To become a Management Accountant it requires dedication to the industry and to continuos self development. But often times we find ourselves not knowing how to get there and feel lost.
There’s where a mentor or coach can make a huge difference and help us accelerate our careers. The question then is, how do we find a good mentor? Listen to this episode to find out and much more.
Nathan: Hey, everybody. Thank you so much for joining me in this episode of the CMA Exam Mastery Course podcast. My name is Nathan Liao. And I'm here to help you accelerate your career and income to a six-figure salary as a management accountant. In today's episode, we have the pleasure of hosting Laura Humbert. She works as a consultant for the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. Wow. That's a mouthful. For short is NASBA. Laura holds the Certified Management Accountant designation and the Certified Public Accountant license. We'll dive more into why she chose both of them and why she went with one first and then the other second. But here's a fun fact about Laura. She was voted Young Professional of the Year in 2016 by none other than the Institute of Management Accountants. So with no further ado, here she is. Welcome to the show, Laura.
Laura: Thanks so much for having me, Nathan. It's great to be here.
Nathan: It's a pleasure. Thank you for your time today.
Nathan: How long ago did you earn your CMA designation?
Laura: About nine years ago when I did it.
Nathan: So you took the four-part exam.
Laura: Yes, I did. And I was a little upset when they sent me a letter letting me know it was a two-parter, but I taught prep courses for it, for the two-parter at UCS. And it is very difficult because it's all accounting now. There's no more marketing or management for some of the topics that can help you pass. So it's still very rigorous, even as a two-parter.
Nathan: Yeah. Well, I didn't know that you teach the CMA as a test prep. Do you still do that?
Laura: No. I stopped doing it because they needed to increase the class enrollment size for budgetary reasons. So we stopped doing it. They needed to double the enrollment size. So we stopped doing it, but I did it for almost three years. It was very rewarding.
Nathan: That's great. So you were in the education space helping people pass exam.
Nathan: Love it.
Nathan: So prior to your CMA, what were you focused on? What were you working on?
Laura: So, let's see, prior to that, I was actually working on an insurance-specific certification because I found from being in an industry, you really need to not just know the accounting of that industry, but the industry itself. And I was working at a insurance company and took home their insurance education textbook. And halfway through the 10 exam, I did the accounting for insurance. And I saw that the accounting book was written by several CMAs. And I took it to my vice president and said, "It's great that you want me to do this insurance-specific stuff, but as an accountant, I would like to do more broad accounting-based education. And as you can see, it looks like that CMA is the way to go. They're the ones that wrote this textbook." She looked at that course outline and said, "This is perfect for this role. You're already getting the insurance education. So I'm great with you going back to more broad accounting-based education." And it really helped me focus on how to run the business more efficiently versus just putting numbers in a spreadsheet. It teaches you decision-making and ethics and things like that. So it was great that I did it. And once I finished that, then I completed the other half of the insurance exam.
Nathan: Gotcha. Wow. That's fascinating.
Laura: It was a pretty good way for me to do accounting, as well as learn the industry at the same time.
Nathan: Absolutely. What was your title or your position at this insurance company?
Laura: I was a reinsurance accountant at the time. It was because the company insured insurance companies. So we were called a reinsurer.
Nathan: Oh, I see.
Laura: So I needed to know not just accounting, but also the insurance business.
Nathan: Sure. Sure.
Laura: And later, I moved to the corporate accounting department. And that was mainly just accounting. But as a side note, I can actually diagnose people now because I got so far into the insurance side of things and in setting up reserves for sick people's future medical expenses and saw so many thousands of medical records working with so many nurses and doctors that I actually am able to diagnose people pretty much. If you have a rare medical condition, I can probably diagnose you. So that's one perk of being in a specific industry is that it's really just knowing the industry after enough years in it.
Nathan: Right. It sounds like...
Laura: Even if you didn't do any [inaudible 00:05:07].
Nathan: It sounds like you've definitely got very in-depth knowledge in the industry now.
Laura: Very in-depth, yes.
Nathan: What was the unexpected upside to earning your CMA?
Laura: You know, this might not be the answer you're expecting. Actually, joining the chapter itself and networking with the other members and getting to share my sometimes frustrations at work or ask for advice on a certain situation at work with other people who I knew had the same type of career as me. So just the professional networking and sometimes just having someone who understood, you know, what I was going through, good or bad.
