Saturday, 10 November 2012

Where To Hold SLP Year 2 Group Meetings?

One issue our group in year 2 of the CMA SLP had was where to hold our group meetings. We met every single weekend, sometimes both Saturday and Sunday. We tried various locations and here are some of the pros and cons that we found on the various locations and what we eventually settled on:

Coffee Shops
We tried meeting at coffee shops but that was a fail. Even though there are many locations to choose from which was great, we had issues with no available plugs, small tables where we were not able to fit all of our laptops and notes, and sometimes not enough free tables at all. We gave up on this fast.

Reserving Public Library Rooms
For a while we would meet at public libraries, where a member would book a room. It was a great set up. Large conference style table, a board where we could write things out, a lot of space for notes and laptops and many plugs. But the amount of time that we were able to reserve the rooms for was limited and we were not allowed to book a room back to back and often we would run out of time and have to leave even though we still had things to address so we had to look for another option. Another con was that since the room was in the Library (and it had poor sound insulation), we were often reminded to keep it down, which was hard when we were having (sometimes heated) debates about topics.

Meeting at a University
Our CMA SLP used to take place at a University for a while, before moving to the downtown location. So one day we just went for a walk throughout the university building to look for some available free space and we found one. Universities sometimes have areas with some tables and chairs and plugs so students can study/spend time there between classes. This was working well but the con was that we had to pay for parking each time we were there and since we met a lot this added up quickly. 

Meeting at Someone's Home
We tried meeting in someone's home. This was a great option in that we had plenty of space, we were not limited in time, free parking, snacks available, etc. The con was that someone's family home would get taken over for hours and other family members may not be too happy about this. If you have a large home with a separate area where you can accommodate this without disrupting your spouse/kids/family then I think this is the best option. Group members would bring snacks to share and I think this helped foster a more friendly group environment - the last thing you want is to argue with a bunch of hungry and tired people.  
Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid

Sunday, 19 August 2012

How To Prepare For CMA SLP Year 2

I have received several emails as well as a forum question on how to prepare for Year 2 of the CMA Strategic Leadership Program (SLP). Looks like this is something that quite a few people are wondering about so I put together this post to share my view on how to prepare for Year 2 of the CMA SLP program: 

I would be one of those to tell you 'enjoy your summer and when Year 2 of the CMA SLP program starts, you will review and refresh yourself on anything that you feel you may have forgotten and catch up on things you may not know'.
But if I were really set on reviewing things during the summer this is what I would do:

  • I would review all the various case components (situational analysis, NPV, recommendations, action plan, situational analysis, SWOT, etc.) as well as quantitative methods like payback period, IRR, variances and general concepts like the value chain and balanced scorecard. I wouldn't study these in depth, rather I would just review these before the start of year 2 to make sure that I remember and understand what these are and how to approach them properly.
  • I would get myself comfortable with powerpoint (creating slides, visuals, graphs, links, etc.) for all the presentations that you will be doing in year
  • I would also get comfortable with excel for all the quants you will be doing. The quants in year 2 are more detailed and lengthy and being comfortable with excel could help you streamline these quants.
  • I would practice presenting and speaking in front of a crowd as you will be doing a lot of that.


Wednesday, 1 August 2012

My Approach to Handling The Backgrounder

When you receive your backgrounder you will have 48 hours to do whatever you want with it. 48 hours seems like a lot but it is not so I think it is important to have a strategy for how to approach the backgrounder and what to do with it so that you do not get overwhelmed and forget to do something important in preparation for the case exam.

