Ep. 235: Brian Hock - Certifications: Your Ticket to Career Success and Growth

< Intro >

– Today on Count Me In,
we have a great episode in store.

Our guest is Brian Hock,
president of Hock International

and an experienced accounting educator.

Who has been teaching finance
and accounting certifications

for over two decades.

Brian provides keen insights into the
value of professional certifications,

like the CMA, and how they can benefit

accounting professionals throughout their career.

He discusses the importance of
certifications in demonstrating

specialized knowledge and skills, as well
as how certifications, like the CMA,

help professionals stay current in a
rapidly changing business landscape.

Brian offers advice for overcoming
barriers to obtaining certifications.

Emphasizing the long term career rewards,

that make certifications a smart investment.

With technologies and an evolving talent
gap impacting the accounting field,

Brian's perspective is extremely timely.

Now, let's welcome Brian Hock.

< Music >

– Well, Brian, we're really excited to have
you on the Count Me In podcast today.

And, just to jump right in, can you share
with us, with our listeners,

why are certifications so critical,
especially in the field of accounting?

– Well, first, Adam, thanks for
having me, it's great to be with you.

The question of certifications is one that
is very important for somebody's career.

And the way I explain it is that there are
however many thousands and thousands

of universities around the world.

And they all have different quality
of an accounting program,

accounting professors,
the classes that they teach.

And, so, just because somebody
has an accounting degree,

we aren't really in a position to
know what that person knows.

What they studied, how they
studied, and how well they did.

But a certification is
a specific body of knowledge.

A specific syllabus that is the same

for everybody who takes it anywhere in the world.

And, so, the term certificate,

it's a certification because
it's that standardized test,

that everybody who's passed it
has passed the same content.

And, so, it's a person's way of showing

what they know separate from their university.

Because a lot of universities
may be very good universities,

but they're not known outside
the city, the region that they're in.

And nobody outside that city
or region is aware that the person

has such a strong accounting
education or finance education.

But a certification shows that.

– It does, and, I think, we're
hearing that a lot more.

Especially, in the world of accounting,
with so many different things happening.

So many new technologies coming out there.

One of the biggest things we're hearing
about is things like the talent gap.

So how are certifications
helping bridge that talent gap,

especially in the finance and accounting sector?

– Well, a good certification helps
bridge that by staying current,

and this is something that I know CMA does.

I've been teaching CMA for almost 25
years, and it's a number of syllabuses

that I've taught.

Because what accounting and
finance professionals need to know,

what they're using on their job,
has changed over time.

And, so, with IMA doing such a good job

of keeping the CMA syllabus
up to date and relevant.

That is part of that talent gap being addressed,

by making certain that the people that
come out through CMA have those skills.

And the obvious example is AI
wasn't in the syllabus 20 years ago,

but it was put into the syllabus in 2020.

And, so, technology is a big one,
as technology changes.

As the skill set that people need
to use that technology changes,

data analytics, visualization,
are in the syllabus now,

but they weren't ten years ago.

And, so, a certification that
keeps its syllabus current

addresses that gap by making certain

that the people who come out of that
certification have those current,

and practical, and relevant skills
that are needed in the market today.

– Mh-hmm, yes, that makes a lot of sense.

Now, you have been in this accounting
space, in the certification space,

teaching people certifications for a while.

How have you seen that
demand change over the years,

and what trends do you see us
going towards in the future?

– I think one of the things that's
happened, and continues to happen,

is more and more what I would
call a specialty certification.

You take something like CMA,

and it's accounting and finance,
at a fairly broad scope.

It's not specific to receivables,
or payables, or bookkeeping,

or a specific type of banking.

But now you have certifications that
are specifically about fraud examining.

You have certifications that
are about a controller position

or a specific element of a business.

And those are wonderful certifications

for people that are a little
further along in their career.

That have some experience and know
what it is that they're going into.

But when we talk about young
people just starting their career.

The certification that they need
is one that's going to keep

as many doors as possible open
for them, as long as possible.

And when I talk to a university students,

I say, "Well, if you know that you want
to go into investment banking, then,

that's the certification you need to pursue."

"If you know that you want to go
into some particularly niche area,

then, find that specific niche certification."

But most people, until they've been
five or 10 years in their career,

don't know what they want
to do for the next 20 years.

