It is a given these days that professional accountants need to be technologically competent at the very least – and ideally, much more than that. ‘Digitally savvy’ may be one way of describing it. Technological innovation (and its many offspring, from global connectivity to social media) remains the most significant driver of change across every sector of business – and as businesses change, so do the competencies they look for in professional accountants.
The central aim of ACCA’s Drivers of change and future skills report was to identify the changing needs of business and to understand how professional accountants need to develop to keep their capabilities relevant. More than half (55%) of the 2,000 professional accountants and C-suite executives across the world who took part in the research for the report identified the development of intelligent automated accounting systems as the external factor they expected to have most influence in the next three to 10 years.
The report identified seven ‘quotients for success’ for professional accountants in future – an optimal and changing mix of professional competencies (covering technical knowledge and skills but also interpersonal qualities and behaviour) that will add value for their employers and clients. Among the seven is the digital quotient (DQ), defined as ‘the awareness and application of existing and emerging digital technologies, capabilities, practices and strategies’.
The spread of digital technology has already transformed the practice of accounting and the skills that professional accountants need – and the evolution is ongoing, with no clear view of the final destination. The automation of manual processes has already influenced business models, powerful analytics is bringing real-time reporting closer, and communications technology has reshaped companies’ interaction with stakeholders. Arguably, the biggest potential change of all – blockchain – is still a relative unknown.
The rise of big data presents particular challenges. The report points out, for example, that a simple Google search can uncover more data than any assurance report. ‘By 2020, stakeholders with internet access will have the tools to analyse big data – if not the technical knowledge or experience to interpret it,’ it says. ‘By 2025, Google may employ more audit and assurance professionals than the Big Four.’