Date posted: 19/09/2022

How to future proof accounting professionals

Discover how leading accounting academics and professionals can keep up with the changing nature of the accounting profession and future proof their teaching.

Advances in data analytics, developments in technology and the role accountants can play in the environmental, social and governance issues that affect us all are just some topics that should be on the radar for the profession, according to attendees at the Accounting and Finance Association of Australia and New Zealand (AFAANZ) Annual Conference.

AFAANZ brings together leading accounting and finance academics and is a valuable platform to hear from industry leaders, discover new ideas on how to improve accounting and finance education and research, and get involved in discussions on a range of industry issues.

Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) took the opportunity to ask some important questions on the topic at this year’s conference.

  • How do you think the accounting profession is evolving?
  • What are the top 3 capabilities that are most important to future proofing accounting graduates?

Here are some of the insightful responses received.

Environmental, social and governance issues (ESG)

The advice is clear - accountants should have an awareness of how environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors and trends can influence the financial performance of a business now and in the future in order to provide sound business advice.

Climate change is a good example. The conversation is evolving rapidly, and with the announcement of the establishment of the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) at COP26 in Glasgow in early November 2021, the issue is one with particular relevance to the accounting and finance industry.

  • “Accounting has evolved from a number crunching analytical tool to a practice that involves the analysis and evaluation of data financial and non-financial numbers. It is the non-financial aspect where accountants can help save the planet. That is the greatest change in accounting.
  • The accounting profession is evolving by engaging with the grand challenges that affect all of us in our global society - environmental sustainability, social justice and economic development. We (accountants) can be the change!
  • There is a reignition of concern for the public interest, through increased awareness of how accountants can contribute to solutions to problems, such as how climate change affects broader society.”

Chartered Accountants ANZ already has a focus on this area and understands the role the accounting profession has in sustainable development, particularly with regard to climate action.

In recognition of this, Chartered Accountants ANZ Business Reform Leader, Karen McWilliams FCA, presented at the SEVENTEENx series in 2022. She specifically explored how accountants can connect their activities to some of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) set out by the United Nations in 2016.

Data and technology

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can provide massive opportunities for accountants and with the democratisation of cost, it has become available to more people and opens up opportunities to service a much wider audience.

This topic is examined in a new report published by Chartered Accountants ANZ, Ethics for Sustainable AI Adoption, which presents a clear snapshot of current AI adoption and how organisations are dealing with the ethical dimensions and ESG specific issues.

Participants at the AFAANZ conference also reflected on how being able to readily access data helps accountants build and tell a better story to clients about their business, by cutting the time previously needed to gather and analyse such data.

Keeping up with new technologies is also high on the agenda for the accountants of the future.

  • “The accounting profession is evolving to become analytics driven. Future accountants should be data analysts, capable of going through large amounts of data to understand business problems and provide real time solutions.
  • The skills of accounting professionals have evolved as technology has made rapid advances from using pencil and paper to typewriters and calculators, and eventually spreadsheets and accounting software. They now need to factor in data analytics, big data and artificial intelligence.
  • Accounting professionals who can discuss the patterns in the data and make the narrative, will find themselves at the centre of the 21st century business world.”

Capabilities - become problem solvers

The top three capabilities reflect similar themes. As well as being able to effectively analyse data and embrace new technologies, the most effective accountants of tomorrow will be the ones who can see the whole picture and be able to communicate that to stakeholders.

  • “The focus will be on the value add of accounting, with a greater emphasis on soft skills and the analysis/interpretation of data.
  • The profession is transforming away from passive information provision focused narrowly on the financials towards roles where accountants are strategic partners and problem solvers.
  • Accountants need the ability to be critical, reflective thinkers and to be open to put themselves in various stakeholders' shoes.”

In an increasingly digital world, accountants are filling roles as Difference Makers, growth accelerators, critical thinkers, innovators and digitally savvy experts.

For those looking to learn the above skills to become an accountant of the future, the CA Program provides a combination of real-world engagement with authentic simulations and challenges to create a robust learning and development environment.

Through the CA Program, candidates develop capabilities that help them navigate businesses through disruption and unpredictable environments, as well as identify where opportunities lie. They also learn about the relevance of technologies and how to best make use of digital platforms and tools used to analyse complex financial models.

Thank you to the AFAANZ conference attendees who contributed their thoughts on how to future proof accounting professionals as the industry continues to evolve and change. We hope this will inspire you and form a basis for further conversation between you and your peers.