CGAs had introduced a university degree requirement that would extend the “serfdom” of all new students by a couple of years – and made it very difficult to “earn while you learn”. This was a part of what I call an “arms race” between the 3 professional bodies that eventually ended in the creation of the CPA designation in 2014 – and the elimination of the 3 legacy designations: CA – CGA – CMA.

With one exception[1] if a student wishes to pursue a career in public practice today, the CPA designation is really the only option.

So How Did the Initial Part of My Career Plan Work Out?

I certainly hadn’t anticipated the recession – nor did I have much of an idea about the difference between public accounting and management accounting. However the recession meant that I started out as a public accountant.

At the same time as I was starting my career, my father retired from his. My parents sold their property in Caledon, Ontario and moved out to the west coast. The property values were sky high when they sold and interest rates hovered around 20%.

So my parents took the inflated proceeds from the sale of their property, and invested at very attractive interest rates. They then moved to the coast, by which time the recession was in full swing and property values on the coast tanked. They then bought a property on the Gulf Islands at a fraction of what they were just a year earlier.

My father at least was gracious enough to admit that he was damned lucky.

Clearly unforeseen events can have a significant impact on our lives and careers. We have to seize the opportunities that present themselves and roll with the punches when things get difficult.

Today I am a public accountant with a solid background in tax and a specialization in tax incentives for R&D. When I began my career that incentive program didn’t exist. I happened to work at the Canada Revenue Agency when the program was introduced. If they hadn’t given me the opportunity, I wouldn’t be a specialist today.

EXERCISE: Review HOW UNFORESEEN EVENTS CAN HAVE IMPACT and look at the impact that my time in the in CRA’s SR&ED Program influenced the rest of my career.

In my father’s case he was a farm boy (well he also got a degree in agriculture) and worked for a forest products company when plywood was first introduced. Somehow that translated into an opportunity to sell plywood to farmers for building silos to store grain. Eventually he translated that into the leadership role at a major forest product company’s Quebec operations.

[1] The PBA designation (variously Public Business Accountants or Professional Business Accountants).

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