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Do accountants have a future?

The robots are coming, but the big question is, will they be taking your accountancy job?

January 2018

That was the question PQ magazine recently tried to get the experts to answer at ‘The Future of Accountancy: Success in a changing world’ conference, held jointly with London South Bank University.
The answer that came back from a whole plethora of speakers was ‘your jobs are safe’ – for now!
There were, however, some caveats. Delegates were told that tomorrow’s accountants would need to have stronger ‘softer skills’. And the profession itself will also need to raise its game, and may even have to work more closely to see off the threat.
Alan Hatfield, ACCA executive director, strategy and development, opened the conference. For him, there is little doubt that artificial intelligence will take over more and more of the mundane accountancy tasks. But he felt AI also provides a unique opportunity for the profession to re-imagine and improve both business and investment decisions.
Hatfield stressed that an accountant’s technical and ethical skills remain, and will continue to remain, at the heart of what makes accountants so employable.
But change, particularly in the digital world, is happening fast, and he expects it to go faster still.
PQs need to have the mindset to cope with this, and Hatfield said ACCA research has found its PQs are ready for this ever-changing environment and even energised by it. “To them the future looks rightly exciting,” he said.
However, the successful accountant will need soft skills to get to the top. Hatfield said that sometimes these soft skills “are really the hard skills”. He felt perhaps it was time to really talk about them as ‘professional skills’.
The ACCA has said that to succeed future accountants will have to demonstrate seven qualities (they call them quotients). Among these are emotional intelligence, creativity and vision.
Hatfield pointed us to what HP inc’s Mark Anderson, regional head of finance, Asia Pacific and Japan, said tomorrow’s accountant need to look like: “I’m looking for the finance professional who can predict the future, not describe history. Those who can consult with business as opposed to just provide data to the business. I’m looking for finance professionals who are people leaders, not followers, and who will be strategists, not technical tacticians.”
CIMA’s executive vice president academics, Noel Tagoe, said the future of finance is already here, just unevenly distributed.
For him, successful accountants of tomorrow will need to have an end-to-end view of their company. This is what will make them indispensible to the CEO.
He felt the profession needed to work together to maintain its relevance. But for Tagoe there is no doubt that there will be a future for accountants. “Most people in the know see it that way,” he said.

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