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07 April 2020: Coronavirus Update. The situation is fast moving and we are continuing to monitor the global situation and its impact on our members, staff, exam candidates, students and the profession. More information for Members and Students in My CIMA.

Hugh Martin, ACMA, CGMA

Managing Director, Lankill Group

'The CIMA Qualification has given me credibility as a finance professional on an international scale.'

Hugh Martin

Why CIMA?

As a globally recognised and respected qualification, CIMA offers the greatest flexibility for working internationally with a diverse range of roles and industries.

How did you balance study with working full time?

Initially, this was a very difficult task! My way of balancing study and working was to plan my exams around the quieter times at work. I usually did my exams in short bursts to take advantage of this downtime and studied with extreme focus for 6-8 weeks, I then took a break for a few weeks after the exam was finished. As time during the week was scarce, the weekend was really the best time to study but doing short pieces of study such as practice questions or revising notes in the early mornings or lunch breaks at work is a good way to get more study done during a hectic day. Work can be unpredictable as anyone who has worked in accounting can relate to, I always found that you must allow yourself to be flexible when studying for exams. If you have to stay late in the office on Monday, make the time up later on in the week and don’t get too worried about it.

What skills have you gained or developed through studying CIMA that have been most relevant and useful to your job?

The CIMA qualification places a priority on strategic thinking and I feel that this is one of the best skills that I gained. As you progress throughout your career, there is usually a greater emphasis on strategic thinking and understanding the strategic context of the business to a greater degree. I’ve found that being educated on strategic models and frameworks gives you the confidence to make suggestions or provide valuable input into corporate strategy, even if it is just in a small way.

In my previous role, I definitely “stood out from the crowd” as I understood the corporate strategy of the company and based much of my work around furthering that strategy and providing input on how it could be achieved in the context of the areas that I controlled. 

What does your current role involve?

I run my own company, so my role right now is extremely varied. The business is divided into two separate parts. One part is involved in strategic consulting for businesses and the aim of the other unit is to be a global leader in CIMA training – With a much different model and approach to teaching than other providers. At the moment, I am working with one of the largest retailers in the UK on several branding and advertising projects. One project involves monitoring how their digital advertising is driving in-store sales, another one involves looking at how influencer campaigns affect customer behavior. It is really interesting work and I have enjoyed it so far.

In terms of other consulting work, I’m also writing objective style questions for one of the world’s leading CIMA learning partners.

With the remainder of the week, I’m designing courses and course material to help students pass their CIMA exams in a way that is more reflective of the way people study in the modern world. It is a lot of work but I’m hoping to pilot one of my courses by the end of the year in either the UK or ROI.

How has CIMA membership and the CGMA designation contributed to your professional career?

Being CIMA qualified and having the CGMA designation gives me credibility as a finance professional and helped me transition into my first fully qualified role, which was an amazing job and had a substantial amount of responsibility. Since qualifying and becoming a member in April 2018, the majority of the work I do, relies heavily on business partnering and relationship building. Having the CGMA designation helps bring more confidence over the input I am providing, plus it also helps give an initial trust factor to the relationship.

Being a CIMA member has also helped give me the confidence to start my own business. The market is incredible for fully qualified CIMA professionals, I have the confidence that if my business did not work out – I could go back into the job market and find a very fulfilling career with a leading employer.

What are your biggest accomplishments/ways you have added value to your company or colleagues over the years?

The biggest achievement in my professional career was helping to drive £12+ million worth of cost savings for a company I previously worked for. I partnered with two business managers and together we managed to make changes to operations, that allowed us to drive serious cost savings within a year.

How is your company providing support for you to fulfil your CIMA Professional Development (CPD) requirements?

Luckily, owning my own business means I can support my CPD requirements myself! In previous roles, employers would usually allow for flexibility on my working hours, if I wanted to attend a course and generally speaking, they would fund the course too. 

How do you see CPD as being of value to you in keeping your qualification relevant to the constantly changing business environment?

