Winds of change

Dec 01, 2017
In the words of  Miley Cyrus: “Change is a thing you can count on”. Technology is advancing at pace. We have all experienced this in our day-to-day lives. There are an estimated five billion mobile phones worldwide, of which 50% are smartphones. And the iPhone is just 10 years old! Car technology is so advanced that vehicles can now drive themselves. Waymo, “a new way forward in mobility”, is the self-driving car company that spun out of Google and runs autonomous minivans around Phoenix. Driverless cars are expected to appear on UK roads by 2021 as a result of sweeping regulatory reforms promoted by Chancellor Philip Hammond, in an effort to position technology at the forefront of a post-Brexit economy.

A view of the future for Chartered Accountants

So what does the technology future hold for Chartered Accountants? I firmly believe that we are well-placed to be at the forefront of technological change and our skills allow us to be both flexible and adaptive. There is an obligation upon us all to focus on our skills so that we are ready to meet the challenges ahead. Technology causes jobs and roles to change and while some become redundant, others are created.

Repetitive manual tasks such as traditional bookkeeping and accounting are already being replaced by smart systems. IT platforms will allow greater ability to outsource the finance function and with that will come greater opportunity for the finance professional to interpret, analyse and communicate financial data. Many large organisations that have centralised accounting functions have discovered the increased need for experienced finance professionals to support sales and production by applying data analytics to interpret performance and improve business margins and productivity. Data is becoming a huge asset and we will need to develop additional competencies to present financial and non-financial data under real-time reporting in a format that is easily understood, while avoiding the risk of smothering users with too much information.

The demand to model future trends and scenario plan will also increase with ever more complex strategic planning. With this will come the challenge of strengthening communication and influencing skills so that Chartered Accountants play a central role in decision-making. The scope of influence will extend far beyond the finance function and Chartered Accountants will therefore need to integrate across all functional areas of an organisation. Ethical issues and the influencing of decisions will also become increasingly complex.

Audit and assurance

Audit and assurance will undergo significant change. Sample testing using a “tick and tot” approach will be replaced with automated interrogation of large data sets and this will drive the requirement for experienced individuals to interrogate exceptions and investigate variances. Judgement workloads are going to increase and there will be greater integration with data programmers. Questions therefore arise as to how trainees will develop the skills needed for career progression. Changing regulatory requirements to communicate “key audit matters” will make reports more useful to stakeholders, but with this will come the need to have increased business awareness, sector knowledge and appreciation of risk.  

Our opportunity

I feel that change driven by technology provides a great opportunity for Chartered Accountants. Our training equips us to communicate effectively; we have proven skills in developing relationships, especially when interacting with client personnel; and our analytical minds seek to problem-solve and find solutions. No doubt there will be uncertainties when faced with change, but we all have the right fundamental skills to embrace and rise to the challenge.

Paul Henry is a Director at Osborne King and a member of Council at Chartered Accountants Ireland.