I can't pass CIMA – is it time to leave accounting?by
Simon Gray answers an Any Answers question that has resonated with many accountants: “Can’t pass CIMA, now what?”
An anonymous AccountingWEB user recently asked a question on Any Answers that resonated deeply with myself and many others within the accounting profession:
“I've been trying to pass the CIMA MCS for over a year and I just can't do it. I'm coming to terms with the fact that I just ain't that bright when it comes to academic stuff. I currently work as a management accountant/finance business partner for a medium sized finance startup in London. I have about 2.5 years accounting experience.
As a result of recently failing the MCS for a second time, I've been looking at a career change. What are some common paths for people in my situation, or people who are looking to get out of accounting?”
The AccountingWEB community rallied around the struggling CIMA student. AccountingWEB resident FD Tom123 said: “If the exams were easy they would have no value.I did not pass all my cima exams first time, and already had an accountancy degree.”
He added, “Could you not take some exams in a different order? Get some easy wins?”
While FirstTab offered: “Please do not confuse passing exams with intelligence. All you need to do is practice, practice, practice past exam questions and recall in the exam hall or wherever you are sitting the exam.”
Meanwhile, other community members encouraged the anonymous user to explore other avenues. Graham Suggett, for example, suggested the member looked at HMRC’s graduate tax inspector scheme. “[It] will take you to c£55k within three years and following promotion - easier in London - you will be c£70k. The work/life balance is decent so, assuming you have an interest in the work you currently do, it would be worth looking at.”
This question hit home and took me back to studying for my ACA qualification. Having failed my first and second-year exams I started to question my academic suitability for the world of accountancy.
Should I stay or should I go?
When climbing a mountain and finding yourself halfway up, isn’t it better to struggle to the top than turn and retreat on your way to the summit?
My view was yes. I persevered and finally got my professional accountancy qualification. By the end I knew I didn’t want to be an auditor and I knew I wanted to explore other career avenues.
While I was uncertain as to what these other opportunities might be, I was certain whatever I went on to do in life that my finance qualification would form a solid foundation and serve as a springboard to something new.
Since gaining my qualification, I’ve not worked in finance in any capacity, but my qualification has helped me each and every day. The journey to qualification taught me much more than how to put together a profit and loss account, balance sheet and cashflow statement.
It developed my analytical skills, attention to detail, ability to build relationships with people much more experienced than me and a general awareness of business and other sectors, including the legal profession.
There is no wrong or right answer
I fell into financial recruitment – and now, 20 years on, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has made a conscious decision to enter the recruitment industry. My first few years were great and financially lucrative, and
I developed a new range of skills, including managing my own desk – almost a mini business – in the wider organisation.
My unconscious decision to enter recruitment gave way to a very conscious decision to leave secure employment and start my own recruitment business in September 2008 – unbeknown to me at the time – two weeks before the financial crisis hit.
I stuck with it and pushed on and in time the business became a success. Resilience, mindset and a curiosity to ask questions of the status quo and an appetite to do things differently were the important ingredients to survive and thrive.
There is no wrong or right answer – there is, however, a course of action which may help the path become clear. Seeking the advice of others who have made pivotal decisions at important times is exploration I advocate. While their experiences will always be different to your own, a discussion might help you see the wood for the trees.
The only bad decision is no decision
External factors such as the financial crisis back in 2008, and the current pandemic, can always be a reason not to act. There are always opportunities – they just might not be as visible or easy to find. In my experience, with adequate research and contemplation, there is no such thing as a bad informed decision. The only bad decision is often not having the confidence to make one in the first place.
It’s always a delicate balance between not wanting to be seen to give up when things get tough and making a change because it’s what you want to do. There are two types of decisions and I’ve alluded to one already. A knee-jerk reaction in response to difficulty or challenge is never wise.
This type of decision is subconscious and often we never question why we choose to act in a certain way. The better decision when it comes to your career and the big things in life is the one made by the conscious mind having gathered as much information as possible to make an informed decision.
Finally, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Life is a journey, not a destination. The bumps in the road are just part of its rich tapestry. They are there to be embraced and learnt from. You won’t always make the best decision for you and your future, but never let that stop you making one.
Have you been in a similar situation? What would you advise our downtrodden accountant? Should they stay or should they go?