Learning does not stop after you have qualified, CPD courses are a great way to sharpen skills that you can directly apply in the workplace. The great thing about CPD courses are that you can pick and choose the ones that are applicable to you, if there is a part of your role that you feel weak on, there is normally a course to help you improve on that particular skill. I’ve done several CPD courses in the likes of Excel and PowerBI training and found it to be one of the most valuable decisions I made in my career so far.  I’ve gotten to be really efficient when using these pieces of software and this increased level of automation, allowed me to focus my energy on more value-added activities in previous roles.

What do you see as the biggest challenges currently to the Irish Economy and to your job? 

Probably a bit of an unconventional answer but I believe one of the major issues at the moment is the cost of living and more specifically the cost of property in cities such as Galway, Cork and Dublin. As more companies relocate to Ireland following Brexit, the price of property is only going one way. From first-hand experience, I’ve encountered a lot of people that have left Ireland because the cost of living was not justifying the standard of living. If the cost of living keeps rising, this will force people to move to other cities outside of Ireland, where people can get a much better deal. If construction continues at the pace it is currently at, you are going to see a massive amount of talented people leave this country for other places that offer a higher standard of living, at a much more affordable price.

This affects my job as a business owner significantly because trying to rent offices or working spaces in Dublin isn’t cheap and I’m competing against multinational organisations, even for small units!

How do you think technology is transforming your job and the market? 

For my own business, I use a lot of cloud-based software which is currently making it possible for me to work from anywhere that has an internet connection. As well, most of my office and admin software works perfectly fine on a smartphone – which again means I can really work from anywhere at any time. In theory, I could do my job from a beach in Nice, just as well as an office in Dublin! 

Having flexibility and mobility in jobs is not just a facet of my own niche role, it’s definitely an industry-wide trend as well. I believe that these types of developments in technology are making it possible for employees to have more flexible working arrangements with their employers. In my opinion, this is a really positive feature of technology transforming multiple industries.

Has your current role been affected by digitalisation?

One aspect of my company is training CIMA Students. The advent of digitalisation has meant that students now have much different requirements, than they did say 10-15 years ago. Students want to have material on-demand and expect course delivery in a variety of different formats. The way students are learning now is much different to how they did in the past. In my opinion, the education sector is quite slow to adapt to new technology but I believe that the pioneers in using and experimenting with new technology today, will be the market leaders of tomorrow.

What are your perceptions about the CIMA 2019 Syllabus focusing on reinventing Finance in a Digital World?

I believe CIMA is right to be focusing some of their syllabus on Finance in a Digital World. Anyone who works in accounting can tell you that the accounting function is going to change significantly in the next 10-20 years and finance professionals need to be trained in different skills, in order to keep up with developments in technology. It is undeniable that as AI technologies are introduced into the finance function, that the job of a finance professional will change radically. It’s my opinion that CIMA is recognising this fact and building this into their syllabus to prepare the finance professionals of the future. It’s a very forward thinking and positive action from CIMA.

What advice would give to anyone thinking of studying the CIMA qualification?

The best advice I can give is to consider where it is you want to go with your finance career and to choose a qualification based on what job you would like in the future. If you want to be involved in business decisions and to be close to the strategy and operations of a company, then the CIMA qualification is likely to be the right choice for you and you should start immediately!

The CIMA qualification is at least a three-year commitment, so you need to be sure that you are doing the qualification for the right reasons. If you are just out of university, you might not know what you want to do, so I strongly advise at the very minimum, that you make contact (LinkedIn is great for this) with people who are successful qualified accountants and ask them what their job entails. This might give you a flavour for what you could expect in the future depending on what path you take. You’d be surprised at the amount of people that will get back to you, I get loads of messages on LinkedIn with students asking me questions in relation to careers and CIMA and I’m always happy to help. 

In one sentence, describe the value the CIMA qualification has added to your career?

The CIMA Qualification has given me credibility as a finance professional on an international scale.