Nathan: Yeah. I totally resonate with that, Laura. That's amazing. Yeah, the network that we gain from the IMA is huge. And it's unfortunate when people don't leverage all those resources and the connections and everything else that comes with it. I remember when I was just starting as a corporate controller. And I was learning the ropes. And I reached out to a member of the IMA to mentor me because he had a lot experience as a controller. And that really helped me out. So I totally resonate with what you're saying. Why did you go...
Laura: I try to mentor the students.
Nathan: Oh, sorry, you were mentoring for students, as well?
Laura: I mentor the college students at UCS nearby.
Nathan: Oh, okay. In what capacity, just a career or their...
Laura: Yeah. They're all concerned about going into public accounting. And I try to give them other career options in public accounting, you know, so they don't have to work 70 or 80 hours a week.
Nathan: Yeah, it seems to be the traditional track, right? Out of college, go into public accounting. And, I mean, it's a great way to really learn and understand, but, man, those long hours are a killer when there are other options out there. So I noticed that you have a CPA license, as well. And you got that after your CMA. So my question to you is, having the CMA already, why did you feel the need or the necessity or the want to go for a CPA license?
Laura: Well, I would say taking tests was kind of a hobby of mine because I did the 10 insurance tests and I did the 4 CMA. And my company paid for any type of professional certifications.
Nathan: Oh, great.
Laura: And it was actually another... You wouldn't expect this to be my answer. Colorado and various other states used to allow 120 college credits to be your CPA or the normal 4-year degree. I think I have 124. And, you know, about 10 or 12 years ago, a lot of states started upping it to 150, but several didn't change that until recently. And there's one left, Guam, that still does that. So I figured out that if I went ahead and did it and I signed up through Colorado because there's no residency requirement, I could go ahead and get it without going back to school and just take the test. And my manager was like, "Well, wouldn't you need to go back to school to know the information?" I was like, "If it's read a book and take the test, I'm a professional at that." I was like, "I'm a professional test-taker here."
And so I went ahead and did those before they changed the requirement so that I didn't have to go back to college because definitely in Florida where I live, I would have had to go back to college. And since I don't own my own tax practice with my name on it, then it doesn't matter what state it's through. So there's just a loophole that was closing that I wanted to just go ahead and do that, you know, and kinda get that out of the way too because I definitely can compare the two really well and say, and every single person I've talked to through my NASBA job who, about 20% of them also have the CMA, they say the CMA went in-depth and actually taught them more about decision-making and strategizing and things like that, but the CPA is more, you know, rules and regulations and, you know, doing the financial statements according to generally accepted accounting principles.
Nathan: Right and more compliance.
Laura: And following tax laws. More compliance. And the CMA is more dynamic in [SP] decision-making. So I'm very glad that I've done both, but probably more glad personally that I've done the CMA.
Nathan: Okay. That's a really good contrast and comparison of the two designations because it's a big question .That's probably one of the biggest questions for people in college and coming out of college. It's like, "Should I go for the CPA or the CMA?" And I get a lot of emails asking me that same question. So that's a great comparison. What was the unexpected upside to earning your CPA license?
Laura: That my grandma knew what it was and told everybody in her nursing home.
Nathan: A very proud grandma.
Laura: Because 90-year-olds don't know what the CMA is. So yeah. And actually just being able to do the job the I do now. But had I stayed at my same company, I don't think it would have been any different. I don't think it would have really made a difference getting the CPA there, but it just allowed me to do what I do at NASBA, which is signing off for people to be CPAs.
Nathan: Oh, okay. That's a good segue to my next question. What does NASBA do?
Laura: Okay. So NASBA are the ones who give the CPA exam. The AICPA creates the test questions. They create the content. And NASBA processes all the registration. They issue licenses for four states and three islands. And they also deal with continuing education compliance for all the accounting certifications in the United States. You'll even see on the CMA...on CMA continuing education, it will say it's NASBA approved.
Nathan: I've seen that.
