Jan Willem Blüm has a Masters of Science in Economics in the Netherlands and has spent 14 years in finance and business roles in multinationals. He became a CIMA Fellow in December 2020.
Jan has shared his experience of the CFO Programme so far, and why he has decided to pursue the FCMA, CGMA designation.
Why did you choose to do the CFO Programme with CIMA?
Professionals enrolling in the CFO Programme would likely have one of two backgrounds: they are either well-rounded finance professionals with a finance degree or qualification which is less well known and understood in CIMA focused countries, or senior non-finance business professionals that see the value of strengthening their strategic finance skillset. Ultimately both are looking for the same outcome, an accreditation that is broadly and globally recognised, highly regarded and conveys a high standard of professional strategic and financial thinking (supported by the FCMA designation).
I fall in the former group, having graduated with a Masters of Science in Economics in the Netherlands and having spent 14 years in finance and business roles in two large multinationals, most recently as Finance Director of Dulux Paints Ireland. With the decision to progress my career in Ireland came the ‘need’ for a professional qualification that was more widely recognised in Ireland; even if both my academic and professional background were excellent. I understood the importance and value of a CIMA qualification for stepping into a new role in a new company. The CFO Programme offered a solution that was simple and quick, building on and recognising my skillset and experiences, whilst ensuring that the high standards and requirements that come with a CIMA qualification are met, the programme paves the way for an FCMA, CGMA designation in a matter of months.
What has your experience been like while studying for your CIMA exam?
The CFO Programme is a ‘fast-track’ route to the CIMA qualification, and because it is built on the recognition that candidates already have relevant experience through either prior qualifications or professional experiences, preparation for the exam is consequently focused not primarily on ‘learning new things’ but rather on refreshing concepts and getting candidates in the right headspace for taking on a three hour, high output / high time pressure exam. The initial ‘fear’ of having to potentially delve through and memorise three years’ worth of CIMA theory was unfounded. From the outset it was made clear that success in the strategic case study exam would be as much driven by applying professional experiences and an ability for strategic analysis and insight, as it would be by demonstrating industry awareness, as it would be by referencing elements of theory. Taking this to heart, studying was a manageable combination of repeatedly reviewing the case study pre-read, searching for relevant real-life industry insights, reflecting on potential case study questions and answers, and reviewing the CIMA study pack for relevant theoretical frameworks.
From a process perspective the experience was heavily impacted by the Covid pandemic, turning what should have been a number of face-to-face workshops with tutor and other candidates in the UK, to a virtual classroom and self-study experience. And in all honesty - bar the lack of social interaction opportunities, this worked very well. Although the idea of four full-day online sessions sounded daunting, they turned out to be interactive, focused and effective days of learning and practice, gradually moving candidates towards being comfortable and confident in sitting through the final exam conditions. These limited number of pre-planned virtual sessions dispersed over two months were combined with a personal assessment of the need for self-study and individual mock exam practice sessions and as is generally the case, commitment and effort are the key to success.
Did you experience any struggle on your journey to pass your CIMA exam? Can you tell us some positive element towards your CIMA journey?
The biggest and most stressful event during the programme was finding out a day before the online exam that the operating system on my personal laptop required updating before being able to install the exam application, and such an update generally takes at least half a day to complete - let’s just say I am very glad that I headed the warnings and advice and performed my systems test prior to the big day. I suggest anyone taking an online exam from home or office does likewise! Apart from this technical difficulty though, the content and process of the programme are very manageable, and very much focused on creating a very precise understanding of the likely content and conditions of the final exam. As our tutor indicated early on, the advantage CFO Programme candidates have, is an abundance of professional experience they can apply to the case study. What we lack is relatively recent experience of having to put a large amount of text on paper under conditions of high time pressure. It is the reason the programme spends considerable time in addressing this through techniques, simulations and practice, with an abundance of mock exams being a huge asset to the programme and tremendously valuable to candidates preparing for the exam.
Also of great value were the interactions with the other candidates during the virtual classroom sessions - given the importance of applying professional experience, having three other candidates with broad senior / executive business backgrounds sharing their thoughts, insights and queries on the calls was extremely beneficial from two perspectives. First, it led to the generation of other insights and approaches that I had not previously considered, and second, it helped in wording relatively complex financial concepts into more easily understandable business language, an essential skill for senior finance leaders which is worth practicing in ‘live’ settings.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of taking up the CFO Programme?
