Professional Certification – Requirement or Preference?
A professional certification gets value from one of two sources: either it is required by law or regulation, or the business community prefers its employees have the certification, even if it is not required by law. An example of the first type is the CPA certification in the United States, which is required by law in order for an individual to sign an audit report or prepare income taxes for another party. An example of the second type is the CPA certification in countries outside the United States. In other countries, a CPA license is not required by law for any specific activity, but the business community values it, and therefore being a CPA is valuable.
Most international certifications fall into the second category. One of the reasons for this is that most internationally recognized exams are in English and therefore they can be required by law only in countries that speak English. In non-English-speaking countries, the exam gets value because it is desired by the businesses there.
While it may not seem obvious, there are a number of groups that contribute to the value that a certification has in markets where the certification is not required by law. In this blog, I will write about one of them, and I will write about others in the future.
Review Course Providers
The group that I want to write about now is what I will call Review Course Providers (RCPs). They may be called different names in different countries, but these are the companies that deliver live-taught courses for candidates to prepare to pass the exam. RCPs are different than Material Providers (MPs), who only provide materials for self-study. For example, HOCK international is an MP, whereas HOCK UAE is an RCP, where live courses are offered.
RCPs play a critical role in the development of value for a professional certification in a few different ways:
- When there is an RCP for a certification, it shows to prospective candidates that the certification has value. If there is no value to the certification, there would not be a company providing training locally.
- RCPs play an important role in marketing the certification because they are marketing the certification as well as their own courses. For the organizations that offer certifications, RCPs are a critical element of the expansion of the certification to new areas.
- RCPs help keep pass rates higher. If the pass rate for a certification becomes too low, fewer people will attempt it because there is not a high enough chance to get a return on their investment. Or, if the pass rate is too high, there is also a decrease in candidates because both individuals and businesses perceive that it is too easy and does not have any value.
- RCPs also give credibility to the certification by demonstrating that the exam is independent. When the organization that gives the exam also provides training material, there is a perception that the exam is not serious or rigorous because the same organization is in charge of all of the steps of the process. It is a bit like the segregation of duties – ideally, one organization creates the exam and grades it, and other organizations provide the training. When the examiner is also a training provider there is a conflict of interest that decreases the value of the certification.
Whether or not you are using or used an RCP in your preparations for the exam, you should say a word of “Thanks” to the RCPs in your area; they have helped create and sustain the value of the certificate that you have earned or are in the process of earning. If you don’t know if there are any in your area, we have a list of RCPs using HOCK materials on our website.
You can send a short “Thanks” to your RCP as a comment below – let them know that they are appreciated!
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
The CMA Exam results came out last week and while there were many candidates who were successful, there were also some candidates who did not pass their exams. If you are one of these candidates, I encourage you to continue your studies and take a realistic look at how much you think you need to study to pass the next time you take the exam. Based on this assessment, you can determine when you should plan on re-taking the exam. As a general guideline, if you scored 320 or above, you are close to being ready to pass, and should probably plan to take the exam as soon as you are able to. If you scored less than 320, then you may want to plan a few more months of studying before you take the exam again.
Do you need a second Test Bank?
After results come out, we get requests from candidates who are looking to purchase a second Test Bank to study from. It is my experience that a second Test Bank does not add a lot of value to your preparations. All of the main providers use released CMA Exam questions as the foundation of their Test Banks. We all add some of our own questions to the Test Bank as well, but the majority of questions between providers will be the same. Therefore, even if you purchase a second Test Bank, you will not be getting a second set of questions to prepare with.
What additional materials should you consider?
If you are looking for additional study materials, I often recommend that you purchase Videos, especially if you do not have Videos already. While there are differences between the Textbooks of the main providers, a second Textbook is still a book that you read. Some candidates learn more effectively by listening or watching, so if you purchase Videos, you are getting a new way of learning the material, and a new perspective on that material.
Do you already have all of the materials from a provider?
If you already have a Textbook, Videos and a Test Bank and are still looking for additional materials, you should look to purchase the study tool that you think will be most beneficial to you. If you did not always understand the Textbook that you have read, another Textbook will bring value to you. If you did not like the Videos that you have, someone else’s Videos will provide greater value to you. If you have a Test Bank that does not have answer explanations to the incorrect answers, another Test Bank with incorrect answer explanations will be very helpful to you.
