Smart technology needs even smarter leaders

smart tech
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Alan Hatfield
Executive director, strategy and development
ACCA
Columnist
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The recent article ‘Should accountancy qualifications incorporate more technology?’ really struck a chord here at ACCA, with a resounding yes from me and the many colleagues I shared the article with.

Our collective positive affirmations were followed by ‘and we’ve been doing this for years!’

Technological and digital capabilities have been important for the accountancy profession for a long time, with the working relationship between the CFO and the CIO becoming increasingly symbiotic.

The seemingly unstoppable spread of digital technologies and their impact on business is transforming the practice of accounting and the competencies that professional accountants need. Smart software and systems are replacing manual work - such as bookkeeping - and automating complex processes such as the financial close. Audits can now be run on a real-time basis.

It’s therefore vital for the sustainability of the profession that accountants develop what we call their ‘digital quotient’. This is one of the seven key areas ACCA have identified as defining the future professional’s skill-set.

Given the fast-paced world in which we all live and work, the accountancy profession needs a modern, relevant and up-to-date syllabus for it to thrive on the global stage.

The developments we’ve made were informed by what employers want from their new recruits. In the public and private sectors, in businesses large and small, employers tell us what they need from the finance function or the wider accountancy profession is people who are work-ready, ready to make an impact from day one. So practical, relevant qualifications that mirror the workplace and how we all work now are the way ahead.

There’s a clear demand for real-world business skills to be weaved in accountancy qualifications, and that’s just what we’ve done, especially with the relaunched ACCA Qualification we announced in October 2016.

Our recent research shows that 18 to 35 year-olds are not scared of tech – they’re keen to embrace technological advances, with the vast majority (84%) saying technology would free them to focus on much higher value-added activity.

We know that expectations on the profession are increasing – and part of that is being driven by technology. Collaboration is also the name of the game, with demands from internal and external clients for accountants to add value.

The profession needs to form partnerships with people in other parts of the business and outside the business: provide strategic insight and go beyond the numbers; help organisations to achieve short-term goals and long-term objectives, and become more involved in decision-making.

Tech can make that collaboration so much more meaningful if the technological outputs – the data, the numbers – can be explained really well and used to add value to the business.

For the professional accountant, learning doesn’t stop once they pass their qualifications. The insight of current practitioners and learning providers also ensures ACCA can provide support in maintaining their digital quotient in a fast-moving world: from cloud app to the future of machine learning.

Employers are calling for forward-thinking professionals who can use technology to their advantage, combining it with their technical excellence, and align it with high ethical standards and leadership skills.

More technology is a must – of course. But we need well-rounded financial professionals, people who can develop and demonstrate the ability to look beyond the numbers, beyond finance and beyond the business. 

About Alan Hatfield

alan hatfield

Alan Hatfield is executive director, strategy and development at ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)

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