I would share the following two things which I have already touched upon. First, the programme is not going to ask you to delve into and memorise three years’ worth of CIMA theory. Trust in the fact that your professional career has exposed you to sufficient business situations and financial matters to equip you with an ability to respond to strategic business challenges, which is what the exam will be testing you on. Clearly, these challenges come in all shapes and forms, and some may be quite technical or financial, but the programme will prepare you for those. The real challenge is, are you comfortable and capable in providing decision support and advice in a structured, substantiated and well-articulated manner? If so, you’ve got this.
Secondly and linked to the first, if you are considering the programme with an expectation of giving a tremendous boost to your academic and theoretical knowledge then I hope it has become clear that that is not the primary intention of the CFO Programme - if that is the goal then I would suggest going through the complete CIMA programme. As I see it, this course is there to facilitate that senior finance or business leaders with a considerable amount of prior academic and / or professional experience in areas that naturally touch the areas of the overall CIMA programme, have a route to turning that experience and skillset into a broadly recognised and highly regarded professional qualification. In fact, passing the CIMA Strategic Case Study is only the first component of the CFO Programme and is there ‘just’ to establish a certain level of strategic financial thinking. The second and more important component of your application will be your employment summary, detailed record of experiences and endorsement letters, highlighting how your career has exposed and trained you sufficiently to meet the requirements and expectations set by an ACMA and FCMA designation. So, be clear and honest with yourself in terms of what you are looking for.
Tell us a bit about your current role?
Currently I am enjoying a sabbatical after leaving my last role as Finance Director of Dulux Paints Ireland (part of Dutch headquartered multinational AkzoNobel) at the end of January 2020.
Dulux Paints Ireland makes and sells high quality paints for interior and exterior use, for both the consumer and the professional markets, and is the undisputed market leader in Ireland. It operates a manufacturing plant out of Cork, supplying the majority of the Irish market as well as a number of overseas markets, and has a commercial office in Dublin from which the marketing and sales teams operate. In my role I was responsible for the full scope of finance operations (record to report, order to cash, purchase to pay, tax, pensions, audit, internal control, commercial and supply chain business partnering, FP&A) and was heavily involved in commercial strategy development and execution. I particularly enjoyed the variety that came with the job: from hands-on technical accounting topics, to external contacts with auditors, insurance brokers and solicitors, to driving financial insights and developing reports, to systems development, to supporting commercial decision making, to setting and presenting strategy - no day was the same and it was brilliant to be able to steer the direction the business was going in on the short and longer term.
Following a large-scale organisational redesign which also affected the finance function, I evaluated the option of progressing my career within AkzoNobel but outside of Ireland, and decided instead to embark on a sabbatical with a view to finding a new challenge within Ireland, something I am currently pursuing.
In your opinion, how do you think CIMA will accelerated your career? Describe the value the CIMA qualification will add to your career.
For me personally the CIMA qualification, particularly the FCMA designation which comes along with the CFO Programme, is of paramount importance as I look for new career opportunities in Ireland. A recognised professional finance qualification is, understandably, a critical requirement in the selection process. And in Ireland, much like in many other countries around the globe, ACMA / FCMA is possibly the best known and most respected designation out there, depending on the type of role you are looking for. This CIMA qualification will therefore open doors that would otherwise likely remain shut.
The value it represents I would capture through the statement that it does not come for free. I am not talking about the immediate monetary and time investment needed to pass the exams and complete the programme, but the longer term investment needed to receive the designation which is the years of professional experience and growth that you have to go through in order to meet the ‘Fellowship’ requirements. Being able to put FCMA behind your name is proof that you have attained the academic background, have gone through that growth and earned those years of experience, and are now able to apply and build on those in increasingly senior roles going forward. That is the value which employers will recognise when seeing FCMA, and which is rewarded through future career opportunities.
UK & Ireland CFO Programme
On this fast-track programme for C-suite executives, candidates will attend a CFO programme workshop and take the final Strategic Case Study exam (SCS) of the CIMA qualification.
Find out the CFO steps to your chartered qualification