Use free samples before purchasing
Before you purchase a second of any study tools, make certain to use the free samples that all of the main providers offer so that you can see the Textbook, Videos and/or Test Bank you are looking to add.
Don’t give up!
While we would always prefer to pass an exam on our first attempt, the global pass rate for the CMA Exams is only about 50%. If you are in the position of having to take the exam again, I encourage you to keep striving for your goal of becoming a CMA. And while additional study tools may be helpful, make certain that you think carefully about what you already have and what would be helpful to you. This analysis will help you make good decisions about what additional investments you need to make to pass the exam on your next attempt.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
CMA Exam Videos are on 40% sale right now. Check out the free samples here: CMA Exam Videos.
Code of ethics
Most companies and professional organizations have a Code of Ethics that employees and members must follow. It is important to remember that many of those ethical guidelines we have at work and in our professional lives are also important for us outside of work. When individuals act contrary to a Code of Ethics in their personal lives, people can also get hurt – just as in our professional lives.
Conflict of interests
Most Codes of Ethics require the disclosure of potential conflicts of interests, which arise when a person may be influenced in their decision as a result of an interest that they have that is in conflict with the decision that they need to make for their company. Conflicts of interest are not just at work; they are in our personal life, too, and can involve our friends, neighbors, relatives and people we have never met. Unfortunately, not everyone is motivated by a Code of Ethics in their personal life like they should be in their professional life.
For example, if someone asks me what company they should use to host their website, I have a potential conflict of interest because my brother owns a company that hosts websites. If I were to recommend my brother’s company, the question becomes whether I am recommending it because it a good web hosting company, or because it is my brother, or maybe even because I might receive a commission for every person that I refer.
It is not that conflicts of interest are automatically bad. However, an undisclosed conflict of interest is unethical, and potentially harmful. If I recommend my brother’s company and I do not tell the person that it is my brother’s company that I am recommending, I have potentially caused that person harm because I have not given them all of the information they need to make an informed decision. However, if I tell them that my brother owns the company, then I have not done anything to cause that person harm.
The disclosure of this conflict of interest may even be helpful to my brother. If I have acted and worked in a way that causes this person to respect me, the fact that it is my brother’s company may be the reason that the person chooses my brother’s company. By behaving ethically and professionally, my recommendation means more, and the fact that I am related to the owner of that company is a positive thing for the person who asked.
Ethics in our personal lives
In our personal lives it is also important to disclose conflicts of interest. I live in a state that recently deregulated its electricity market, which means that I am now able to choose which company I want to produce the electricity that I use. Needless to say, I was swamped with phone calls and mail from the different companies that wanted me to choose them. One evening I was talking to my neighbor and asked if he had chosen a company and how happy he was with his choice. He told me which company he had chosen and that he was happy.
Later, after I had made my selection, I found out that if I recommended others to select the company that I had chosen, they would pay me $50 for each person I recommended and signed up. When I read this, it made me wonder about my neighbor – did he make his recommendation because he was happy, or because he was going to get $50 if I selected the same company that he did?
So, when someone gives you a recommendation, (especially when it is a website giving you a recommendation), you should ask yourself if they have a conflict of interest that they are not telling you about. It might just change your mind about what decision you should make in a particular situation.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
In this post, we look at preparing for an exam using some of the same concepts that you might study while preparing for the CMA (Certified Management Accountant) or CIA (Certified Internal Auditor) Exam.
Planning is a topic covered in many professional exams because of how important planning is to a business. Without long-term planning, a company does not know what it is trying to accomplish. Every department within a company needs to have a plan too so that it can do what it needs to do to help the company achieve its objectives. Even individual employees need to have a plan so that they can help their department achieve its goals. With proper planning, a company can ensure that all of its components are moving in the same direction.
Just like a company, a candidate for a professional exam also needs to have plans, which we can break down into Long-Term, Medium-Term, and Short-Term.
