Future of ACCA in a Rapidly Changing Technological Environment Part-3

In the last couple of articles we discussed how the global scenario is going to affect the accounting profession in future and how the future accounting professionals will need to be open minded, innovative and adaptive in order to meet the requirements of the changing trends. In this article we will take that line of thinking ahead and discuss the role teachers and education providers can play to help the future accounting professionals cope up with the changing trends and the global scenario.

Future accounting professionals as we have already established are going to face three major challenges, if we recall the three challenges they are the rapid technological change and the introduction of artificial intelligence, big data and IT security. Second challenge is going to be of increasing globalization and changing perspectives of the workspace like the concept of outsourcing and the third major challenge is going to be the changing legal and regulatory environment.

As we have already established all of these three challenges will require future professionals to be very well grounded in their knowledge base in order to tackle and deal with these challenges. This means that teachers and education providers have to make changes to their curriculum and teaching methods today in order to prepare the accounting professionals of tomorrow.

Future accountants will need education to handle digital technology including cloud computing and the usage and interpretation of big data. Not just this, they will also need acquaintance with the usage of artificial intelligence at work place and data security. Data security in particular is going to be a major area of concern and at present this area is what you can call grey area because there is not much clarity about it.

For now, let us focus on the importance of teachers and educational institutes teaching the students the importance of technology in workspace. A recent ACCA report stated that knowledge of digital technologies is the key competency area where professional accountants have got skill gaps. Currently accounting professionals are well grounded in technical knowledge but lack the skills required to interact with digital technology at work and integrate it with their technical proficiency.

We mentioned in the previous article that Facebook faced Congressional hearing over the misuse of the data it has of the users, this is where companies which purchase data from companies like Facebook face an ethical and legal question  that to what extent can the data be considered fair and ethical?

“At present, accountants lack knowledge in transformation of new disclosure regulations, new forms of disclosures, and awareness of the interconnectedness of financial and non-financial reporting. Professional accountants will need the skills to provide more all-inclusive corporate reporting, which tells less about the numbers and more about the narrative of the organization.”

What this means is that currently the professional accountants can crunch numbers, the financial statements are full of financial data that is relevant to the company but currently it can only be understood by those interested furthermore the traditional financial statements comprise of financial data with no or little information about the business, conduct and the activities at large of the business that affect the environment surrounding the business as a whole.

This is where integrated reporting comes in. The concept of integrated reporting is to make the annual reports more comprehensive so that all the stake holders can understand the report and the public at large can get a clear and wholesome picture of the way the business operates. Markets and people now want how the business carriers out its corporate social responsibility, how it takes care of the environment, how diverse the workforce it, how ethical are the values of the business are and if there has been any breach of ethics etc. If you understand the accounting profession well then you will understand that these are not the key areas where accountants used to focus traditionally. 

Traditionally accountants used to focus on the more technical part of accounting but in recent times the global scenario is changing and now accountants are required to address these issues as well. These issues may not feel directly connected with accounting but they are connected with the organization and its environment. This is why ACCA has recently changed the format of P1, P2 and P3 and replaced them with SBL and SBR, in order to prepare the students for this change.

What this means is that teachers and education providers now also need to focus on soft skills as well as hard technical skills. Teachers must understand that while hard technical knowledge and skills are the main strength of an accountant, in the changing world accountants now need soft skills to integrate their technical understanding with the changing conditions at workplace. In the past there was no social media and thus there was no constant interaction with stakeholders, but now due to presence of social media organizations are constantly in contact with their stakeholders and this means accountants need to develop new strategies to manage stakeholder relations.

Consider the example of a company whose social media management team  talks in a rude manner with stakeholders and this results in a major PR disaster that results in negative movement in the stock price. Now the movement may be a one time event but see how mishandling of social media accounts can result in financial losses for the shareholders? There have been instances where social media accounts of big corporations have posted messages without keeping in mind the sensitivities of people and thus the messages have at times been taken as ethnic or racist in nature thus inviting backlashes against the said corporations. These events may be one time events but they leave a negative mark on the collective image of an organization. This is why soft skills today are more important because people and accountants in particular need to be aware of them. This is where teachers and education providers need to work.

So two areas have been identified so far, teachers need to work on digital skills gap and the soft skills for future professional accountants.