Ad Astra Per Aspera

When I was in college, I am always fascinated by this Latin phrase engraved over one of our University’s structures, “Ad Astra Per Aspera”. When I saw the phrase, I immediately looked for its meaning, “to the stars through difficulties”. I realized that it is not one ordinary Latin jargon but one that inspires someone who reads and understands it. At that moment, my story of journeying towards the brightest stars commenced.

I graduated in college last April 2014 at the Cagayan State University in Tuguegarao City and passed the CPA board exams the same year emerging as one of the toppers. I still held into that phrase, but this time on a different tone, I think I have already reached the stars because I courageously faced the difficulties. I then joined the workforce as an auditor in Punongbayan and Araullo. A realization hit me, that even after graduating with Latin honors and topping the licensure exams, it feels like it is not enough. With the advent of the ASEAN integration as well as the technological disruptions in the labor market where robots are beginning to take the place of humans, it may already be necessary to equip myself with some other qualifications and credentials. However, because I wanted to first earn a living for myself and for my family, I opted to just sleep over it.

Fast forward, in early 2016, I came across FB posts showing a number of fresh graduates and even professionals passing the CMA exams. I contacted one of my friends (who is already a CMA) and he introduced me to Sir Angel Secerio of Insights Financial, the largest CMA review center in the Philippines. With my eagerness to pursue additional credential, I asked him a lot of questions regarding the CMA certification which he patiently and generously responded. However, I was distraught when I learned about the cost of the program (though Sir Angel offered me a discount and instalment payment option plan) and another thing, I still didn’t have one of the requirements to take the exam – a passport. So I decided not pursue for the meantime, but without throwing away that desire to obtain the title.

In 2017, my present employer, Bank of Makati, offered me a sponsorship for a certification (but not the CMA) and without hesitation, I gladly accepted. That same year, I earned the Certified Financial Consultants (CFC) credential.

But my desire to become a CMA still remains intact. In fact I had been an avid follower of the Facebook page of Insights Financial where they always share posts of successful examinees and I do always read testimonies and success stories of the passers in their website. Then last May 2018, my boss, Sir Rowell Umali, made an unsolicited recommendation to us (I and my friend Harvee Salvador) to perhaps try the CMA exam. Of course I was surprised and at the same time thrilled and excited. The title I have been yearning for more than 3 years is already coming to light. We drafted and submitted an intent letter to our President, Sir Luis Chua, showing our eagerness to pursue CMA and requesting for the Bank’s support which he gladly approved. To that, I express my most sincere gratitude to my very considerate and generous bosses in Bank of Makati.

And my journey towards the CMA certification begins.

But before that, it is also worth mentioning that a few months back, in March 2018, I have submitted an application for a Master’s degree in Management at the University of the Philippines- Manila (UPM). Passed the admissions exam last June 2018 and attended classes starting August.

During those months, my life was very difficult. Juggling between my: work– where the last semester of the year is the busiest because of the budgeting and planning season and the unit I am heading is the overall in charge; study for my Masters– Saturday class, studying in UP is a no joke as lots of readings and research papers are required and we also have to attend events and colloquiums outside the classroom, we were tasked to prepare Management Research Papers and a Strategic Management Paper of our respective organizations and do a book review of business strategy books; review for the CMA– I have to read the thousand-pages book of Wiley, attend live review sessions either in UST or in Insights Center in Makati during Sundays (thank you to the Insights Team!) and answer tons of CMA online problems (more or less 4,000 problems for both parts), have to memorize concepts and terms to prepare for the essay part of the exam, not to mention that I am stranger to some of the CMA topics such as US GAAP, Standards for Internal Audit and Risk Management and some foreign laws (Sarbanes Oxley Act, Foreign Corrupt Practice Act, to name a few); and lastly my personal life. It was really very hard and taxing.

For more than 8 months, I had to make sure I am on track of everything. Work demands are met, research paper and homeworks for my Masters are submitted on time and the CMA exam preparation is on track as Sir Angel would always ask me for an update how well am I doing with my preparation. I read the Wiley book in the morning at the office before office hours or if we need to submit a paper for my Masters I have to do that first. Use 30 minutes of my lunchbreak time to answer a couple of CMA problems, sometimes have to render overtime at the office. I read Wiley flashcards or listen to the Wiley audio lecture on my way going home after 6:30 in the evening, then at night after having my dinner, takes 10-20 minute power nap before starting to practice solving 50-100 CMA problems. Then goes to bed around 12 in the midnight to 1:00 AM and wakes up at 5:00 to 6:00. I barely had a review during weekends because I had to attend my class in UP during Saturday and the CMA live class session during Sunday.

But what kept me up and running during that time of struggle was my burning desire to really earn the certification- no matter how hard it gets- for my future and for my family. I am always reminded by that phrase “Ad Astra PerAspera”, “to the stars through difficulties”.

I took the exams last January 2019 for the Part 1 and February 2019 for the Part 2, need to take it in same exam window to qualify us for a medal ranking. The exams were in Ateneo Graduate School and I can say it was hard- 100 multiple choice questions and 2 essays with 6 questions each- all to finish in 4 hours in front of the testing computers of the Prometric Testing Center inside Ateneo. We were not allowed to bring anything inside the testing center, even our hankies! And every testing computer has a camera installed so the proctor can see every detail of our action within the 4 hours that we are inside.

We were informed that the results will be out 42 days after the last day of the month that we took the exams. Which means we had to wait for more than 2 months before we are able to know whether we passed or not. And just like how waiting for the CPA board exam results felt before, waiting for the CMA exams was also agonizing.

Exactly 42 days from end of January and February 2019, the results were released last March 14 and April 11- with the word “Congratulations” in the first line of the email I received from Mr. Dennis Whitney- the Senior VP of ICMA (Certification Division of IMA). I immediately told Sir Angel of my scores and he assured me of a medal given those scores, either the gold or the silver. And how did I feel? It was cloud nine, grinning from ear to ear! April 11, a day after my birthday, was actually one of the best days I had ever!

Indeed, my CMA journey was one thrilling ride. Struggles were everywhere- work, studies, review and personal life. But in battling those struggles, I had my weapons- discipline, focus and faith. I held into my dream and into holding that dream, I used those weapons. Now I can say, I have surpassed the difficulties and I have reached a ‘golden’ star- a star that will definitely open up a lot of opportunities in the future. Indeed, Ad Astra Per Aspera!

To God be All the Glory!

About the Author: Reynald E. Tomas is a magna cum laude graduate from Cagayan State University. He earned his CPA title back in 2014, passing the tough Oct. 2014 CPALE with a rating of 90.71%, the second highest in that examination. He worked in one of the prominent audit firms immediately after passing the exam, and currently holds a key finance position in one of the well-known banks in Metro Manila.

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