The first plan that you need is a strategic plan that encompasses what you would like to be doing in 5 years in your career, and which professional certification will best help you achieve your plan. You need to know:
- What are the certifications in your chosen career?
- What are the certifications most highly valued in the country where you want to work?
- Which certifications does your company want for its employees?
Once you have selected a certification, you need to find determine:
- Do you have the necessary education required by the exam? If not, how will you get it?
- Do you have the necessary experience in order to be certified? If not, where can you achieve the experience?
- What is the syllabus for the exam and what will you need to study to pass the exams?
Then, you are ready to create a medium-term plan to pass the exams and get any education or experience that you need.
The medium-term plan should set up a time frame for when you will pass the exams and get the needed education or experience if you don’t already have them. You need to find out what the average time is for preparing for the exam, and when the exams are offered.
For example, you may decide that it will take you 6 months to prepare for each part of the CMA Exam, and so you determine that you want to take Part 1 in early January and Part 2 in late June. Or, maybe you decide that it will take about 3 months to prepare for each Part of the CIA Exam, so you plan to take them in January, April, and July.
You should also decide the order in which you will take the different Parts of the exam. I usually recommend that you start with the Part that you feel will be easiest for you.
You are now ready to start your short-term plans, including making a study schedule for each week. You should know when during the week you will be studying and set these times aside. If you are going to study Tuesday evening for 3 hours (for example), then when someone asks you to do something Tuesday evening, your answer should be that you are busy. Your scheduled study times should be committed appointments that you will not cancel except for an emergency.
Having a schedule will make all of your time less stressful. If you know when you will study, then in the time that you are not studying you can relax without thinking that you should be studying; your study time and your personal time can stay separate.
Just like a plan that helps a business achieve its goals, proper planning will make achieving your goal of earning a certification much easier.
What are some of your planning strategies to help you stay on track with your studies?
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
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Many of you have been asking me what you can do to improve your chance of passing your CMA Exam. In this post I talk about risk management and what you can do to help ensure your success on the exam.
Start With Yourself
The first step of risk management starts with yourself. You must know why you are taking the CMA exam (or any professional exam). It can be for a raise, a better job, or because you want to learn the material (the exact reason does not matter). What matters is that you have a specific reason. Passing the exam requires a significant time commitment and if you do not know why you are doing it, you will find many reasons to not study. (See: The Only Question You Need to Answer to Pass the Exam)
Have a Plan
Second, you need to have a plan for studying and passing the exam. As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” I cannot overemphasize this point—make a schedule so you know when you are studying and when you are not studying. (See: Exam Tip: Scheduling for Success and Peace of Mind)
Use Your Study Materials
Third, use your study materials. You cannot learn from your materials if you do not study them. This means that you not only read the textbook, but you study the examples and solve every practice question, both multiple-choice and essay. If you have flash cards, use them. We created flash cards for a reason—they are a very helpful study tool. Our videos are also very helpful and reduce the amount of time needed to study and make the study process a bit easier for most people.
Fourth, ask questions! As you are studying, certain concepts will be unclear. When this happens, do not ask Google. The CMA exam has very specific content, and very little of what is on the Internet is specific for the CMA exam. A lot of what you find on Google will also be wrong information. You could also just “hope” that they do not ask about a particular topic on the exam, but this is very risky because you cannot predict what the specific topics your exam will cover. Your best option is to ask questions. Please, ask questions! At HOCK, we provide unlimited support to all candidates who purchase our materials because we want you to pass the exam. If the company that you bought materials from does not support you by answering questions, let them know that they should.
Share the Risk With Another Party
Finally, you can share the risk with another party, which is what car, home, or health insurance do. You hope that you do not need to use the insurance, but if do, you’re very glad that you have it. You can do this for the CMA exam with HOCK’s “You Pass or We Pay” Guarantee. If you follow our program and do not pass the actual exam, HOCK will pay for you to retake the exam. You hope that you do not need to use it, but if you do, you will be very glad that you have it.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
Who Creates Jobs?
As many countries around the world struggle to recover their economies in the midst of a pandemic, it is a good time to ask the question, “Where do jobs come from?” Or, asked in a different way, “Who creates jobs?” As is often the case, the answer depends on who you ask.
