Preparing Future-Ready Professionals

Re-imagining the Future Accountant—Our Call to Action

Anne-Marie Vitale | January 22, 2020

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Transformational changes are re-shaping the roles accountants perform within society:

  • The Future of Jobs Report 2018 by the World Economic Forum indicates:
    • By 2022, 75 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labor between humans and machines.
    • A cluster of job profiles are set to become increasingly redundant, which includes accountants and auditors.
  • The Future of Jobs Report 2018 also indicates 133 million jobs may emerge by 2022 – pointing to a growing rather than shrinking world economy.

What does this mean for us as we re-imagine the role of the future accountant?

As automation and technology continue to drive changing business models, the role of accountants and auditors will need to rapidly evolve and adapt. 

As the profession looks to the future, we must anticipate:

  • Areas of demand for our skills;
  • Behaviors and competencies needed to be successful in the future business ecosystem; and
  • Changing expectations about what it means to be an ‘accountant.’

According to the Future of Jobs Report 2018, there is accelerating demand for data analysts and scientists, big data specialists, digital transformation specialists, and information technology services.  Accountants have the behaviors and competencies that overlap with these future in-demand roles.

This rapidly evolving landscape requires agility. The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) has implemented an approach to advancing accountancy education at the global level. The International Panel on Accountancy Education (the Panel) is a key feature of this approach and instrumental in advising IFAC on how to assist professional accountancy organizations (PAOs) to re-imagine the future accountant and prepare future-ready accountants.

The Panel proposed a vision of PAOs:

…contributing actively to the development of a future-ready profession—relevant, reputable, valued, sustainable—that is attractive to a diversity of existing and new talent and meets the needs of organizations (in the public and private sectors) and society.   

To ensure accountancy education can meet the challenge of competency and skills-based changes, we need to understand where the profession is heading:

So how do we make evolutionary and revolutionary change happen?

Each of us in the global profession has an important role to play.

IFAC’s role: harness its comparative advantage to facilitate this evolution and—ultimately—revolution.

  • Speaking out. This is about embracing and taking advantage of disruption. It requires stimulating dialogue about the profession’s Total Addressable Market (TAM), which is a way to view the profession as measured by jobs held by accountants and auditors. Predictions from The Future of Jobs Report 2018 show that the profession’s TAM will decrease assuming no action is taken by the profession. IFAC is advancing global dialogue by asking questions such as: In what ways can we grow our TAM? What actions can we take today to increase our TAM for tomorrow? The actions we take today will benefit the capital markets' ecosystem.
  • Preparing a future-ready profession. IFAC is helping PAOs and other stakeholders prepare future-ready accountants by promoting and enabling knowledge sharing, capacity building, and thought leadership.
  • Supporting the adoption and implementation of high-quality international standards. The International Education Standards (IES) set forth learning outcomes that support the competency of accountants during their initial professional development. A newly developed e-tool can facilitate access to the IES and implementation support material.

PAOs’ role: start the dialogue and modernize the behaviors and competencies of accountants.

PAOs should consider whether their business models are fit-for-purpose and whether their organizational strategies are built for a future where accountants do different things.

We can all relate to:

  • Accountants doing the same things, such as gathering, extracting, and manipulating data and information, reconciling information across separate systems, and making decisions based on samples or limited information. These skills are normally obtained through classroom-based, prescribed learning—a one-size-fits-all approach to learning.
  • Accountants doing the same things differently, such as evolving skillsets using automation, visualization for more powerful insights, and leveraging communication technologies to make a greater impact—all tend to rely on increased self-learning and personal exploration.
  • Accountants doing different things, however, will be defined by the actions we take today. PAOs can facilitate this future in several ways. Consider these 4 critical steps:
1.Mobilizing stakeholders and engaging experts. Start early, facilitate dialogue amongst your stakeholders and experts. Learn from other PAOs. Develop a vision and strategy for the profession in your jurisdiction.
2. Implementing the new IES. The IES were revised with a lens on professional skepticism and information and communications technologies (ICT). To support their implementation, non-authoritative learning outcomes for ICT were also developed.
3. Facilitating reskilling and upskilling. Focus on relevant competencies, including: business acumen, behavioral competence, digital acumen, data integration, synthesis and analysis, and communication.
4. Preparing for your PAO to thrive in a digital era. Challenge yourself on the time to market for changes to your curricula and assessment innovations. Take advantage of EdTech. Meet personalized needs of your members based on competencies and not roles.

