‘Everyone in the industry knows it’: the qualification that helped an accountant land her dream job

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Some people flinch at the prospect of a challenge. Not Fiona Masuku, however. While growing up in Zimbabwe, the 38-year-old developed a fascination with the world of business, inspired by her entrepreneurial grandmother, and a keen enthusiasm for problem solving.

Now, as director of Creative CFO Cape Town, a financial services company that offers strategic tools and services for small and medium-sized businesses, she puts that passion to good use.

“I love solving problems, which is perhaps my greatest strength,” the management accountant tells me from the company’s office in South Africa. “While other people might be presented with a tricky scenario and want to run, I think: ‘Yes, let’s embrace this!’

With her bubbly personality, Masuku also relishes the opportunity to dispel preconceived notions about the profession, for example, that you need to be very serious. “I can still have fun while I crunch numbers,” she says.

As a child, Masuku’s grandmother always taught her to follow her own path. “My three sisters and I were raised by my grandparents, and it was quite a traditional upbringing – my grandfather went to work, while my grandmother looked after us,” she says. “But she was a teacher before she had children, and worked as a part-time tailor, and that spirit of entrepreneurship was alive in us, too.

“She was very open-minded, and encouraged us to do what we love – but at the same time, she wouldn’t accept failure, or watch us wallow in it. She pushed us to be the best we could be, and to be able to take care of ourselves as adults.”

While her sisters gravitated towards medicine and engineering, Masuku knew from an early age that she wanted to work in business and finance.

“Even in high school, I had an inclination towards mathematics, economics and accounting,” she says. “One of my favourite subjects was management of business, and I realised I wanted to get into that space, because it was what I really loved.”

Fiona Masuku: ‘I’m incredibly proud of how far I’ve come.’ Photograph: Louise de Nysschen

Her enjoyment of finding solutions to problems stems from her own personal experiences. “I’ve faced plenty [of problems] in my own life, and if I’d had someone to help me think through them, I would have appreciated it. It made me want to use some of my experiences to help other people.”

Moving from Zimbabwe to South Africa to study for her degree, majoring in statistics, finance, accounting and economics, it was at the University of Cape Town that Masuku first heard of The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants’ (CIMA) internationally recognised finance qualification, which helps people from all backgrounds to follow careers as Chartered Global Management Accountants (CGMA designation holders).

“There was no degree for management accounting at UCT, so my lecturer gave me a list of professional bodies that focused on management accounting – and CIMA was at the top,” Masuku says. “I struggled to pay for my studies, but what was beautiful about CIMA is that I could do it at my own pace, and pay in instalments.

“I also knew that having a designation [from] CIMA would make it easier to work with international clients. Everyone in the industry knows of it, which creates an environment of trust with whoever you’re engaging with – and that’s what really stuck out for me.”

To help fund her studies, Masuku landed a role at Creative CFO. “Although I was working part-time, I was still able to apply practical experience from my CIMA journey,” she says. “I was already getting great feedback from clients, but when I gained my qualification it gave them extra confidence in me, meaning we could attract bigger accounts.”

Shortly before receiving her CGMA designation and becoming a member of CIMA in 2019, Masuku was offered her directorship. Today, her role involves providing financial clarity to SMEs; number-crunching their data to improve efficiency and manage costs; and helping them to ride out financial emergencies, such as the current South African power crisis. And as part-owner of the business, she enjoys applying what she’s learned to the challenges of her new role.

Masuku is also continuing to expand her own CV by helping to set up a CIMA training office at Creative CFO, which gives her the opportunity to mentor and manage trainees.

“Seeing them going through the same journey as me is amazing,” she says. “[Studying with] CIMA creates a connection with the people you work with, starting small conversations that can lead to bigger things. There are a lot of professional designations in accounting, but what I love about the CGMA designation is that it aligns so well with the visions and missions of our business, as well as my own: a world where everyone succeeds.”

Masuku is still grateful that she gets to do what she loves every single day – especially enjoying the challenges. “I don’t end a week without something exploding,” she laughs. “Every day is an opportunity to problem-solve, show people new ways of doing things, and change people’s notions of what being a management accountant is about. It’s been a journey, but I’m incredibly proud of how far I’ve come.”

Find out more about The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants’ courses and qualifications, and how they can help you transform your career in business and finance at cimaglobal.com

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