Laura: So that's basically what they do. And the old process to become a CPA was an existing active CPA had to sign off for you, that you had the proper work experience. And so anybody who worked for a small business or was self-employed or just didn't work with a CPA wasn't able to become one. And after many years, they finally started this service. And so I was actually signing off for someone who I worked at that insurance company with. And when I was on their website getting the paperwork, I saw they were starting this service and I called and offered to help them out with it. And they were like, "Funny thing that you called because our financial reporting manager is doing it in-house. And he is very busy. And he would like to give it to somebody else." And so I signed up to do it as a consultant. So I do it from home. And I talk to people from all over the world. I talk to management accountants. I talk to internal auditors, risk management, even actuaries, anything that is related to accounting, auditing, tax, compliance, risk, every job you can think of, major loan underwriters, corporate loan underwriters, people who work for these giant investment banks in China. So I talk to people from all over the world who are applying to be a CPA, because in 2011, test centers were established all over the world and it became more of an international certification.
Nathan: The CPA license?
Laura: Yes. And it's portable to multiple other countries now. In 2011, they started making it international. In 2015 and up, it became portable to several other countries. So it's really...
Nathan: Well that's fascinating.
Nathan: Yeah, it really is.
Laura: [Inaudible 00:13:24] of people.
Nathan: I had no idea about that. I thought it was state-by-state, not even national. I thought it was only for the state of California, for the state of Florida and there were different requirements. So for someone who...
Laura: There are. There are, but certain states are covered under this experience verification service I do, but it really doesn't matter what state you apply through, unless you're trying to open your own tax practice with your name on the outside of the building where like the public could walk in. And people who apply internationally, they just pick a state that doesn't require a Social Security number and doesn't have a residency requirement. So it is technically still regulated by the state, but there's not as many regulations as you think. You can just get it from whichever one is the path of least resistance.
Nathan: Oh, okay. Well, that's really fascinating. Yeah, it makes total sense. So for someone who is abroad and is listening to this and wants the CPA license and heard you just say, "Oh, I don't need a Social or I don't need to live there," which states allow that?
Laura: Okay. So the main states that they would apply through are New Hampshire, Montana, Washington, and Guam. And there's a website they need to use. It is the Accounting Licensing Library that is run by NASBA. And it costs $10 to use it. It costs money because NASBA's a nonprofit. So they have to charge something for their services. And let me check. Let me make sure I'm giving you the right website.
Nathan: Sure. Wow. This is really interesting. So the CPA is going global.
Laura: It is going global. Okay. So the website that they would need to use that would tell them the requirements, you know, internationally, they can just put in their information, it will tell them what state to apply through, it's alllibrary.com.
Nathan: Okay, alllibrary.com. I'll make sure to drop that in the show notes so people can go there and click on that link. Thank you for sharing that.
Laura: You're very welcome.
Nathan: What's your biggest challenge, Laura, as a management accounting consultant?
Laura: So I do that, in addition to working for NASBA, I actually am a management accounting consultant for HT Supply. It's a large construction supplier. And my biggest challenge is when I have a strategy and I've identified efficiency, getting the staff on-board and the senior management to recognize that they need to create a budget for it. So even though I can kind of be my own one-man show, you can't do anything without collaboration and teamwork and having everybody be on the same page. And sometimes, you can't implement what you want because they just don't have a budget for it. So that's something that I think people starting in the workforce need to always keep in mind, that you may have a great idea, but they may not be able to move forward with it.
Nathan: Right. And there are always budget constraints, right, in every single company.
Laura: Yeah, for sure. For sure. For sure.
Nathan: How has your knowledge that you've gained from the CPA and the CMA helped you in your NASBA consulting work?
Laura: So I've found that with lots of experience comes lots of self-confidence because I have run into enough situations enough times where I've said, "There's just no way I'm gonna figure this out." And every time I push through it and I figure it out. So now that I'm 34, I have that attitude of, "I know I can do this because I've done it so many time before." So also, all the knowledge that I gained through the certification, in addition to the work experience, that just adds to that, you know? Even if I don't remember the concept in detail, I know it enough to Google for it. I'm like, "Oh, I saw this in that textbook. I can look it up." So just the more knowledge and the more things [SP] you can get, the more confidence you'll have and the more qualified you will be to be a consultant and to give other people advice, even if they tell you that they don't have a budget for it. So get all the knowledge and experience you can.
And another...the most important part of advice I could give about working in general is don't shy away from projects or additional work that gets put on you. I mean, if you're working lots of overtime and it's unreasonable and you're being taken advantage of, that's different. But if you can use an existing position that you're already competent in, that you already know everything there is to know about that job and you've kind of stopped growing, use that kind of relaxed job atmosphere to take on additional projects or teach yourself something. Find a tutorial on YouTube about Microsoft Excel or about SQL or something to grow yourself within your existing position so that when something else opens up, you'll be above and beyond qualified for the next job.
