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Accounting: An Eternal Job Role | Raymond Jack

An Eternal Job Role

Raymond Jack, Executive Director, Finance and Operations, ACCA talks about the changing role of commerce professionals and how can they keep up with the evolving needs of market.

Highlight: Last year we had 527,000 students supporting economic growth in 179 countries.  More than 99,000 students around the world entered the September exam sitting, in which over 123,000 exams were taken.

How is the role of professional accountants evolving? Talk about the challenges.

At the heart of the finance profession there’s an issue which will dictate what the future will look like for accountants and other professionals who have grown used to a certain protected status in the worlds of commerce and public policy.  This issue is all about how far professional accountants can continue to play a vital role in the life of business – and the outcome rests on our actions in one specific area, ethics.  The power of ethics has become a more important issue than ever before from the media, consumers, governments and their own employees.

Consumers and governments are sharpening their focus on ethical and sustainability issues. Buying habits are changing. Regulations are tightening.

Automation and AI are taking over more traditional accounting duties. Your comments.

For our profession to remain relevant, reliable and future-ready, we must increasingly bring our expertise and professional judgement to bear in a digital world where decisions are increasingly delegated to machines. Our role in this future must be to bring the human, ethical element to business processes which are in danger of being overtaken by the march of big data, artificial intelligence and automation.

How can commerce professionals stay updated with regards to the changing industry needs?

It’s an area where ACCA has done and is doing intensive research, and we’ve produced a wealth of advice for our members which are also relevant and rewarding for everybody and anybody in professional life. Much of it is captured in our report Professional Accountants – the Future: Drivers of Change and Future Skills.

Our research has considered carefully what the world will look like in the new digital age, and we came to the conclusion that every accountant will need a good blend of seven essential skills, what we call our Professional Quotients.

This is especially important because, increasingly, professional accountants’ skills are applied far beyond the traditional areas associated with the work of the accountant or auditor.

What are some of the desirable essential skills needed in a Chartered Accountant? How can they nurture those qualities?

The new world demands new skills. Our research showed a need for competencies related to emotional intelligence in particular. The skills needed are:

  1. Technical skills and ethics (TEQ)
  2. Intelligence (IQ)
  3. Creative (CQ)
  4. Digital (DQ)
  5. Emotional intelligence (EQ)
  6. Vision (VQ)
  7. Experience (XQ)

The professional accountant needs a balanced mix of ALL these. The precise mix of these may vary. Some may be required more in certain types of roles; some may be required more at certain stages of a career.

It means that our accountants bring these essential emotional and digital skills into all areas of their work – across:

  1. Audit and assurance
  2. Corporate responsibility
  3. Financial management
  4. Strategic planning and performance management
  5. Tax and, crucially of course …
  6. Governance, risk and ethics

How many students take up ACCA Qualification on an annual basis?

Last year we had 527,000 students supporting economic growth in 179 countries.  More than 99,000 students around the world entered the September exam sitting, in which over 123,000 exams were taken. A further 51,269 exams were taken on demand between 1 July and 30 September 2019 – a 9% increase in exams taken when compared to the equivalent period to September 2018, showing the demand of ACCA continues to grow, representing a student increase of 4.8%.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It’s my belief that if my profession embraces three universal values, we can play our vital role as professionals working with integrity, dedication, and wisdom, and, crucially, serving as the defender of the public interest.

They are:

  1. A determination to understand digital technology as it advances, with all its pluses, perils and pitfalls
  2. Displaying the confidence to apply our knowledge in real-world situations
  3. Thinking globally, with a consistent ethical framework guiding our profession

These are all important, not just for my profession. They are also vital for the organisations where we work and which we represent.

After all, a huge challenge for businesses and governments in the decades to come will be trust – how far customers and citizens are prepared to support them, vote for them and trade with them, in an environment where all transactions are based on the exchange of data.

It’s really important that we are not seeing these fundamental principles as a basic minimum for ethical compliance. How professional accountants in business will perform their roles in the future is crucial especially when working with digital technology.

Their ethical contribution will help to shape future economies and business. What we must do as a profession is build knowledge of emerging technologies and digital issues: to reduce the risk of compromise by insisting on professional competence and due care. These are the big questions facing us in the new digital age. How we respond will decide the future of our profession for decades to come. Frankly, the ethical element is what separates us from the machines, and the role of professionals in these next decades is to protect that human element, that ability and willingness to assess ethical consequences and act upon them, in our workplaces. It’s about blending the emotional qualities and digital savvy and ensuring that our ethical integrity survives and flourishes.

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