How can accountants add the most value in the future of work?

| 26 Apr 2021

The accounting profession is facing a number of challenges which also present opportunities for accountants to add more value for organisations in the future, says UNSW Business School.

These challenges include emerging technologies which are impacting operational processes as well as demands from business in being able to make more strategic judgements when it comes to critical financial decisions.

“You hear a lot about new and emerging platforms and technologies like blockchain, robotic process automation, analytics and artificial intelligence, for example,” said Professor Paul Andon, Head of the School of Accounting, Auditing and Taxation at UNSW Business School.

These developments are impacting accountants in a couple of ways.

“It’s increasingly taking away the manual labour required in accounting work,” said Professor Andon, who worked at PwC in its assurance and business advisory services division prior to joining UNSW Sydney.

“It’s also providing opportunities for accountants to leverage their human qualities much more effectively in what they do. By this I mean being able to reason, apply human judgment, analyse and be creative in developing, applying and interpreting business insights.”

These challenges have been exacerbated by COVID-19, as any inertia or hesitation around transformation of accounting roles has been swept away by the need to respond as an imperative in a very different and more demanding business environment.

 As such, he said any notions that accounting can simply focus on record keeping or controlling finances have simply lost their currency.

“Now, more than ever, accountants need to be trusted stewards of business insights,” said Professor Andon, who has curriculum development and teaching experience in management accounting courses at MBA, Master of Professional Accounting (MPA) and Bachelor levels.

“They need to be active participants in strategy and decision-making processes and become advisors and business coaches to support organisations build prosperous futures. So, it’s important to think about the way they and their businesses operate post-pandemic.”

Such challenges are also recognised by universities such as UNSW Sydney, as they seek to help meet the future skills needs of the business world.

Professor Andon said the traditional approach of universities has been to teach technical skills, with an understanding that broader soft skills will be picked up along the way or acquired as work experience is gained.

“We need to be more deliberate about the whole package of competencies that our aspiring accounting professionals need to pick up and try and help students to gain those skills – right from day one when they enter university,” he said.

“Students need to build up those other professional skillsets that accounting professional bodies and, by extension, the business community expects of our aspiring accountants, so their skills are applicable to the broader business landscape.

“We want our students to go out into the workforce, being effective communicators, with an understanding of how they can solve problems and make decisions. They need to be innovative, creative, critical thinkers who are able to apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings.”

Professor Andon gave the example of UNSW Business School’s redesigned Bachelor of Commerce, which is designed to equip graduates with the technical and professional skills required by both professional accounting bodies as well as future employers.

The Bachelor of Commerce is well matched to the newly updated accreditation requirements of both CPA Australia and Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand (CA ANZ) through an integrated myBCom Blueprint which teaches a range of courses through specific themes.

The first theme (business management) looks at what goes on inside an individual organisation and includes courses such as organisational resources, value creation and data, insights and decisions.

The second theme (business ecosystem) considers the broader environment in which an organisation operates and includes courses on business decision-making and global business environments, while the third theme (skills and capabilities) focuses on equipping students with a suite of skills and capabilities via evidence-based problem solving and collaboration and innovation in business.

Professor Andon explains that the Bachelor of Commerce teaches both technical and professional capabilities required by both CA ANZ and CPA.

“Through the integrated first year, through the integrated myBCom Blueprint, and through the portfolio development over the course of one’s undergraduate degree – that’s exactly what we are seeking to develop in students.

“Of course, we don’t compromise on their technical skills, and UNSW has always been very well known for developing a high level of technical competency among students,” said Professor Andon.

“So at the end of the three years what they should get is not just a degree and a transcript with a set of excellent marks, but a rich portfolio of experiences that they can use to demonstrate to employers just how much they have developed as individuals over the course of the three years – not just technically, but professionally in terms of their ethical, critical and other mindsets.”

For more information on how professional accounting bodies are updating accreditation requirements to focus on technical and professional skills that will help accountants better meet the needs of organisations in the future please visit BusinessThink.