 

Organizations’ role: develop effective and efficient finance functions.

Accountants are deeply engrained in—and increasingly vital—to the success of organizations. Finance functions should identify the enablers of change and associated development plans to ensure they are fit-for-purpose to support and partner within the business, public sector, or other entities. They should have the right mix of talent, skills, and technology to enhance effectiveness and efficiency.

To help facilitate finance function transformation, IFAC has developed an evaluation tool for boards and management to identify strengths and areas of improvement for their finance function.

Individuals’ role: focus on personal growth, hone existing technical skillsets, and develop skills that are increasingly important.

At the heart of future-readiness is the individual. There is an unquestionable need for each of us to take personal responsibility for our own lifelong learning and career development—taking learning from being a passive, compliance-based approach to one which is tailored, reflective, and actively driven by our own individual needs. IES 7 Continuing Professional Development (CPD), includes several innovations that can support individuals in planning effective CPD in a changing workplace. Changing business models and evolving business needs are creating new opportunities for those accountants who are ready to learn. What are important competencies for the individual?

  • Business acumen. Today, strategic business decisions are increasingly based on how individuals can integrate appropriately analyzed large data using their professional judgment. Business models are rapidly changing, impacting how vendors, employees, and customers interact, and how business is conducted and measured.
  • Behavioral competence. This includes how individuals can use intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, adaptability, and lifelong learning to effectively respond to an environment of rapid technological change while also demonstrating the intellectual agility to embrace new or alternative ways of working and adapting to changing circumstances quickly. Behavioral competence also includes the ethical use and dissemination of data.
  • Digital acumen. Accountants should understand how new and emerging technologies impact what they do, or what they likely need to do, in an ‘evolving’ or ‘revolutionizing’ landscape—how such technologies operate, are used, and affect the generation, processing, and flow of data and information. Data governance and security are also key elements of digital acumen.
  • Data interrogation, synthesis, and analysis. The competencies needed by individuals to effectively work with structured and unstructured data, for example, evaluating whether data is complete, accurate, and relevant, and understanding exceptions to expectations. These competencies also include conducting risk assessments, predictive analysis, and effective use of visualization tools.
  • Communication. New and emerging technologies have changed the channels of communication from and across systems, for example, using social media and smart devices.

We each have a responsibility to acknowledge, embrace, and seek out the uncertainty surrounding our profession.

This is our CALL TO ACTION to all PAOs, organizations, and individuals.

 

Anne-Marie Vitale

Anne-Marie Vitale

Chair, International Panel on Accountancy Education

Anne-Marie Vitale is the chair of the International Panel on Accountancy Education and the former chair of the International Accounting Education Standards Board in July 2012.Ms. Vitale currently serves in PwC’s Office of the General Counsel in a forensic capacity working on US Securities and Exchange Commission, US Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, and litigation related matters. Previously, she was on tour in the National Quality Organization of PwC as the Assurance Learning and Development Leader. In addition to establishing the strategic direction for learning and development, she led PwC's efforts to leverage continuous professional education as a means to directly improve audit quality.As an Audit Partner with more than 25 years of experience in the technology industry group serving emerging and multinational public companies in various business sectors, including semiconductors, computers and networking, software, and medical devices, Ms. Vitale has provided technical advice to both emerging and large multinational public companies on a wide variety of accounting and reporting matters. She also has extensive experience in public offerings of equity and debt securities.Prior to joining PwC, Ms. Vitale worked at a multinational corporation that provided scientific, engineering, systems integration, and technical services.Ms. Vitale is a member of the American Institute of CPAs, the California Society of CPAs and a certified global management accountant. She also is on the Board of Directors of the Silicon Valley Directors’ Exchange, a non-profit organization that provides a forum for education and current issues impacting directors of public and private companies. Ms. Vitale has an MBA with an emphasis in finance from the University of San Diego (US) and a Bachelor of Science in Combined Science from Santa Clara University (US). See more by Anne-Marie Vitale

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