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There is a significant opportunity for Professional Accountancy Organizations (PAOs) to accelerate digital transformation to improve the delivery of their mandate. This was evident through a recent World Bank project that engaged with Board members and senior management of 20 PAOs in Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East & North Africa (MENA), Latin America, and the Caribbean regions regarding their digital transformation journeys.

  • “We need to accelerate adoption of digital transformation to enhance services to our members and public”
  • “We need to design a digital transformation strategy supported by financial and human resources to leapfrog our service offering during the COVID 19 period”
  • “Digital transformation will assist us to support prospective accountants in rural areas”.

These were some of the sentiments that were expressed by Board members, and by speakers and participants during the knowledge event hosted by IFAC and the World Bank on PAO digital transformation (available in English and French).

Based on the conversations, the following are 5 key pillars that PAOs should put in place to successfully progress their digital transformation.

1. Governance: Tone at the top should set direction

Throughout the project, it was noticeable that when the PAO President and Board members had a clear vision and were committed to the digital transformation reform, there was commendable and concrete progress. The opposite was also true: i.e., minimal digital transformation among PAOs where leadership did not show enough enthusiasm for the reform or consider it a priority. Therefore, it is important for the Board to take the leading role in setting direction and really driving the necessary changes.

2. Design and implement a user-centric digital transformation strategy

Digital transformation requires a clearly articulated strategy that defines strategic objectives, implementation plans, and performance targets with timelines (Key Performance Indicators).

When designing the strategy, the Board should engage with the membership and all relevant stakeholders to ensure their needs and expectations are incorporated. The final strategy should then be shared and communicated with them. Subsequently, the PAO leadership should regularly request feedback from members and stakeholders on any new digital tools and request suggestions to improve the user-experience. This would create a virtuous circle between the PAO and its stakeholders.

Ideally, the digital strategy should be linked to the overall strategy of the PAO, since digitalization serves as a tool to execute the overall strategy. The Ordre National des Experts Comptables et des Comptables Agréés du Burkina Faso is a good example of a small PAO which has designed its digital transformation strategy using guidance from IFAC’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Guide.

3. Be connected and benefit from the country digital economy eco-system

PAOs should be aware of digital transformation reforms in their country and maintain close working relationships with the governmental departments and officials driving the reform. Government reforms seem to be focused on strengthening national infrastructure to improve access and reduce cost, enhancing digital skills, offering digital public and business platforms to accelerate the use of e-services, and strengthening digital enablers like cybersecurity and data protection. These initiatives can have a direct impact on PAOs’ digitalizlation initiatives. 

Therefore, it is crucial for PAOs to follow and engage with the right stakeholders regarding national digital transformation reforms to determine they can benefit from such a reform and related activities. This could include empowering their members with greater digital skills by including technology skills in the accounting qualification curriculum and offering regular digital courses in the CPD program.

4. Adequate human and financial resources

Without dedicated human and financial resources, it is a challenge to implement a successful digital transformation reform. This does not necessarily mean having massive and seemingly unlimited resources. It means making smart investments now for better returns and savings in the future. Therefore, PAOs might need to be creative in securing the financial and human resources required to implement their digital transformation strategy. 

Securing funding could mean re-prioritizing the available budget to focus on digitalization activities which will add value to members and save costs in future, requesting members to contribute to a special fund for the reform, securing sponsorship, and/or applying for government funding or donor funding, etc.

For example, the Ordre des Experts-Comptables de Côte d’Ivoire partnered with the national tax authority to support taxpayers in filing their financial statements on an online platform. Whenever a member does an online filing, a specific fee is submitted to the PAO, in turn, creating a new alternative revenue stream.

Human resources are also essential. Depending on the financial resources available, PAOs could either designate someone from their secretariat to lead the initiative, engage a consultant, outsource the function or set up a special Digital Transformation Committee with a clear terms of reference.

5. Partnering with others

PAOs should explore partnerships and leverage their IFAC membership and IFAC’s Network Partners. Such partnerships would enable them to benefit from global and regional resources and knowledge-sharing opportunities.

Similarly, PAOs should partner with other PAOs, especially those who have progressed with digitalization reforms already. Such PAOs can serve as mentors: sharing experiences on how they have walked the transformation journey, provide advice and guidance on when and where to purchase new softwares or technologies, and/or provide input to a PAO that is developing its digital strategy, etc. PAOs are encouraged to raise their hands and seek help and support whenever needed.

In closing, while the level of progress varies from PAO to PAO, the challenges for smaller PAOs oftentimes remain greater given their limited resources. Yet, “small streams make big rivers” — starting with small actions and building on them with regularity and consistency should allow PAOs to be successful in achieving their digital transformation goals. All PAOs are invited to consider the above pillars to start or accelerate their digital transformation to efficiently and effectively deliver on their mandates.