Businesses and Small Businesses
A common answer from politicians is that businesses create jobs, which is the reason to provide tax breaks to corporations, and at times to the wealthy people who own them. The thinking is that if businesses create jobs and we allow the owners to keep more of their income that they will, in turn, create more jobs. Even more jobs would be created if the owners started new businesses with their earnings, but this is not always the case.
Some say more specifically that it is small businesses that create jobs. When a person starts a company they hire someone, and then as the business grows, they hire additional employees. This is the job creation that comes from small businesses.
While it is certainly businesses that hire people, whether or not any jobs are created depends on who they hire to fill their positions. If they hire someone who is currently employed and that person’s old position is not filled, then no jobs are created. If a new company is formed by taking employees from a larger company and creating a new second company, then no new jobs are created that way either.
Despite being a business owner, I don’t agree that jobs are created by businesses. Jobs are created by customers. The only reason that a company should open is if there are customers who have a demand that is not being met, whether it is a new product, a level of quality, or features missing in existing products. The unmet demand may also be that there is simply not enough of the product or service available to meet the demand. When a company is created to fill this previously unmet demand, that new company will create new jobs. Similarly, if a company is faced with greater demand than they can supply, they will need to increase production, which usually requires hiring more people, thus creating new jobs.
Because it is customers who buy products and services, it is customers who create jobs. So, if you own a business and want to grow and hire more people, you first need to start by either convincing your current customers that they need to buy more, or you need to find new customers. By focusing on finding new customers and meeting customer demand rather than jobs, jobs will be created and the economy will grow.
Please leave a comment about how you think jobs are created; I would like to hear your thoughts.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
A week ago, I wrote about how a small regular investment grows over time with compounding interest. A reader recently sent me an illustrative story about compounding that I want to share.
Once upon a time, there was a king who collected almost the entire rice crop harvested by his subjects as tax, promising to give it back during tough times. After many good years, there came a year when there was no crop. However, the King was stingy and unwilling to return the rice as promised. A clever girl did a favor to the king and then asked for a reward.
The reward that she asked for was that she would receive one grain of rice on the first day, and double that on the second day. On the third day, she would receive twice that from the second day. And so on for 30 days. The king thought that it was a modest request and granted it to the little girl.
However, when the King started to pay the reward, he realized what it would become.
On day 6, the little girl received 32 grains of rice.
On day 12, the little girl received 2,048 grains of rice.
On day 18, the little girl received 131,072 grains of rice.
On day 24, the little girl received 8,388,608 grains of rice.
On day 30, the little girl received 536,870,912 grains of rice.
After 30 days, she received a total of 1,073,741,823 grains of rice. (After I read this, I did the math in Excel to make certain that it is correct.)
As you can see, the increase from day to day gets larger the more days that the girl has been “investing.” While no investment offers 100% daily returns, the same concept applies to lower returns and longer periods of time.
I am certain that there are similar stories in many cultures. What version of this story have you heard?
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
It is only about two weeks into 2021 and I expect that many New Year’s resolutions have already been forgotten and abandoned. Whether it was to lose weight, study more, or quit smoking, many of us have probably already given up on our resolutions. Perhaps we’ve told ourselves that we will stick to them longer in 2022.
Instead of short-term resolutions that do not last very long, wouldn’t it be nice to have a resolution that could change not only your life, but also the life of the generations that follow you? I have made one such resolution this year, which is to leave a legacy that will allow my income to continue forever for generations following me. This is nothing more than a savings plan, but it is a savings plan that is not for me, but for my children, their children, their children, and so on. It is essentially a family endowment fund that will last for generations. The best news about this resolution is that it is not as difficult as you might think.
We are all familiar with the idea of saving for our retirement. Whether it is a government pension plan, a company plan, our own personal plan, or some combination of these, we are all aware that we are saving (or that we should be saving). Unfortunately, statistics show that many people do not have enough set aside for their own retirement, and now I am suggesting that people save for their great-great-grandchildren? Before dismissing this as impossible, let’s look at some numbers.