This was my approach to the backgrounder:

Day 1
  • Read the backgrounder
  • Re-read the backgrounder
  • Make note on the key individuals and get familiar with their names and roles
  • Re-read backgrounder again and make notes/highlight key information
  • Make sure I understand what the company does
  • Read and re-read the SWOT to get familiar with all the points
  • Tackle financials - crunch every single possible ratio that I can think of and make sure I know what each of the ratios mean as well as memorize the ratio formulas
  • Review the resulting ratios and note anything that stands out 
  • Do a situational analysis for the backgrounder (SWOT - try to find additional points, stakeholder preferences, constraints, etc.)
Day 2
  • Read the backgrounder and SWOT twice (the goal is to have all the backgrounder info so solidified and clear in your head so that you will reduce the number of times you may need to refer to the backgrounder copy during the case exam)
  • Review the situational analysis created on Day 1 and note if anything needs to be added or modified
  • Review financials I crunched on Day 1 to make sure you did not make any errors
  • Study the ratios and what they are indicating about the company - choose a handful of ratios that are the most relevant and/or are showing something that needs to be noted and perhaps addressed (ie. debt to equity ratio is trending up)
  • Review everything that I have done so far and study it as much as possible - by the end of this day the goal is for me to be VERY comfortable with everything in the backgrounder.

Share what your strategy on handling the backgrounder is so that other students can benefit and get good ideas.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Calculating Present Value, Future Value and Payment In Excel - Formulas

When writing the CMA Case Exam or the CMA Board Report you can (and should) use formulas to help you compute Present, Future and Payment values. After posting my NPV Template where I utilize these formulas, I have received some email questions about setting up these Time Value of Money formulas (present value, future value and payment) in excel. I put the above together so that you can see how I calculate these values in excel, using formulas. Let me know if you have any questions on the above.

  • rate is the discount rate per period
  • nper is the number of periods
  • PMT is the payment per period
  • PV is the present value
  • type indicates whether it is a regular annuity or an annuity due (whether payment is due at the end of a period or at the beginning)
  • FV is future value

If you have other questions on excel (pivot tables, formulas, formating, etc. post them in the comments and I will do a post on these).


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Switching Jobs Before You Become a CMA

In one of my previous job positions part of my responsibilities were to interview and hire staff for my finance team (in a large Canadian Organization). Through that experience I have learned a lot about the hiring process, what having a designation can mean, and how to leverage it. I wanted to share a few tips/notes that I have picked up through my experience so that it may help you in your job search (I will be adding more job related posts from time to time if there is interest in them):

Applying for a new job while still a CMA student:
Some people do not apply to jobs requiring a CMA/CA/CGA designation because they are still students of these associations and have not yet attained the designation itself. In reality, I found that even though an employer may state that a designation is required, they may consider a strong candidate if they are not yet designated but are instead in the process of obtaining the designation. Do do not shy away from a role that you feel is a good fit for you, just because it asks for a designation.

What to write in you resume:
Even if you have not yet obtained a designation, make sure to include in your resume (as a focal point!) that you are in the process of obtaining the designation. Include the estimated date of when you expect to become a CMA. I found this to be a strong statement about a candidate and even as a student, it may help you stand out and will speak a lot about your character and ambitions.  

However, do not just simply write CMA if you have not yet obtained the designation. This is misleading and if I would have invited someone for an interview and they would then 'clarify' that they are still a student, it would be a deal breaker for me.

In the interview they will likely ask you to describe examples for various scenarios/situations or to give example of when and how you have used certain concepts or tools. If they ask you to talk about your experience with a tool/concept that you have not used at work but came across in the CMA process, it can be helpful to draw on that and use that as your example (i.e. if you are asked about your experience analyzing large projects, you can discuss the NPV, cost benefit analysis, etc. that you do regularly for complex business cases as part of your CMA SLP) Real work experience and examples would be better but don't forget that the experience you gain through completing the designation is also valuable.

How Much Money To Ask For
This is the million dollar question. You will be a CMA soon and want to earn a salary as one, but you have to keep in mind that you are still a CMA student, not yet a CMA. In my experience it is important to research the appropriate range of salaries to avoid low balling or over shooting, both of which I found to be huge turn offs from candidates. If I saw a candidate low balling a salary, it made me wonder what was wrong with them. If they were asking for too much, I would think that they are either over qualified or just full of themselves. Either way, there would be no interview. Know your worth, and ask for an appropriate amount. Do not be scared to ask for what you are as long as you are realistic. Just because you obtained or are in the process of obtaining a CMA designation, it does not mean that you can now start applying for Management roles at top salaries - it is generally a combination of your experience with your education.

