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The value of the CFO Programme: CIMA members’ perspectives

The CFO Programme from AICPA® & CIMA® offers experienced finance leaders a strategic edge and is an elite gateway to the CGMA® designation. Mark Clayton and Venus Zhao share how the CFO Programme elevated their leadership skills and careers. 

Businesses today need leaders who can inspire and lead those around them during changing times. The CFO Programme from AICPA & CIMA offers a unique opportunity to enhance your credentials and advance your career. 

Mark Clayton, FCMA, CGMA, group chief financial officer of China 2 West Services Ltd., and Venus Zhao, FCMA, CGMA, senior management in charge of investor relations, capital markets, corporate communications and ESG functions for listed companies, share their reasons for joining the CFO Programme and discuss how it has benefited their careers. 

Mark Clayton - CFO

Clayton recognised the programme’s potential to bolster his strategic decision-making. Zhao, a general manager overseeing finance functions, saw it as an opportunity to solidify her expertise in financial management.

What is the CFO programme?

The CFO Programme is an elite gateway to the Chartered Global Management Accountant® (CGMA) designation and CIMA membership for C-level and board-level executives with over a decade of experience in accounting, finance, or business management. 

For executives with practical experience, the CFO Programme is a fast-track route to the CGMA designation. The programme allows candidates to enter at the Strategic Level of the CGMA Professional Qualification and only take the Strategic Case Study Exam, the final capstone exam of the qualification. The curriculum covers key areas, including financial strategy, risk management, and performance management. 

Through the CFO programme, professionals will gain invaluable insights, be able to network with peers, and enhance their strategic decision-making skills. To earn their CGMA designation, professionals must pass the CGMA Strategic Level Case Study Exam and submit their practical experience requirements. 

Leading professionals choose the CFO Programme

Clayton has wanted to become a CIMA member for decades. 

‘I feel proud. After 20 years, I finally did it. The strategic case study exam was hard, but having those letters [CGMA] behind my name makes me happy. It translates into pride, and my output is better now that I have the CGMA designation’, Clayton said. 

Zhao joined the CFO Programme to enhance her strategic financial management ability and gain a globally recognised designation that would portray her expertise in finance. 

‘Given my extensive experience in the managerial role as general manager of the Hong Kong office and of capital markets and corporate communications, I saw the CGMA designation as an opportunity to develop my capabilities in these areas’, she said.  

Venus Zhao - General Manager

The CFO Programme equips executives with key skills 

Executives have always been busy, but the business landscape now presents new challenges to financial managers worldwide. 

The CFO Programme enhances business acumen to drive growth, equipping executives with the skills needed to navigate the complexities of modern business.  

‘The environment we operate in now is a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) environment. As a result, executives have never been busier’, Clayton explained.  

Whether the content is on financial accounting, technical knowledge, strategy or operations, the learnings are applied to real-life experiences. 

The Strategic Level Case Study Exam focuses on applying knowledge to real business scenarios, testing your ability to think strategically and provide solutions that add value to a company. 

‘The Strategic Case Study is a challenge, and for good reason. It has taught me a lot about the challenges my colleagues and the business face’, Clayton said. 

Enhancing strategic decision-making

Strategic decision-making is crucial for executives. Zhao and Clayton say the CFO Programme has enhanced their strategic decision-making skills. 

‘I look at decisions more strategically. I consider good governance and its impact on business decision-making’, Clayton said.  

Zhao added, ‘The strategic management skills and advanced financial analysis techniques I acquired have enabled me to drive significant improvements in corporate finance strategies, investor relations, compliance, corporate communications, wealth management, and environmental, social, and governance [ESG] initiatives’.

The CFO Programme has contributed to Zhao’s professional development, giving her a deeper understanding of advanced financial strategies and learning to apply them in her current role. ‘The emphasis on practical, real-world applications has enhanced my decision-making skills and ability to lead complex financial projects’. 

Through the programme, she gained insights and knowledge that have enriched her work in establishing a capital market financing platform and leading ESG initiatives at listed companies. 

‘The CFO Programme has equipped me with a robust framework for navigating the complexities of global financial markets. This has been invaluable in my roles across different sectors and regions’, Zhao added.

Join a vast professional network. 

The CFO Programme provides exclusive access to global networking opportunities with C-level peers. The network and resources AICPA & CIMA provide influenced Zhao’s decision to enrol in the CFO Programme. 

The network offers advantages for its members in Asia, such as social events that benefit its members professionally. 

‘Now that I am a CIMA member, I’ve been introduced to the CIMA member network in Hong Kong and invited to CPD events and social events, including community service, sports training sessions and competitions, and charity events. It is great to have this network for both business and community aspects. It’s good to have a network to bounce ideas off’, Clayton said. 

Advice for future CFO Programme participants 

‘The CFO Programme is comprehensive and requires a significant investment of time and effort. It’s crucial to be clear about how it fits into your professional development plan’, Zhao said. 

‘The field of finance is evolving, and continuous learning is essential. Use the resources and ongoing professional development opportunities from AICPA & CIMA to stay updated with the latest trends and advancements in the profession’.

She advises fellow professionals to harness networking opportunities by engaging with participants, alumni, and business and industry experts to build a strong professional network. She also recommends applying the knowledge and skills to their current roles to enhance performance and show the programme’s value to their organisations.

‘I did it with a busy job and a one-year-old baby. It’s one module and one exam. I also saw how beneficial it was to put my finance manager through it. She sits on her case study exam tomorrow, and with the knowledge, we can bounce ideas off each other. 

‘Stop considering and just do it’, Clayton advised. 

Follow Clayton and Zhao’s footsteps and attain the CGMA designation through the CFO Programme


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