And, so, there are niche
certifications that are developing,

which are for later in somebody's career
after they know where they're going.

But we still have the same
certifications around the world

that were there 25 years ago.

ACCA, SEMA, CPA, CMA, that are those
very strong foundational certifications,

that keep a lot of doors open
for the people who have them.

– So do you think there's a benefit
of getting into certifications

when you're still in school
or just about to graduate?

Is there a benefit there?

– The benefit starts whenever
you start studying.

And, so, if you're going to get
the benefit from the certification,

you want to start as soon as possible.

And that's really while you're
still at university, if you can.

Even just studying for one of the certifications,

one of the parts, is important.

And, also, if we look at all of the different
learning outside of certifications

that IMA has available, students at
university can do some of those classes.

Do some of the classes about
data analytics and visualization,

and get those, even if it's not
a certification, get that process

of learning and demonstrating
to your potential employer.

That you are serious about your career,

and you know that these are
the issues that employers need,

that employees need to be able to do.

And, so, starting the earlier you can,
as early as you can, is the best.

– Yes, and it's great when
you can start that early

because then you, kind of, know
the trajectory of where you're going.

And one of the things we're hearing about

and people are writing about, especially,
in the finance and accounting industry,

is that there is a talent shortage in accounting.

There's not a lot of people going into this.

How do you think that's impacting the industry,

and what are some things that
we can do to help address it?

– Well, it's interesting;

one of the things that a
shortage like that should do is

it should drive up salaries, simply
because of supply and demand.

It seems like that hasn't happened quite yet.

I have a son in college, who's making
these decisions about majors,

and it's a question of what are
the salaries that you can get

from the different business majors
that's coming out of university.

I think one of the things,
from an accounting standpoint,

is we talk about people, young people,

should do what they love
and follow their passions.

Well, for a lot of people,
their passion is something

they may not be very good at.

Whether it's sports or music or something.

But we need to remember that any business

that's involved in that industry has accountants.

And, so, I say, you may love basketball,
but you may not be very good at it.

But a basketball team, a basketball
league, has an accountant.

You may love music, but you can't sing,

you can't play an instrument,
but every record label,

every music company has accountants.

And, so, it's a matter of helping people

recognize that an accountant is
really working within an industry.

And whatever industry you like,
whatever your passions are in the world.

If it's in automotive, you like cars, you
don't want to be a race car driver.

You can't be a race car driver.

But all the car companies, the
race teams, have accountants.

And, so, it's a matter of helping
people see that it's more than just tax.

It's more than just making
debits and credits all day.

But you can connect to what it is

that you love to do with accounting or finance.

– I've never heard anybody
say it from that perspective,

and that opens up a huge world because
every industry has a business aspect.

So even if you're not good at that
specific thing, that all the people

making the millions of dollars,
making records, or whatever,

but there's people behind the scenes
who are making the business run.

And there's so many assets of that
business that are available to you.

Whether it is accounting or
some other field that you're like,

"Hey, I'm interested in that part aspect of it."

– Well, and even if you take into
account nonprofits, and somebody

wants to do something that's giving back,
specifically, to a specific cause or area.

Well, there are nonprofits
that operate in those areas.

And, so, volunteer within that nonprofit,

I mean, maybe, they have a job
in the accounting or finance,

depending on their size.

But whatever it is that you enjoy doing,

there is a job in accounting or
finance that is connected to it.

– Mh-hmm, oh, that's great.

So coming back to the
conversation about certifications.

You said a lot of the good certifications

are ones that, kind of, open
the most doors for you.

And they help accountants stay up to
date with rapidly changing things,

and they're making sure
their syllabus stays there.

In light of increased things,
like increasing automation

and technology advancements.

How can you stay relevant?

Because certifications are very large
and it's hard to keep them up to date

with the most rapidly changing things.

– Well, this is a big thing right now, AI and
Chat GPT, whatever version they're up to.

And a lot of people just at the various conferences

with IMA that we were at, recently.

The question is are accountants
going to have a job in five years,

five days, five weeks,
whatever the case may be?

And, I think, the answer to
that is absolutely yes.

All of these changes in technology

are just continuing the changes
that have happened in technology,

in the past, in that they are tools.

It's not going to make a decision.