I hope you find this helpful. Let me know what questions you have and I will reply in the comments or write another post.

Image courtesy of

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Notes on Non For Profits (NFP)

When I was in the SLP program we were thrown a Non For Profit (NFP) practice case and it threw everyone off. We all thought 'Non for profit - I guess that means that its not about financial performance but rather about the qualitative aspects instead' - we thought wrong. We had a discussion with out moderators about doing a case on NFP vs a regular for profit (FP) company and it turns out that we should be approaching both in the same way essentially.

Should you calculate NPV, pro-forma, ratios, etc.? Yes!

Why? -- Because any company, whether for profit or not, needs money in order to continue operations. A non for profit will not be much use to the community if it has no funds to operate and has to close its doors. Also, a NFP needs money not only to maintain operations but also to expand and do more projects. That is why financials for a NFP are very important. Hence, you will still need to do a financial analysis and calculate NPV, pro-forma, etc. for a NFP company.

Just like with FP companies, you will look at both quantitative as well as qualitative aspect to decide on which alternative should be pursued. One thing to remember is that part of a FP company's mandate is to maximize/increase profitability, however a NFP company would not likely have this as the mandate, however they still need to be profitable to keep operating and to expand.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Good Luck and a Note on SLP Year 2 & The Board Report

With the exam coming up tomorrow I wanted to wish everyone Good Luck! I hope that sharing what I learned through my experience will help you pass the exam. Don't stress, just take a deep breath and do your best (and get plenty of sleep tonight!)

Good Luck to all the readers of this Blog!

A quick note on SLP Year 2 and the Board Report:

I will be expanding this blog to include posts relating to year 2 of the SLP, the Board Report and the Presentation. I will share my personal experience and will include posts on what I learned through this experience.
There will also be a section in the forum (already created) for discussing approaches/format/strategy/etc. for writing and presenting the board report as well as the group cases. (you should not discuss actual case details).

Bookmark or follow this blog so that you remember to check out the information for year 2 of the SLP once it is up.

Thank you and Good Luck!


Friday, 27 April 2012

Horizontal vs Vertical Financial Analysis

I was asked by a student to explain and give examples of the difference between horizontal and vertical financial analysis:

Horizontal Financial Analysis 
Looks at year over year trends.

  • Year over year sales growth
  • Year over year trends (ie. debt to equity ratio, liquidity ratios, etc.)

Vertical Financial Analysis 
Profitability analysis is an example of a vertical financial analysis - Contribution margin, profit margin and gross profit rates. Here  we look at how a financial statement item relates to another within the same year.

  • Net income as a % of sales
  • Gross Profit as a % of sales
  • Expenses as a % of Net Income
The two types of analysis go hand in hand as we often look at how a company's various components are performing in relation to key financial figures like sales or net income, but we also look at how this has been trending throughout the years to get a complete picture.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Quantitative Analysis for Strategic Alternatives

There are various tools that should be applied in the CMA case exam as part of the quantitative analysis of strategic alternatives. It is important to calculate not only the NPV for the strategic alternatives but to apply a few other tools in addition to NPV for a complete analysis.  Below are some notes on my preferred quantitative analysis tools and when/how to use them:

Net Present Value (NPV) should be calculated for every strategic alternative if possible. See my post 'NPV Tips and Template' for a complete discussion of how to approach the NPV calculation.

Financing Required vs. Financing Available
It is important to calculate and demonstrate whether there is enough financing available for the strategic alternatives.
Constraints Met
You should calculate whether your strategic alternatives meet the constraints provided in the case. (ie. bank covenants, capacity constraints, etc.. If you do not have time to calculate this for every strategic alternative, be sure that you do the calculation at least for the strategic alternative that you end up recommending. 

