- A CA ANZ survey found employers need accountants with collaboration and data/technology skills.
- Mentoring and coaching will be an increasingly important part of collaboration in the future.
- Accountants have an opportunity to become technology and business advisers.
When 6,000 accountants step through the doors of Sydney’s International Convention Centre in November 2018, they will be part of a global mission to sketch out the future of the accounting profession. The World Congress of Accountants (WCOA) comes at a time of extraordinary change within the global workforce, with technology disrupting jobs, careers, and business models.
This is driving demand for new skill sets, which accountants will need if they are to remain relevant. In a recent Chartered Accountants ANZ survey, more than 1,200 business leaders were asked to name the most valuable skills accounting professionals would need in the future. “Collaboration” and “the ability to work with data and the latest technology and systems” both rank near the top.
Yet accounting leaders do not rate themselves highly at recruiting and retaining professionals with those skills.
“These results offer an insight for accountants as to the skills they need to develop to remain in demand with employers,” says Geraldine Magarey FCA, Leader of Policy and Thought Leadership at Chartered Accountants ANZ. “Some accountants already operate at the cutting edge of technology, while others do have strong collaboration skills. But our survey suggests that accounting leaders struggle to find enough of them.”
The results of the survey informed a new Chartered Accountants ANZ thought leadership paper, The Future Of Talent. At its launch in Canberra, futurist and researcher Mark Pesce told an audience of accountants and government leaders that collaboration skills would be vital in a fast-changing economy.
“Collaboration doesn’t just happen in the office of the accountant,” says Pesce. “It’s also when you’re with the client. The client is teaching you about their business, how you work in their business, how their processes work – and at the same time you’re teaching them.”
The same applies for in-house accountants, according to Magarey. “Business leaders in our survey want to make their organisations more agile ... Accountants in finance departments are ideally placed to help make that happen because they touch every part of the organisations they serve.
“As businesses flex and change, accountants must guide senior management on how alternative strategies affect the bottom line. They must also coach and consult with colleagues across the business.”
The rate of change in the marketplace is throwing up lots of opportunities for accountants to demonstrate their ability to collaborate, says Magarey. “Business transformation projects are occurring everywhere nowadays and you’ll typically find those being led by a project team combining specialists from different disciplines.”
Embracing disruptive technologies will be discussed at length by accountants at the WCOA event in November. That’s no surprise, given the findings of The Future Of Talent survey, where business leaders indicated they needed more accountants who could harness data and technology systems.
At the Future of Talent launch, futurist Chris Riddell spoke about preparing for the future workforce. His advice for accountants is clear: “Become a technology adviser.”
Half the businesses surveyed say they aren’t sufficiently keeping up with technology. “Clients are confused by technology and don’t know which direction to take,” says Riddell. “But they trust their accountants because they know their business better than anyone.
“Accountants will be some of the most valuable people when it comes to using the technology to help businesses grow. Having a trusted authority who is tech-savvy will be crucial.”
Mark Pesce agrees. “Some accountants will probably remember when spreadsheets first came along. A spreadsheet is not just a computer program, it can run programs and you can create formulas and cells. So accountants are actually already doing all sorts of programming.”
Accountants should seize every opportunity to work with new and emerging technologies, says Pesce: “We just need to think: In the future, we are going to get new tools that will be important to our work. We’ll master them. We’ll use them for our clients.”
Collaborating with technology
The skillsets of collaboration and technology are increasingly going to overlap in the future, according to Pesce. He recommends opening up finance teams and accounting firms to collaborate better not just among themselves and their colleagues, but also to collaborate with technology itself.
“We already live in a world where every time we have a basic question we reach into our pocket, take out a smartphone and get the answer from Google or Wikipedia or Siri … In that way, we are already creatures who are a combination of human intelligence and machine learning.
“It’s all about combining our own human capacities with machine learning to make a good decision. We need to build systems that are flexible enough to share knowledge and experience across the organisation.”
Against this backdrop, the World Congress of Accountants in Sydney could not come at a better time, says Magarey. “The event itself is a great opportunity for accountants to collaborate and learn from one another. One of the things I’m most looking forward to is hearing how global leaders in finance and accounting are reshaping their own careers and organisations to develop better collaboration and technology skills.”
Related: The Future of Talent
Read the new Chartered Accountants ANZ report that explains how work practices are changing and what business leaders must do to prepare their workforce.
Four skills accountants need
Employers name four core areas of expertise that accountants will need:
- Data and technology
- Problem solving
Employers do not rate themselves highly when it comes to finding and retaining accountants with collaboration skills, or data and technology skills.
Related: The Future of Work
Read the Chartered Accountants ANZ report analysing the mega-trends that are reinventing jobs and the economy.