Nathan: That's great advice, Laura. Always continuing improving our skills, learning something new, that is applicable, I think that's the keyword, that's applicable to our current position. And that can also be applied to in future roles.
Nathan: So let's say I want to move and work in consulting. Besides continued education and improving my skill set, what's the one thing I should do or what's the one skill I should nurture and focus on today to help me get into the consulting field?
Laura: To help get into the consulting field, find a program that you can be really highly skilled at. Like for me, it's Microsoft Excel. Some people may be more technical and tech-savvy and use SQL or also be able to be the liaison to a programmer in a major ERP system like Oracle. Get a somewhat technical skill and kinda learn everything you can about that one program. Because you can be well-rounded, but there's no way one company needs you to know everything for consulting. Consulting is more an expert at one or two specific things. So I focused really, really heavily on Excel, Microsoft Excel.
Nathan: Yeah, I know that especially in accounting and finance, Excel is a must, but within Excel, there are different levels, right? So becoming a master at it, yeah, would definitely help in a consultant position. Awesome. Thank you for that.
Laura: Yeah, to be a consultant, you need to have a higher level of skill than the existing employees. That's why they brought you in. So just being sorta good at a lot of things isn't what they need. They need you to be really good at one or two things specifically.
Nathan: That's a very important distinction. If, Laura, you had to start all over again coming right out of college, but you know everything you know now, what would you do differently in your career?
Laura: I would learn more about IT because in the NASBA job, I've had people apply for me to review their work experience to be a CPA, and it said something about IT. And I was like, "I can't approve this. This isn't accounting." And then actually when I did this guy's interview, they said, "No, I'm a IP internal controls auditor who works with the Big Four to complete the full external audit." And I'm like, "Oh, okay." So that is something that I just learned that there was a job in that just this past year. Even though computers were kind of a foreign thing back when I was in college, I would learn more about IT because I've also seen jobs posted where they want someone to bridge the gap between accounting and IT and be more like a go-between analyst. So I would say that, you know, you don't have to be full in programming because, you know, they are separate careers, but I would say accounting with more of a side focus on IT and things like, you know, big ERP systems and things like that.
Nathan: Yeah, I think that in most companies, the biggest consumers of technology are the accounting people and the finance people, the payroll people, because they're the ones who are heavily using those JD Edwards Oracle systems and all those that are out there. All right. Very good. Laura, I really want to thank you today for sharing your time and your wisdom with us.
Laura: Thanks so much for having me. It's been great.
Nathan: Where can our listeners find more about you and connect?
Laura: I have a LinkedIn profile under my name, just Laura Humbert, and not the one in Pennsylvania. It will say there's... I'm sure she gets a lot of friend requests for me. Everybody that I interview with NASBA, they always try to find me on LinkedIn and read about me first. And so I wonder if a lot of them have friended her. So I'm Laura Humbert. And it says, "Consultant for NASBA" on my tagline.
Nathan: Okay. I do have your profile. So what I'll do is I'll drop that link in the show notes.
Laura: Okay, great.
Nathan: Thanks again, Laura. I appreciate you.
Laura: Thanks so much, Nathan.
Nathan: Well, that was the show for today. To get all the links from the show notes and to connect with Laura, go to cmaexamacademy.com/16. That's the number 1-6. And also on that page, I have a free three-part video course, if you're interested in learning more about the Certified Management Accountant designation and how to pass exam. Again, go to cmaexamacademy.com/16 to get immediate access. Thank you for joining us today. And don't forget to subscribe to the show and leave a review in iTunes, if you haven't already. I look forward to serving you in the next episode. Bye.
Here’s What You’ll Learn in this Week’s Episode:
- Why the CMA is more than a designation
- How you can find a mentor to accelerate your career as a Management Accountant
- Why public accounting is not the only choice anymore for college graduates
- How to obtain your CPA license if you live outside the United States
- The secret to get recognized at work and move up the ranks
- CMAExamAcademy.com/textbook — To claim your free CMA Part-One textbook in paperback
- Accounting Licensing Library
- Laura Humbert LinkedIn Profile
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