Sensitivity Analysis
This is the easiest and quickest calculation and I always did this for at least one strategic alternative. What I do is calculate NPV for an alternative as usual, and then copy and paste this NPV two time. Then you end up with three sets of the same NPV - then, for the second and third NPV I would change my assumptions so that I would end up with the following set of three NPV calculations: conservative assumptions, optimistic assumptions and your normal/most likely assumptions. Make sure to tie this into the case via the analysis of the alternatives or in the recommendations.

Profitability Analysis
If there is no major investment for an alternative, I generally like to calculate profitability for 3-5 years. I show the after tax revenues vs expenses and identify whether the alternative generates a profit or loss through the years (don't forget to include any one time costs in the appropriate years).

Payback Period
This is my lease favorite quantitative tool but if you like, you may throw this one in as it doesnt usually take too much time to calculate. The payback period is calculated as follows:

Cost of the strategic alternative (cost of the investment) 
Annual incremental after-tax cash inflows

Keep in mind that payback period ignores the time value of money and generally assumes that annual cash inflows are the same each year. 

Image: nuttakit /

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

NPV Tips and Template

~This template is now available for download in excel format so that you can see all the links and formulas: NPV Template ~

~This template is now available for download in excel format so that you can see all the links and formulas: NPV Template ~

This is the template that I used during the CMA Case Exam. I typed it in quickly for the first alternative and then copied and pasted it for all the other alternatives. This way, as I was approaching each alternative, I just had to fill in the data and all the calculations were already set up. This helped me streamline and speedup the (Net Present Value) NPV process and to not forget any of the NPV components. 

Below is a discussion of each of the above components as well as some general guidelines for NPV calculations:

General notes:
  • Unless otherwise suggested, calculate a 5 year NPV with deemed disposition at year 5 (hence the salvage value at year 5). 
  • Try not to calculate anything using the calculator. Use the securexam's mock excel so that if you need to change assumptions or fix errors all you have to do is change one number and everything gets recalculated for you.
  • Remember to use incremental after tax cash flows.
  • Financing costs are not relevant to NPV and should not be included (ie. the interest that will have to be paid for the line of credit that will fund the investment is not something that is relevant to the NPV calculation).
  • Always state all of your assumptions clearly and show an audit trail.

Discussion of 'a' through 'f':
Note: In the above template and for the purpose of this example I assumed $40 million investment, $2 million salvage value, tax rate of 38% , a CCA rate of 15% and a discount rate of 8%.

a) This is the total of the one time/upfront investments that are required for the capital project. Remember to show this as a negative figure to ensure that the total sum of all the NPV components is correct. 

b) This is the tax shield that we get from the acquired capital. Use the correct CCA rate depending on the asset. If the investment consists of several assets, each with a different CCA rate, than you will need to calculate the tax shield for each asset separately. 

c) Here we calculate the present value of the salvage. We know that salvage value in 5 years (remember deemed disposition) is $2 million but for NPV we need to calculate the present value of this $2 million. 

d) There are two components to this part. 
  • First, we calculate the tax shield that we will loose due to the deemed disposition in year 5. In 'b' we calculated the total tax shield for the investment assuming no disposition due to the nature of the CCA tax shield formula (it calculates tax shield for the life of the asset). However, since NPV assumes disposition in year 5, you have to take into account the tax shield that is being lost due to the deemed disposition of the capital. (ie. if we bought a machine that would yield a tax shield of $10 over 8 years, and then we decide to sell it in year 5, we will not get all the tax shield from it as we sold it before we had a chance to benefit from all the tax shield). 
  • The tax shield lost calculated so far is a figure as at year 5 (its a Future Value for us) and therefore we now need to discount it and calculate its Present Value. The second component is where we take the FV of the tax shield lost and calculate the corresponding PV. 
e) This is the Present Value of the incremental cash flows. Remember to use the after tax figure. 

f) This is the sum of all the components that shows the NPV for the investment. Remember that an NPV of $0 is good - this means that the desired return rate has been achieved. 
~This template is now available for download in excel format so that you can see all the links and formulas: NPV Template ~

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Key Elements of Convincing Strategic Recommendations

When putting together the Strategic recommendations for the May 2012 CMA Case Exam the key to remember is that it MUST be convincing. This is not an area to analyze rather an area to state, with authority and supporting backup, what the company should do and why.

