Are CIMA qualifications 2nd class in financial services?

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The CIMA qualification is nothing if not popular. 24,136 people in the UK sat the professional examinations run by the Chartered Institute for Management Accountants last year.

Many of those were in industry; plenty of them want to go into banking. Some CIMA students are in investment banking already, with banks like BofA Merrill training people to take the qualification in-house.

But can you really get anywhere in financial services as a CIMA?

The answer, historically, seems to have been absolutely not.

"You used to get the odd CIMA qualified accountant in a pure financial reporting or management accounting role, but you would almost never find them in product control," says the former head of EMEA product control at one US investment bank.

"When CIMAs were in management accounting roles, they tended to do fairly basic tasks," he adds. "They could fill in spreadsheets and present things in a sensible way, but management didn't trust them to understand much about the products or the business. As a result, there wasn't really anywhere for the CIMAs to progress to."

Very negligible entry requirements

It doesn't help that the barrier to CIMA entry is set about as low as it can be. The Institute's website stipulates merely that students need, 'competence in mathematics and the English language.'

"If you're hiring, you'll almost always prefer an ACA to a CIMA," says the ex-product control head. "ACAs are simply seen as higher calibre individuals."

The surprising hotness of CIMA students in the current market

It's possible, however, that this particular ex-head of product control is out of touch with current realities.

What with the surge in accounting roles in banks, recruiters insist that CIMAs are now highly sought after and totally on a par with ACAs.

"The old ranking used to be ACA, CIMA, Acca," muses one senior accounting recruiter. "Now they're all seen as roughly equivalent."

"Banks are unlikely to hire a newly qualified CIMA into a role which involves a lot of financial reporting, but they're perfectly happy to hire them into product control and all other accounting positions," says Simon Lindrea, a director at Michael Page.

Belinda Walmsley, spokesperson for recruitment firm Joslin Rowe confirms banks' CIMA receptivity: "If they have good academics, and have worked for a blue chip name, banks will accept CIMAs into most accounting roles, including product control."

Absolutely no chance of getting into the front office

What a CIMA will not do, however, is get you into the front office. At this point, it diverges from the ACA, which will.

"The CIMA is not very helpful if you want to move into corporate finance, equity research, or any other front office role," says James Heath at recruitment firm Greenwich Partners. "In these areas, the ACA qualification is infinitely more useful."

Now that hiring has picked up again, Heath estimates that 20-30 newly qualified ACAs have moved into junior analyst and junior equity research roles in the past few months.

For CIMAs that figure is more like zero. "We rarely see candidates with the CIMA qualification these days," Heath adds.