It's not going to be able to interpret,

for example, when we talk about ratios,

anybody that has a definition
or the formula for a ratio

and the financial statements,
can figure out what the ratio is.

I mean, you find fixed assets,
you can find the number.

So calculating a ratio isn't that difficult,

it isn't that challenging, and that's
something a computer can do.

But the question is, what
does that ratio mean?

And if that ratio means something
negative for the company,

what is the correction to it?

What do we need to do to respond
to that, to react to that, to fix that,

to address that, whatever the case may be.

And, so, AI and these new tools

may be able to manipulate more
data more quickly than we can.

They may be able to see patterns in
the data that we aren't able to see.

But it still requires a person
who understands the business,

understands the industry, to take
that information and make it

into a useful decision for the company.

And it's something, too, that when
we talk about capital, budgeting,

and various other things within the exams,

we talk about there's a
quantitative element, the number.

You make the calculation, and
the net present value is positive,

the net present value is negative.

But then there's also a qualitative
element to that as well.

"If we make this decision, what happens?"

"If we open a factory...?"
"If we close a factory...?"

"If we expand...?"
"If we contract...?"

And, so, all of those qualitative factors,

I'm not sure that AI is who
we want making that decision.

Yes, I'm happy to have the computer
calculate the ratios for me.

But I don't think I want the computer

to make the decisions about what
we do as a result of those ratios.

Because there are so many
things that go into that,

other than the simple calculation that
was made in that quantitative analysis.

And, so, if somebody is starting their career

and they want to make certain
that they have a job five years,

10 years, from now, you need to
know how to use those tools.

If you can't use those tools,

you're going to be at a tremendous disadvantage.

A little bit like if we were to say that
you didn't know how to use Excel at all.

And you go to a job, and they ask,
"So how are you at Excel?"

And you say, "Well, I've heard of it,
but I'm really good at math.

I've got this great calculator,
I don't need Excel."

Well, no, that's not the case,
an Excel is a tool that helps you

take your great math to the next level.

And that's what all these other tools
coming out on a daily basis are.

We need to know how to
use them, and apply them,

and make them relevant to the
decisions that we need to make.

But they may replace the calculations,
the data entry, the routine work.

But if we're studying CMA, that's not the
work we want to do ourselves anyway.

We want to be the ones that
work with those numbers

after it's been sifted through,
and analyzed, and all of that.

So you need to know how to use these tools

because they will help you do your job better.

– Mh-hmm, yes, they do,
they help you do your job better.

And, like you said, they are tools.

They're not replacing us, they're tools

to help make some aspects of our jobs easier.

So that we can enhance our strategic, and
other aspects of our job that are things

that we humans still do,
at least, at this point.

– One of the things that we need to keep
in mind, when we're talking about our job,

or our career, or the future, is
it all comes down to adding value.

Are we able to add value to
the organization we work for?

And we can do that if we don't spend time

calculating numbers that
can be calculated by anybody.

Calculating a ratio is not a high-level skill.

But if we spend all of our time
at work calculating ratios,

we're not really adding value to the organization.

If we have the tools that allow us
to make those, calculate ratios,

or whatever it is that we're calculating.

Then we have more time to take that information

and actually add value to the organization,

by understanding what that information is,

how to use that information, and how to
make decisions based on that information,

to add value to the organization.

And all of these are just tools

that help us have more time
and better information to add value,

which is why we're going to
continue to have a job.

– Yes, for sure.

Now, certifications are quite an investment.

And, maybe, we can discuss a little bit,

what are some of the barriers
that might prevent individuals

from pursuing or attaining certifications,
and how can those things be overcome?

Because every aspect of the world,
people live in different areas.

There's many different barriers
that can occur, at times.

– I think I'll break it down into
two broad categories of barriers,

and then how we address
each one of them.

One of them is, obviously, a financial barrier.

And this comes to the fact that

different countries, different
economies, different scales.

And, so, for some people, young people,
an accounting student at university,

a finance student at university, the cost
of taking CMA may become a barrier.

I mean, a young professional that
just got married, has a child,

and doesn't have a lot of disposable income.

IMA helps with that, student scholarships,
I know, for university students.

But even when we look at the
amount of money that it costs,

and even if we do without any discounts

or anything like that, just
we register and we pay.

We need to keep in mind what
the return is on that investment.

