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World Congress of Accountants: Accountants challenged to prepare for the future

6th Nov 2018
Managing Director
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Billed as the ‘Olympics for accountants’, this year the World Congress of Accountants is being held in Sydney. Alan Nelson, MD of Nelson Croom and founder of is in Australia to cover the event for AccountingWEB.

Today was a day of preliminary jousting, of calm before the storm, with the big kick-off tonight at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney, and events really getting going tomorrow.

But already the key themes were in evidence. Featuring significantly was the changing role of the accountant. How do accountants ensure that they stay relevant for the future?

Indeed Jennifer Warawa, Executive Vice President at Sage, took that a stage further, asking us to shift our focus from staying relevant to being indispensable. Looking at the changing societal and technological landscape, she distinguished three different types of accounting practitioner:

  1. The Past Perspective

These are the accountants that report on past performance. That would include the core book-keeping functions, the production of financial statements and reports and the preparation of tax returns.

  1. The Current Perspective

Here the focus is more on analysis - the profitability of products, customers, markets and partners for example

  1. The Future Perspective

A more strategic outlook, focusing on forecasting, scenarios planning and what ifs.

She was careful to say that all three are entirely legitimate activities and one is not necessarily better than the others, but the further down the list you go the higher the value-add to the client. And the less likely you are to be made redundant by advances in technology.

So why is it so hard for accountants to migrate their activities? It’s a good question and not one that concerns other professions. Warawa pointed out that doctors seem to love automation and embrace it. They see that if a bot can help to diagnose a patient, they can concentrate on making people better and on preventative care, which they like doing. But accountants hang onto their historical roles.

Nobody ever deeply cared about data entry, so why are accountants so reluctant to let it go and spooked by it being automated?

My guess is this is likely to be a theme that we’re going to hear about a lot this week.

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