(A preface to the numbers: I know that people in different countries have different rates of return available to them. The US stock market has had an annualized compound annual growth rate of 7.47% from 1950 through 2013, and because I live in the US, these are the numbers that I have to work with.)
Let us assume for the purposes of this example a more conservative 6% annual return on investment. This means that in order to have your annual salary be the annual return of a retirement fund, you need to have 17 times your annual salary saved when you retire. If your annual salary is $40,000, then you will need $680,000 saved when you retire.
How do you get to $680,000? Any financial calculator will help you do the math, but if you have $0 saved now and you invest $131 a month for 50 years at 7%, you will have $683,798.19 after 50 years. Then, for every year after that, your children and grandchildren will have $40,000 of annual income, forever. The best part is that $131 a month is less than 4% of a $40,000 annual salary.
Now, let’s change the time frame and look at it from the standpoint of a gift that you can give your children starting when they are born. If you start saving $100 a month for a child when the child is born, that $100 a month at 6.2% for 65 years will be worth $1,005,114! With just $100 a month, your child can be a millionaire when they retire. If we are more optimistic (though perhaps somewhat unrealistic) and use a 9% return, then that same $100 a month will be worth $3,921,762 when your child is 65.
You can also use this plan to help teach your child about saving. If you put $100 a month away for 16 years at 7%, it will be $35,808 when your child turns 16. When your child gets their first part-time job, let’s say that they will start helping pay the $100 a month by paying $10 of it. After they finish college and get a job, you can have them contribute $25 a month, and as they get older increase the percent that they pay increases until they are paying all of it. They will have learned from an early age that saving is the best insurance for the future and will continue to make the payment. Then, when they turn 65, they will have $1.4 million, assuming a 7% average annual rate of return.
I understand that not everyone has access to a consistent 7% return, and that $100 per month may not be realistic in some economies. But also consider that in an economy where salaries are smaller, a smaller amount is needed to be able to generate your annual salary. As a percent, if you save 3% of your salary every month and invest it at 7.2%, you will have a principal that will generate your annual salary in 50 years. Or, at a 6.2% annual return of return, if you save 5% of your salary every month you will have a principal that will generate your annual salary in 50 years.
I invite you to use a financial calculator and play with the numbers. When you do the math, you too may decide to make a resolution that will last for generations.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
Reading for Experience
To be a leader in a company or any organization, you will most certainly need to have both knowledge and experience. If you have knowledge but no experience, you are not going to be able to apply your knowledge to a specific situation because you will lack the experience that shows you what else is connected to a specific decision, and perhaps even your lack of experience will prevent you from identifying what you do not know but need to find out. If you have experience but not knowledge, you may be able to see a larger picture, but you will not have the technical expertise to know specifically what to do in that situation.
The good thing about knowledge is that you are largely in control of what you learn and keeping your knowledge current. A professional certification is one of the ways that you can learn the skills you need in your profession, demonstrate to others that you have mastered these skills, and also keep your skills current through the CPE requirements.
And while you are able to control your knowledge of level, the experience is something that you can gain only through time. Of course, you can put yourself into situations that will provide you with relevant experience and expose you to good leadership, but you cannot get 10 years of experience until you have worked for 10 years. There is a theory that a person needs to do something for 10,000 hours in order to become a master. If this is the case, then there are no shortcuts to working at something for 10,000 hours. (I will write about the importance of persistence separately.)
How to speed up the process of gaining experience
However, I believe that there is something that you can do to speed up the process of gaining experience. Other people already have experiences that you do not, so, if you can learn to access that experience that others already have gained, you can take some of that as your own. One way to gain experience from others is to listen to them. Listen to others at work who have more experience than you do. Listen to others in your life who have more, or different, experiences from your own. By listening to others, we can learn a bit of their experiences and take some of their wisdom that has come from their experiences and make it our own. My experience shows that most people are more than happy to share their stories and experience with anyone who listens intently. I remember a breakfast that I used to attend that was mostly attended by men in their 70’s and 80’s. The stories they told about their lives in the 40’s and 50’s and 60’s were amazing.
Another way that we can expedite getting our experience is by reading. When we read, we can listen to people from any area, any background, any culture, and any profession. And through reading what these people, places, cultures, and experiences, we can make a little of them into our own. Of course, reading is not the best way to gain experience, but it is better than simply waiting for experience to find you.