And if you say you buy materials, you register,

and you earn two and a half thousand dollars.

Well, that return is going to be
for the rest of your career.

So if you make even $1,000
a year more, which is a low number,

but $1,000 a year more over 25 years.

You have a $25,000 return
on a $2,500 investment.

Okay, time value of money in
the $1,000 is 25 years from now.

But still $25,000 return on
a $2,500 investment is very good.

And, so, when we're talking
about that financial investment,

it's a question of perspective.

Yes, in the short term,
it's a large amount of money,

and I don't want to discount that
or minimalize that, in any way.

But when we keep in mind
what that potential return is

when you pass, and have 25,000, 25,0000,

whatever that number of a higher
salary through certification is.

It makes it a very good case

for whatever you need to do
to get that registration done.

You don't buy your coffee
at the coffee shop every day.

You don't go on vacation one time.

I mean, you make those sacrifices
for the longer term benefits.

The other barrier, I think, for a lot
of people is it's a big syllabus.

It's a difficult exam.

There's a low pass rate and
people are just afraid to do it.

They're afraid to fail,
or they don't want to fail.

But this is something, I mean, I've been
doing CMA for almost 25 years now,

and it is a difficult exam.

We want it to be a difficult exam,
it should be a difficult exam.

If it's not a difficult exam,
it doesn't provide any value.

So it is a difficult exam, but it is
also a very passable exam.

And, so, if you start and you're
worried and you're intimidated,

you make a plan, you make a schedule.

You're trying to find 200 hours
to study for part one

and 200 hours to study for part
two, and you do it step by step.

This is not something you
have to learn today, tomorrow,

or this week, it's a marathon.

And that marathon requires
commitment, and dedication,

and a plan, and a strategy,
and your spouse's understanding,

that you're not going to be as available
for going out and having fun all the time.

But this comes back to the return on investment.

You spend two years studying but
the benefit is not only a salary benefit,

but it becomes also your career is better.

You're in better positions, you're
traveling, all of those benefits come.

And, so, yes, it's an investment;
it's a monetary investment,

it's a time investment, it's a
nerves and stress investment.

But it's going to benefit you from the time

you start until the time you retire.

And, so, if you know you want
a career in accounting or finance,

start today, if you haven't already.

– Mh-hmm, that's huge.

I like the marathon analogy.

If you talk to any marathoners,

the hardest part is those last
six miles, that 20 to 26 miles,

or 26 and a quarter miles,
that's the hardest part for them.

Because getting up to that
20 miles point, you're good.

But then you have to finish, and
finishing is sometimes the hardest part.

But once you finish, when
they cross that finish line.

You see pictures of marathoners,
they look exhausted,

but the elation on their face, and I'm sure
it's the same for passing a certification,

is like, "Hey, I've gotten to this point and
now I can see the benefits from that."

– Yes, you spend two years,
a year and a half studying.

But you have to keep in
mind why you're doing it,

and it's the whole rest of your
career you get the benefit.

And we also talk, I think, too, often,

we talk simply about CMA and certification,

and that's obviously a big part of it.

But if you then look at what you
get for the rest of your career

from continued membership in IMA.

The opportunities, the networking,
it's where you find your next job.

It's where you find the person
you're going to hire.

And, so, when you add all of that
in not only the certification,

but that whole professional organization

that you're a part of, that you're
a member of, that you benefit from,

it's something that you need to start.

You're not alone, other people
have done it before you.

They've shown it's possible.

You know it's a benefit.

So you just keep in mind
why it is that you're doing this

and how it's not a one-time bonus
that you get from your employer,

if you pass the exams.

But this is something that's
going to be the rest of your career.

And if you're just out of college,
this could be 40 years

that you're going to benefit
from this two years of studying

and the little bit of a financial
sacrifice you had to make.

– Yes, it's that community that
builds from either your local chapter,

you go to local conferences, or the
annual conference or whatever it is.

You can build that community,

and that community can become
almost like a second family,

as you grow in your career.

– Yes, well, and as you grow in
your career, your employer,

before they promote you, they want
you to have experience in leadership,

or in management, or decision making.

And it's hard to get that in a company.

But you volunteer with your
IMA chapter, you volunteer with IMA,

and you have that opportunity to meet
people, to lead things, to organize things.

To get that experience that every
organization is looking for in their people.

