Teaching Future Management Accountants

Article excerpt

The business environment continues to change. Nas Ahadiat stated that this is due to "escalating globalization, increased information technology, new regulations aimed at corporate governance, and more." (1) These changes have had an important impact on the role of management accountants. Lakshmi Tatikonda said, "Today's management accountants spend less time preparing standardized reports and more time analyzing, interpreting, and providing information for decision making." (2) Management accountants have become more involved in all aspects of the daily operations of business.

Researchers have studied practitioners to determine the skills and abilities management accountants need in order to prepare for their roles in business. Ahadiat surveyed practitioners who were members of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA[R]) and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) about the topics they say are most important for entry-level and senior-level management accountants. Ahadiat said he believes that accounting faculty tend to emphasize traditional topics that are not necessarily important to contemporary business. He hoped his research would influence accounting educators to revise curricula or design new courses to better prepare accounting graduates for practice.

Germain Boer, a professor at Vanderbilt University, expressed concern about the management accounting curriculum. He stated, "The more I learn about the practice of management accounting, the more dissatisfied I've become with what I teach in my courses, so my class material is constantly evolving to accommodate my ever-changing understanding of management accounting." (3) Boer documented the history of management accounting curricula by reviewing the table of contents of textbooks from 1919 to the present. He concluded that currently there is a disconnect between the textbooks (and likely what is taught in the classroom) and the needs of the profession. He suggested that the textbooks need to place more emphasis on decision making, cash flow analysis (versus cost analysis), and the service industry. Boer explained that the textbooks cover topics accounting educators find interesting instead of issues accounting managers find important. (4) Furthermore, he stated that IMA changed the title of its monthly publication from Management Accounting to Strategic Finance to better emphasize what management accountants are doing. (5)

Zafar Khan, Thomas Cianciolo, and Eileen Peacock analyzed IMA's Practice Analysis database to provide insight into the similarities and differences in management accounting practice for the manufacturing and service industries. Their goal was to determine the skills and abilities entry-level accountants needed for success in the workplace. They concluded that two or possibly three new courses needed to be developed or revised to better prepare students to function in the workplace. They suggested their research would be "an important first step in accounting program reengineering." (6)

Philip Cooper documented the changes in the management accountant's function from the 1970s to the present. He provided insight into the present knowledge needs of management accountants based on a shift of economic activity away from manufacturing and on an emphasis on globalization. He surveyed 1,600 chartered accountants and asked how important specific topics were to the work carried out by their organizations. (7) He concluded that although there were variations among the responses between economic sectors, there was an emphasis on more strategic topics and the broadening of knowledge.

Tatikonda provided an historical perspective of management accounting. She stated, "Above all, companies no longer want 'bean counters'--they want employees who can work as business consultants to help them make 'better beans' at a lower cost." (8) Further, she said that although current accounting education may serve the needs and desires of faculty, it does not meet the needs of students. …