The Accountancy Profession in an Age of Transformation

The Accountancy profession continues to flourish and grow. The increasing request from students wanting to embark on Accountancy programmes (such as the Master in Accountancy offered by the Faculty of Economics, Management and Accountancy) is also largely due to Malta’s good performing economy and the increasing demand for more qualified accountants. However, like all professional careers, it is subject and conditioned by a rapidly changing world. As Plato put it: “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” We certainly cannot let this happen and we therefore need to constantly think about the evolving profession. Indeed, to put Plato’s dictum into our contextual reality, may I refer to a study by Frey and Osborne (2013) entitled “The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?”, wherein accountants and auditors were reported to have a 94% chance that computerisation will lead to job losses within the next two decades for this group. Although this piece of news may sound alarming or even depressing, there is, from where I stand, light at the end of the tunnel if the accountancy profession actively embraces change. Needless to say, an accounting qualification today offers unparalleled career opportunities and mobility, if only we ensure that the evolution of the profession happens in line with the big changes that are likely to occur. I will highlight a few ideas of my own on how I see this important profession evolving:

First, top management today requires that accountants contribute proactively to management decision-making and business development, and not act merely as book-keepers and regulatory overseers. They need to ‘make history’ with the top management team and not merely ‘record history’, and become critical players and partners in business management and business development teams. There is a shift in focus from financial accounting to management accounting – In engaging CFOs, CEOs look as much for entrepreneurial flair, commercial savvy and business understanding, as they do for technical ability, competence in regulatory oversight and understanding of financial management internal control.

Second, the advent of Business Intelligence, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Fintech is a reality as we speak. Far from being a threat, this is a huge opportunity and signals exciting times ahead. It means that accountants are released from mundane repetitive tasks that can be automated and released to contribute more to intrapreneurial roles in business development and optimisation.

Third, accountancy will not be simply a profession dealing with numbers but accountants will be called to safeguard good company ethics, set higher standards of integrity, and to project the values of accuracy, honesty, objectivity, transparency and reliability that stakeholders expect in providing a service to them and to the greater good of society.

Fourth, qualified accountants are nowadays occupying more leadership roles in virtually every sector, from financial services to banking, commerce and industry, NGOs, institutions, charities and the public sector. This means that the importance attached to people skills and leadership in today’s organisations among accountants will become top priority. In fact, many qualified accountants increasingly go on to reach CEO positions – in the UK the FTSE 100 CEO tracker reports that over half of Britain’s top bosses have a finance background, while one in four CEOs of FTSE corporations are qualified accountants.

Finally, we should see more accountants of the future embracing a strong entrepreneurial spirit as we witness a large number of qualified accountants end up opening their own business earlier or later in their career.

These are only a few thoughts of how the accountancy profession and the accountants’ repertoire of skills will expand and change in the future. As the Faculty of Economics, Management and Accountancy, University of Malta, we are certainly doing our best to prepare our young graduates in this direction. Our initiatives include industry outreach, courses intended at brokering excellence, possibilities for overseas visits and Erasmus exchanges, thereby offering our students/graduates a truly holistic experience.

Indeed, the accountancy profession is not destined to finish but it will certainly be transformed. Let us all work together to ensure that the profession retains its critical position in the life of tomorrow’s organisation.

Reference

Frey, C.B., & Osborne, M.A. (2013) “The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?”, Technological forecasting and social change, Vol. 114, pp. 254-280.

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