Some students stumble in the recommendation section because they fail to convince the reader that their recommendations will in fact address the strategic issue. Students should not word the recommendations in a very weak and uncertain tone, in essence showing the reader that they are not sure of their recommendation. Some also forget to address any new risks that may arise due to the implementation of a strategic alternative (think cons that were listed under the strategic alternative that you are recommending). The following are elements that help create strategic recommendations that are strong, convincing and complete:

  • Show that constraints are met
  • Show that sufficient financing is available
  • If appropriate, recommend only one alternative to avoid calculating the effect of one on the other (unless only one is not reasonable)
  • Indicate how the recommended strategy takes advantage of strengths and opportunities while mitigating weaknesses and avoiding threats
  • State how it will allow the company to address/resolve its overall strategic issue (ie. ‘I recommend that you buy the warehouse to expand into Canada as it will allow you to increase profits as well as market share).
  • Rationalize based on pros and cons (re-worded into several overriding reasons) - Highlight the top pros for the recommended alternative as well as state how you will mitigate/address any cons associated with this alternative. For any cons that are not mitigated you should state two over-riding benefits that still keep this alternative as the right option. (ie. Even though expanding into outerwear may increase the threat from competitor A, the NPV which was calculated using conservative assumptions is positive and this alternative is in line with stakeholder preferences and capitalizes on the company’s strengths)
  • Do NOT say ‘I recommend none’
  • Do not be ambiguous. Use strong and convincing language.
  • Cover all of the alternatives that are not recommended as well – state for each why they should not go with it. (Ie. Even though expanding into dog food is in line with the company’s strengths, this alternative has a negative NPV and is not in line with stakeholder preferences).
  • Provide a brief Pro-Forma – if you do not have time for a detailed one, include very basic pro forma statements as appropriate to the situation (ie. Sales, expenses, Net Income – for 3 years, to show that your recommendations will have a positive impact on the company’s financials) – use ball park figures derived from your quantitative analysis, do not obsess about accuracy, it is better to have ball park #s than none at all
  • State consistency with mission or provide a revised mission
  • Propose a Balanced Scorecard

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Notes on Analysis of Strategic Alternatives

Aim for analyzing at least 3 strategic alternatives in-depth

Pros and Cons
  • Pros and cons should come from information in your situational analysis (swot, constraints, stakeholder preferences, available financing, etc.) – if you can come up with a pro or con that is not related to anything in your situational analysis that often means the situational analysis is not complete and you may need to add to it.
  • Word the pros and cons so that it is easy for the marker to see the integration (i.e. state that it mitigates a risk/meets a specific constraint/is not in line with a stakeholder preference, etc.)
  • Consider and state the implications of one issue or alternative on another (i.e. Expanding into Canada would take up all the available financing and not allow for any other strategic alternatives.)
  • Provide a quick and simple evaluation criteria matrix for each alternative and summarize it before  the overall strategic recommendations – this will help with bias issues.
  • Provide a brief conclusion at the end of each alternative.

Quantitative Implications
  • Not too much time or detail – ballpark if out of time. The key is to be reasonable and to show that you have incorporated and took into account the key information.
  • Calculate NPV for all the strategic alternatives (if possible)
  • State your assumptions - expect the case to include ambiguous and useless info. 
  • NPV should be somewhere around the 0$ mark – if it is positive in the millions then it is probably wrong (review your assumptions - are they reasonable?).
  • Do not recommend an alternative with a negative NPV. At the end of the day, any company, a NFP as well, needs $ to survive.
  • Calculate and identify wether constraints are met and if there is sufficient financing available.
  • List under Pros or Cons (if you crunched #s but did not include them in the analysis, you will not get marks for it)
  • Don’t forget to link it to the right appendix (ie. ‘See Appendix A’)
  • Remember to use after tax cash flows for NPV

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Effective Approach To Operational Issues

Operational Issues are not a deal breaker in the exam but you can earn some easy and quick marks here as there is likely minimal if any calculations required and a paragraph to solve 3-4 operational issues can earn you some quick marks.