And you have the opportunity to do it
in a way that really benefits you

and your career as well.

– Yes, I think that's a huge benefit of
professional accounting organizations.

IMA, obviously, this is an IMA podcast,

but whatever your specific field is
within the accounting industry.

Whether you're like, "Hey,
I'm an internal auditor,

so I'm going to join the CIA."

Or whatever those things are.

You want to be able to have
those different elements.

And those things can help motivate

and incentivize individuals to gain certifications.

Because you see your colleague, "Hey,
my colleague got the CMA, got the CPA"

got whatever the certification is.

And they say, "Hey, I want to join that;
I want to participate in that."

– Positive peer pressure.

– Yes, so, Brian, this has
been a great conversation.

And as we wrap things up,
what are some takeaways

that you want our audience to remember,

as we wrap up the conversation here?

– Well, when we're
talking about certifications,

and I've said it enough already,
I may as well repeat it one more time.

Is the time frame that you
benefit from the knowledge

and the skills that you learn.

And, I mean, it's not only the
certification, it's the skills that you learn

while you're preparing for the certification.

That this is something that's from
now until the end of your career.

And if something is able to benefit
you that long, why wait to get it?

Why wait to start that process?

And, so, it's a matter of keeping in mind

the perspective of this is a
short-term investment of time.

It's a significant investment
of money, in the short term, as well,

but the payback for it is ongoing.

The increase in salary, the
increase in your performance,

the opportunities in your country,

outside of your country,
it's almost immeasurable.

And it's hard to calculate
the return on investment

because the return is so high
and the investment is so small.

If you're in the field of accounting or finance,

certification is absolutely the best
investment that you can make.

– And, as we've already said, it
significantly starts to close

that talent gap that we've seen, and
also will help with the talent shortage.

As people can, as you mentioned before,
be able to get into different industries

because every industry needs
an accountant to run the books.

– Right, and as technology changes,

it's still somebody who knows
what that information means,

knows how to use all of this data.

Think how much data companies
collect now from their customers,

their suppliers, their employees,
the production process.

So this is massive amount of data.

But somebody has to be able to sort
through it and understand what's relevant,

what's not relevant, and how to act
on it, to add value to the company.

And, so, learning the skills in your
certification, staying current through

continuing professional education,
and staying current in the profession.

AI is going to come, AI is going to develop,
all these tools are going to develop.

But the person who knows how to
use them and knows what to do

with all that information, is going to
be the one leading the organizations.

The one certainly that's going to have
a job, for as long as they want to work.

– Definitely, well, Brian, thank you
so much for coming on the podcast.

Really appreciate your insights,

and we look forward to having
you back in the future.

– It was my pleasure, thanks for having me.

< Outro >

– This has been Count Me In,
IMA's podcast, providing you

with the latest perspectives

of thought leaders from the
accounting and finance profession.

If you like what you heard,
and you'd like to be counted in

for more relevant accounting
and finance education,

visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.

Creators and Guests

Adam Larson
Adam Larson
Producer and co-host of the Count Me In podcast
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA, CSCA, CRMA
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA, CSCA, CRMA
Brian Hock graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio with Bachelor’s degrees in Accountancy and History. He currently lives near Columbus, Ohio with his wife and three children. Brian began his accounting career in Togliatti, Russia, as an auditor for Price Waterhouse. In 1997 Brian moved to Moscow, Russia and worked in training with Price Waterhouse, ATC International, and Arthur Andersen. In 2000, Brian founded HOCK Training in Moscow, as an independent training organization and began training for the CMA, CPA, and CIA exams. In the following years, HOCK Training opened offices in Almaty (Kazakhstan), Kiev (Ukraine), and Minsk (Belarus). Through developing the CMA, CPA, and CIA courses at HOCK Training, Brian wrote study materials focusing on clear and complete explanations and examples rather than just summaries or reviews that are common in other materials. The additional details were instrumental in opening the doors to US certifications for students across Eastern Europe who did not have a strong background in US accounting terms and practices. In 2003, Brian founded HOCK international to offer these study materials to candidates worldwide who could not attend HOCK’s live-taught classes. HOCK currently provides on-line training for the CMA and CIA Exams to candidates around the world. HOCK also works with more than 50 training providers in more than 10 countries to provide training materials for their students.
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