Global trends are transforming work and reshaping the future of the accountancy profession while the coronavirus pandemic is hitting the global economy in unprecedented ways. Pulkit Abrol, Market Director, ACCA ASEAN & ANZ shared with FutureCFO how accounting and finance professionals can navigate the changes and challenges, and how their employers should respond and help them in their careers.
FutureCFO: How has or will the coronavirus pandemic change the accountancy profession?
Pulkit Abrol (PA): COVID-19 has ushered in a new kind of economic reality where digital plays a greater role, giving a boost to the development of the Digital Economy.
In a sense, the Digital Economy provides some insurance and a buffer against the adverse effects of COVID-19 on the overall economy.
In a world after the pandemic, we will see the digital economy playing an even bigger role in the overall economy and creating a new normal.
Against this backdrop, the landscape for the accountancy profession will dramatically change.
The digital quotient will become ever more important for professional accountants to scale the career ladder.
Telecommuting will become more prevalent, enabling more talent to enter the profession, while the use of digital tools and automation will become more widespread to enhance productivity
There will be more regional and international collaborations, and more accountants will thrive in the gig economy.
We look forward to the new economic reality where digital and finance will synergise and propel the growth of professional accountants to new heights.
Future CFO: According to ACCA’s latest report on the accountancy career in the future, there are different career zones. How do accountants know which one(s) they should go after?
PA: In the recent ACCA’s Future ready accountancy careers in 2020 report, 79% of our members agreed that accountants will move into more diverse career paths and working lives will be reimagined as technology blurs the work divide between humans and machines.
With workplace transition, new and more amorphous career journeys in the profession are likely to arise.
They could be a series of linked career experiences but not always following traditional career paths.
However, this doesn't suggest that it’s the end of highly specialised technical roles; some ‘traditional’ career pathways will still exist.
It just suggests a more agile environment where talents could be in different steppingstones and pathways across many roles in the future.
The five exciting career zones of opportunity that will emerge in the future of accountancy, namely, the Assurance Advocate, the Business Transformer, the Data Navigator, the Digital Playmaker and the Sustainability Trailblazer will contribute to building a sustainable business. These zones represent broad areas of opportunities which individuals may develop their careers in, or navigate across.
In addition, the ACCA professional quotients represent the must-have capabilities needed in this changing environment. These professional quotients (PQ) are the behaviour and qualities required to meet needs and demands of the future, and are soft skills gained as individuals progress in their career.
Organisations need to transform their approach to learning, as individuals increasingly self-curate, using information sources and learning options. It will also be important for individuals to ‘unlearn’ as some things become less relevant.
FutureCFO: Are there any concrete examples that you can share to illustrate what you’ve just said?
PA: Take for example one of the career zones, the Assurance Advocate. There are three ACCA PQs that are relevant to the role. They are:
Having technical and ethical skills – which means skills and abilities to consistently perform activities to a defined standard while maintaining the highest standards of integrity, independence and scepticism;
the ability to acquire use of knowledge through thinking, reasoning and solving problems, which falls into the intelligence category in our report; and
the use of existing knowledge in a new situation, to make connections, explore potential outcomes and generate new ideas — this is what we call creativity.
If an individual possess these skills, he or she would be suited for the Assurance Advocate career zone. This means that the individual is essential to the strong stewardship of sustainable organisations for the future in areas such as auditing, risk management, and compliance.
Another scenario would be a person having qualities such as the ability and skills to understand customer expectations, meet desired outcomes and create value which requires experience, identify their own emotions and those of others, harness and apply them to tasks, and regulate and manage them, which is what we call emotional intelligence.
This professional is suited for the Data Navigator career zone as he or she sees extraordinary opportunities from the growth of data and uses emerging analytical tools to drive insights that deliver business outcomes.
To identify which opportunities they should pursue, professionals should look at both the ACCA professional quotients and five career zones for reference.
FutureCFO: Given the diverse opportunities for accountants, what new training should they get?
PA: As career pathways move further away from the formal route, and having mechanisms to allow people to ‘step on’ and ‘step off’ their career paths, organisations will need to start to think about what broader skills they want their employees to have, regardless of the part of the business they sit, and then allow that fluidity between finance and the rest of the business.
This will enhance the value of the people in the finance function of the organisation.
Examples of trainings professionals can look at include those that teach how individuals can familiarise themselves with evolving technology, which is ‘table-stakes’ for building a future career in accountancy.
Being digitally-savvy is a competency that transcends across all roles and sectors. Professionals should also look at building skills in data analysis, as learning how to analyse, understand and interpret information is seen as a skillset valued by organisations.
FutureCFO: How should employers help their employees in accounting and finance to develop their career?
PA: In this emerging world, ‘jobs’ in the profession become more agile and it will be challenging to plan out what the next job role may be, for both employer and employee.
With future jobs in the profession becoming technology and data rich within and across career zones, different combinations of quotients across roles and careers will be required.
Organisations will need to transform their approach to learning, as individuals increasingly self-curate, using information sources and learning options to drive their own personal career journeys. It will also be important for individuals to ‘unlearn’ as some things become less relevant.
Employers can also create more meaningful work to improve employee engagement, with a more attractive brand proposition of the company; it will give employer a competitive edge in the race for potential talent.
As a global accountancy professional body, we designed our qualification to ensure that it continues to stay relevant and structured to future-proof the careers of the professional accountants. We continue to encourage employers and the profession to always keep an open mind and continue to learn and relearn to be future-ready, especially in this challenging period of COVID-19.
FutureCFO: Given all the changes, what are the different major forces that will transform how organisations operate efficiently while meeting stakeholder demands?
PA: There are five factors that affect how organisations operate efficiently, mainly technology innovations, upskilling of employees, growing regulatory pressures, changing organisational structures and functions and data opportunities for businesses.
Digital transformation is now core to organisations seeking to build sustainable and viable businesses that are more efficient, more forward looking, and faster to adapt to changes.
Organisations need to work on three big areas: career adaptation, learning evolution and skills transformation. Navigating new career opportunities drives a continual skills transformation. It is necessary to have constant renewal of experience and knowledge, and rebalancing of skills.
These changes may also present considerations for how teams are designed. Finance teams need to reconsider how they support careers and design ‘jobs’ for accountants in the face of evolving work strategies. In the near future, we can expect teams across organisations to be more collaborative, fluid and permeable where business models are rapidly evolving.