There may be 10 operational issues in the May 2012 CMA Case Exam and you will not have the time to solve all of them, which is fine. As long as you address the main 3-4 operational issues you should be fine. However, you should still identify all of the operational issues in the case. 

Properly Addressing Operational Issues in the 2012 CMA Case Exam:
Have a section in your report entitled 'Operational issues'. Under this heading you should state that several operational issues have been identified and state which appendix these can all be found in (in that appendix you should put down in point form all the operational issues that you were able to identify).
You should then state that the three (or four - depending on how many you have time to address) top priority operational issues are discussed below.

Address these top priority issues by:

  1. Briefly identifying the issues
  2. Discussing what may happen if not resolved/what will happen if an improvement is implemented, and
  3. Resolving them (make sure to mention who in the organization should be responsible for the resolution/implementation).
Operational issues are often weaknesses/risks that were not resolved through the strategic alternatives, or opportunities for organizational improvement.

Examples of operational issues:

  • Outdated/inefficient IT systems
  • High AR/Inventory
  • Poor internal controls
  • High employee turnover
  • Poor employee morale
Image: jannoon028 /

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Strategic Issue vs Strategic Alternatives

Students often loose track of what the main issue is. Many people often read the case and right away write down each of the strategic alternatives as the strategic issues, which is not wrong in itself as each of the strategic alternatives is a strategic issue in a way but these are not the main issue that the company is facing. All of these strategic issues have something in common, and once you identify it, you will know what the main strategic issue is.

Examples of Strategic Alternatives:
  • Diversify into health food products
  • Expand into Europe
  • Offer a new brand
  • Introduce a new service
The main Strategic Issue may be to 'increase market share and profitability' and these strategic alternatives are the potential alternatives that are available for consideration in order to increase market share and profitability and hence address the main strategic issue.

You can look at it as the Strategic Issue representing the problem at hand, with the strategic alternatives representing the possible solutions.

In the 2012 CMA Case Exam, identify the Main Strategic Issue and then provide 4 Strategic Alternatives. It is important to list the Strategic Alternatives in priority order, starting with the most significant alternative.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Essential Components of a Situational Analysis

The Situational Analysis is the single most important component of the 2012 CMA Case Exam. If you get this wrong and don't complete a proper and complete situational analysis, your entire case report will be based on incomplete or erroneous information. The analysis of the strategic alternatives as well as the recommendations are both based on the situational analysis - you will need to integrate the pros, cons and recommendations to the situational analysis. If you get it wrong, your integration, pros, cons and recommendations will all be poor.

The following are the essential components that make up a good situational analysis:

List in point form, and under the appropriate headings, every single Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat that you can identify in the 2012 CMA Case Exam Additional Information and Backgrounder. A preliminary SWOT has already been provided so there is no need to repeat points that were already included in the provided SWOT, but make sure to add a comment stating that this SWOT analysis is in addition to the one already provided.

