Adapting to Survive and Thrive in a World of Change
Since I started my career, the world has changed in astonishing ways. Smartphones have replaced landlines. Texts and emails have supplanted letters and telexes. Documents zip around the world in an instant. The vast amounts of information collected generate new analytic techniques and opportunities. The world has become a lot smaller and a lot more complex.
As technology and globalization continue to advance, the pace of change can only accelerate. Looking back across my different roles as a tax practitioner; working within the federal government; national accounting firm leader; and eventually CEO of one of the world’s largest accounting organizations, I believe a key to success has been adapting to change and making the most of the opportunities it has to offer.
Today’s leaders have to anticipate change and identify approaches to capitalize on it for the benefit of their constituents. For Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada), its constituents are not only its members, but also the broader business communities, regulators, governments, and the public at large. CPA Canada allocates considerable time and resources to helping its members adapt their skills and acquire new ones. This knowledge and experience gained allows members to better assist the organizations and communities they serve in a rapidly changing world.
Meeting globalization’s challenges
Globalization continues to drive significant change for our profession, both in terms of globalizing business and globalizing standards. As businesses become more global, their professional accountants and other service providers need to broaden their perspective. As borders have become less relevant for business, they’re becoming less relevant for professionals as well.
Indeed, meeting globalization’s challenges was a key factor in the case for unifying Canada’s three legacy accounting designations—Chartered Accountant, Certified General Accountant and Certified Management Accountant—under the single Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) banner. More than five years ago, when the move toward unification began, the leaders of the three legacy designations saw the need for a strengthened Canadian profession through a single designation regulated in Canada. It was vital to ensure Canadian professional accountants could adapt and continue, both individually and collectively, to be recognized as among the best in the world.
A single, clear voice
With three designations governed by over 40 national and provincial/territorial governing bodies, bringing the profession together was huge accomplishment—and well worth the effort. With more than 200,000 members, unification in Canada is already making a difference.
A single, clear voice to advocate for its members and the public interest, both within Canada and internationally, is one of unification’s biggest advantages. CPA Canada now has the influence, recognition, resources, and reach to deliver more to our members, students, other stakeholders, and, of course, the public.
Canada has long been known both for the quality of its auditing and accounting standards and for the independent, objective, and transparent structures responsible for developing the standards and guidance used in this country. Through its funding and staffing of the standard-setting function in Canada, CPA Canada is extremely proud of its role in supporting standard setting.
In addition, Canada’s CPAs now have the numbers and resources to reinforce an already strong and respected voice at international standard-setting tables and to truly make our influence felt.
It’s a huge source of pride that unification is allowing Canadian accounting professionals to take an even bigger international role and partner with our peers in elevating the profession globally.
My own work with the global organizations that support our profession has been enriching on a personal level. In my six years on the Board of IFAC and as a member of the Board’s Planning and Finance Committee from 2006 to 2012, I was privileged to help shape IFAC’s structure and long-term plans through budgets, strategic reviews, and two constitutional reforms. As Global Accounting Alliance chair, I enjoyed close working relationships with IFAC’s executives in pursuit of our aligned public interest missions. Interacting with accounting professionals from across the world opened my mind to fresh perspectives. Collaborating with IFAC’s bright, hard-working teams to address the profession’s challenges and opportunities has been a genuine pleasure.
Along with globalization, technology and information management are among the biggest sources of challenge and opportunity, whether you are in public practice, industry, or the public sector. From big data to analytics to block chain technology to artificial intelligence, accounting professionals have a huge role to play in harnessing technology for better and more informed decision making.
Professional accountants in industry face particular challenges to adapt as finance functions evolve from their traditional role as financial controllers toward more rounded business advisers that are closely involved in strategy development and decision making. Professional accountants need to adapt so they can embrace the new capabilities offered by technology. They also must understand how to evaluate risks and address security issues in the digital realm, which is becoming more important than ever before.
Meeting these new demands requires broader skill sets. Financial and management accountant capabilities remain critical, but finance executives increasingly need to supplement these skills with knowledge of strategy formulation and execution, financial insight and data analytics, and risk management.
Evolving reporting frameworks
Meanwhile, frameworks for external reporting and assurance are evolving and some believe the complexity and volume of information in traditional financial statements is diminishing their value. An immediate challenge for the profession lies in simplifying financial reporting and increasing its relevance to investors and other users in the increasingly complex global economy.
Business and accounting advice – the whole package
In Canada, the Canadian CPA designation is emerging as the pre-eminent, globally respected business and accounting designation that best serves the public interest.
With the designation come the technical skills associated with the profession along with a solid understanding of performance management, communications, and strategy. Those with the Canadian CPA designation also understand what it means to be a professional and to act ethically.
As I retire from my leadership role with CPA Canada, I believe the country’s accounting profession is well placed to play a leading advisory role in helping individuals, businesses, and other organizations chart their course for success in the years to come.