Reading is something that I do a lot of, and I wish I could do even more. I try to read fiction, nonfiction, business books, faith-based books, and books about life in general. Almost every night, I read before I go to bed, and ideally at least one other time during the day. And I am always in search of good books to read. Since my post about personal diversification in 2021 resulted in so many comments and emails, I thought that I would share a list of books that I have read in the past year or so that I thought were especially useful and/or enjoyable. I have tried to provide books from different areas to try to provide at least one book that you might find useful or enjoyable. So, with that as the introduction, here are some books that I have recently read that I recommend:
The Infinite Game, by Simon Sinek
The StoryBrand, by Donald Miller
Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou
Life Skills Books
Who Moved My Cheese, by Spenser Johnson
Atomic Habits, by James Clear
The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman
Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
The Body, by Bill Bryson
21 Lessons for the 21st Century, by Huval Noah Harari
The Library Book, by Susan Orlean
Doing Justice, by Preet Bharara
Because tastes in fiction are so different, I hesitate to recommend any fiction books. I enjoy reading historical fiction (David McCullough and John Jakes) and political/espionage books (Tom Clancy). My wife, Yulia, just read The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, and she gives it her highest recommendation. It will be the next fiction book that I read.
If you are a reader and you are looking for a good book to read, I hope that one of these above gives you an idea. If you are not a reader but would like to start, I think any of these books above would be a good read that would be well worth the time it takes to read. Remember, as you read, you are making part of someone else’s experiences and making them your own. And it is this experience that will help make you an effective leader in any organization you are part of.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
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Properly Diversified Investment Portfolio
Any investment adviser will tell you that an investment portfolio needs to be properly diversified. This will help to ensure that your entire portfolio will not go down at the same time. With a diversified portfolio, when one investment is down, other investments will be up, and vice versa. By making certain that all of your investments do not go up and down together, diversification does two things:
- It reduces the chance of having a large decrease in your portfolio value, and
- It reduces the chance of having a large increase in your portfolio value.
Diversification smooths out the highs and lows in the returns of your portfolio.
How To Diversify Our Lives?
Just like an investment portfolio should be diversified, we should also make certain that our own careers and lives are diversified. By this, I mean that we do not want to have the success of our future career to be dependent upon only one factor. Whether it is a key relationship with someone else, or the reliance on a specific skill being needed in the future, or continued employment with a certain company, if your career success is connected to only one factor, you are at great risk. Because if that relationship ends, or that skill is no longer need, then your career will suffer great decline. In your life, if you are dependent on just one thing in order to be happy, you run the risk of great loss in your life. Whether it is your work, a hobby, your spouse, your kids, or anything else that is the only source of your happiness in life, if you have only one area of interest in your life, you are fully dependent on that one thing to be happy. If it is a person (your spouse, for example), your reliance on that person also puts a tremendous amount of stress on them because they are responsible for your happiness.
By having multiple interests and sources of happiness in life, and by having multiple skills and ways that your career can be successful, you can increase your chances that you will have success in your career and happiness in your life. It is unlikely that all of your skills will not be needed in the future or that something will happen to all of your relationships. And with multiple hobbies, relationships, and activities in your life, there will always be some part of your life that will bring you joy and comfort.
Diversification in 2021
As the tumultuous year of 2020 ends and we start 2021, now is a good time to take a look at both our careers and our lives overall and ask ourselves if we are properly diversified. For many of us, 2020 brought us change and challenges that we did not expect when the year started. So, we know that there will be change again in the future – whether it is in 2021 or a bit later. Now is the time to assess whether we have multiple skills and elements in our career that will enable us to survive a change in the company we work for, a change in the industry we work in, or a change in the larger economy. In our personal lives, do we have different activities, relationships, and hobbies so that we do not have to rely on any one thing or person? If we look at this honestly and determine that we are too reliant on one or two skills, people, or relationships in either our career or our personal life, let us make one of our goals for 2021 to be to diversify. This diversification will help us weather whatever it is that 2021 brings to us.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
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