Make sure you understand the difference between Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats:
  • Strengths are internal (i.e. Experienced management, established brand, good reputation)
  • Weaknesses are internal (i.e. High Employee turnover, poor morale, declining sales)
  • Opportunities are external and relate to the industry as a whole (i.e. Strong economy, increasing incomes within the relevant demographic group, weakening competitors, bigger market)
  • Threats are external and relate to the industry as a whole (i.e. Increasing competition, poor economy, changing consumer tastes)
Internal Analysis
  • Briefly discuss the Strengths and Weaknesses that were identified in the SWOT and what this means to the company.
  • Stakeholder Preferences - Identify every single stakeholder and their respective preferences. List them in order of importance.
  • Constraints - Identify all relevant constraints. Two main types of constraints: Financial - i.e. maintain a certain Debt to Equity ratio, meet specified bank covenants. Non-financial - i.e. limited production capacity, limited shipping capacity
  • Goals - i.e. sales levels to achieve, market share to capture
  • Uncertainties - i.e. unstable economy, weather
  • Risks - i.e. potential key employee resignations, strikes
  • Mission and/or Vision Statement - If it is implied, put it into a proper Mission Statement format. If it is stated - don't just copy it into your report, be should to critique it.
  • Internal Financial Analysis - Do not spend too much time on this. It is easy to get lost in calculating dozes of ratios and discussing them but you will be loosing precious time and gaining minimal marks for such a thorough analysis – focus only on financial analysis that will help with the main issues. Do a thorough financial analysis on the backgrounder and use these result to help you decide which ratios/areas to focus on once you get the 2012 CMA Case Exam Additional Information.
  • Financing Available - Identify the financing available - list the amounts, conditions and sources of such financing (i.e. $2,000,000 through a line of credit at 2%, or $500,000 Bank Loan for capital projects)
External Analysis
  • Briefly discuss the Opportunities and Threats that were identified in the SWOT and what this means to the company.
  • Identify both the Key Success Factors (KSF) and the Key Risk Factors (KRF)
  • Industry Assessment - provide a brief assessment of the Industry and what this means to the company (i.e. Industry financial performance trends, key competitors, potential replacement products, changing trends)

Friday, 20 January 2012

Key to Effective Reading & Planning - CMA Case Exam

Reading the report is time consuming and often by the time you are done, you remember very little and are faced with a report full of endless highlights and side notations which are overwhelming. You end up sifting through the whole case again and again each time you are looking for relevant information relating to alternatives, swot, recommendations, etc. Often key facts that you marked in the case are forgotten and never even make it to the body of the report.

Try using the following steps - I have tutored numerous students using this approach and their feedback was unanimous - they were amazed at just how much time was saved and at how much more complete their report was.
  1. Read the CMA Case Exam Additional Information very quickly once to get the overall idea of what you are dealing with
  2. Open SecureExam and in the Word portion type up the complete outline with every single heading that you will need (i.e. Introduction, Strengths, Constraints, KSF, KRF, Financing Available, Strategic Alternatives, pros, cons, etc.) - do it in the proper order and do not miss any headings
  3. Read the CMA Case Exam Additional Information for the second time but this time, do it thoroughly and as you identify each and every piece of information that is relevant to the case report (pros, cons, constraints, mission, stakeholder preferences, alternatives, strengths, threats, etc.) enter it right away under the appropriate heading - do this as you are reading the CMA Case Exam Additional Information, do not wait to enter this info into the report until after you finished reading as you will likely forget to include key facts.
This way by the time you are done going over the CMA Case Exam Additional Information for the second time, you will already have a large portion of the case exam already complete - sections like constraints, stakeholder preferences, SWOT, Pros and Cons will already be filled out in SecureExam in the headings that you have created earlier. Doing this also reduces the chance that you miss or forget information. See - you just earned marks and you didn't even have to start calculating or analyzing anything yet!

Image: graur razvan ionut /

Monday, 16 January 2012

Top 8 Easily Avoidable Mistakes - CMA Case Exam

Very often marks are lost due to silly mistakes. In the CMA Case Exam every mark counts so I compiled a few reminders to help you avoid losing marks on the top 8 easily avoidable mistakes:
  1. Don’t  skip over any area - cover each area to grab marks in as many places as possible by using an outline. To avoid forgetting a section of the case report, the moment the exam starts, type out an outline with ALL the relevant headings (Constraints, KSF, KRF, Key Stakeholder Preferences, Financing Available, etc.) into SecureExam. Now all you need to worry about is filling the headings with content and you will have on-screen prompts for all that you need to complete. 
  2. State all of your assumptions - and I mean ALL of them. When in doubt, state your assumption. I recommend that for every appendix you include a section titled 'assumptions', that will be your reminder and will prompt you to list and state your assumptions.
  3. Avoid being biased - After writing out all the pros and cons, review them to make sure that you do not have any alternatives where there is a big discrepancy between the number of pros and cons (i.e. 8 pros and 2 cons). If you find that you do have an unbalanced analysis, go back to your situational analysis and to the info on the alternative and review to either identify additional cons or pros or verify that you included appropriate ones and remove if necessary to ensure that the final product has a balance between pros and cons.
  4. Address the right audience - write the report to the right audience. You are not writing it to your CMA moderator or to the CMA marker. The case will specify who you are  writing as and who to (usually your audience is the board of directors but not always)
  5. Check your appendix references - include references to the right appendices in the body of your report. Do not make the mistake of directing the marker to the wrong appendix.
  6. Do not waste time on that you will not use in the case - you will not get any marks for appendices that were never used/referenced within the body of your report.
  7. If you identify an issue, make sure to resolve it -  in addressing any of the issues, don’t just say that the issue “needs to be resolved” or “further investigated” 
  8. Use proper names for management in the report - do not use first or last names only, do not misspell names and remember to capitalize properly. i.e. Do not refer to ‘John Zerga’ as ‘john’ or ‘zerga’ or 'Zorga', rather use proper naming such as 'Mr. Zerga' or 'John Zerga'
Do you have any other examples of silly mistakes that can be easily avoided?

Image: ningmilo /

Friday, 13 January 2012

Timeline Pitfalls to Avoid - 2012 CMA Case Exam

One of the biggest concerns while writing the 2012 CMA Case Exam is the four hour time limit. Everyone could get an AE if they had the weekend to do the case exam but you are limited to 4 hours during which you need to read the case, analyze the information, compute ratios, alternatives, constraints, financing limitations, and pro-forma as well as compose a solid case report to display it all. A lot of students get caught up in certain case aspects and spend a disproportional amount of time on it (disproportional to the amount of marks that can be obtained in that section).

I have observed that most students spend a lot of time doing the situational analysis as well as the quantitative analysis. While both are important, spending 3 hours on an NPV calculation leaves little time to the rest of the report, and there is a limit on how many marks you can get for the perfect NPV. The key is for the effort and time to be appropriate and balanced. To achieve this, I recommend using the following timeline that allows for an adequate and appropriate amount of time on each category.

Suggested timeline that worked for me and others:
  1. Reading Additional Info & Situational Analysis (SWOT, constraints, Ratios, etc.) – 75 minutes
  2. Identification and Analysis of Strategic alternatives (Pros, Cons, NPV, etc.) – 75 minutes (no more than 45 out of these 75 minutes should be spent on calculations for alternatives)
  3. Strategic recommendations – 30 minutes
  4. Operational issues – 20 minutes
  5. Implementation plan – 20 minutes
  6. Intro/conclusion/cover page/executive summary/overall review – 20 minutes
Let me know if you have specific questions about the timeline. I plan on posting in more detail about each of these case sections in the future.

Image: Arvind Balaraman /

Friday, 6 January 2012

About Me

Hello CMA Case Exam writers! 

I am a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) that went through the SLP program several years ago. Having gone through the program myself and by talking with various other CMAs and CMA students I have compiled various strategic tips that helped me and others pass the CMA SLP program successfully. I will be posting and sharing my tips and suggestions as well as answering your questions on how to approach writing the CMA Case Exam and hope that it will help you pass the program.

While completing the program myself it always amazed me that students had nowhere to go to online where they could ask questions about case writing strategy and bounce ideas off of each other or better yet, off of someone who has been there and knows the ins and outs of how to write the exam successfully. This blog is not for discussing the details of individual cases, rather it is about case writing strategy geared towards helping students pass the CMA Case Exam. 

Please note that my posts and my comments on this blog are simply based on my own views and experiences.

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