“As Britain negotiates its exit from the European Union, there are likely to be significant impacts on many business sectors,” says Anna Hardy-Watmough, principal lecturer in accounting at Manchester Metropolitan University. “The backlash against globalisation will also have an impact, as companies may find that access to certain markets becomes more difficult.” Accounting professionals will, says Hardy-Watmough, be key to helping drive and implement the necessary changes. “The speed of globalisation provides opportunities for accounting professionals to work overseas and develop international links, but this also poses threats due to differences in financial, taxation and cultural systems across the globe,” she notes.
Much has been written about automation in recent years and accountancy professionals will be at the heart of it in 2018. “Accountants are seen as one of the occupations which could see most automation, as many day-to-day processes become automated,” says Hardy-Watmough. “This means the job of accountancy professionals will continue to evolve, and is likely in the future to be more focused on advisory, strategy and risk management rather than on processing figures or ‘number crunching.’” Accounting students should, therefore, be mindful to develop these advisory skills during their studies, as concentrating on technical knowledge is, according to Hardy-Watmough, no longer enough to work as a finance professional.
Use of technology
This could possibly be viewed as the biggest single determining factor affecting the finance profession in the future. Firstly, companies will increasingly move to cloud accounting for many services, outsourcing their basic accounting function and moving to a different model of working. Secondly, companies rely more and more on ‘big data’ to manage their strategies, and this will continue to develop. “Lastly, the use of social media means that companies can interact with consumers and stakeholders in varied ways, and as such may need to increase the transparency of disclosures made,” says Hardy-Watmough. Accounting professionals are impacted by this as they need to have the knowledge and training to use these new technologies, and must ensure information presented can be understood and used both internally and externally,” she notes.
Diversification of skills
There is, says Lee Owen, senior business director at Hays Accountancy & Finance, an increased appetite for accountants and finance professionals who can also work as business analysts and data scientists. “Professionals with knowledge of big data, data analysis and the ability to interpret data for business operations are poised to be sought after in 2018,” Owen notes.
Salary increases for skill-short roles
There are signs of salary increases within skill-short areas which includes part and newly qualified accountants, payroll officers, audit and risk professions and candidates within the chartered profession. Salaries in this areas reflect the high demand, and candidates with demonstrable knowledge of data, information security and general controls are highly attractive to employers.
Owen notes: “In our What Workers Want Report 2017, employers of accountancy and finance professionals told us that communication, flexibility/adaptability and problem solving are amongst the top core skills they are looking when hiring.”
Resurgence in face to face meetings
Ian Brooks, commercial finance manager at ABL Business Ltd finance and marketing support consultancy, says that although the growth of Fintech platforms have had a major impact on the accountancy sector, nothing really beats meeting face-to-face. “Since regulation changes led to the introduction of Fintech platforms, this technology has been hailed as the next big thing in the finance industry,” he notes. “While fintech has its place and allow business owners to explore the funding options available to them, what we have actually seen is an increase in the number of businesses requesting face-to-face meetings. The human approach is still preferred when making key financial decisions about your business.” Business owners, says Brooks, feel uncomfortable sharing their information with numerous different operatives and often prefer to have a central point of contact.
A recent report by the Federation of Small Businesses, published last year, indicated that small businesses are the most vulnerable when it comes to cybercrime. The report, ‘Cyber Resilience: How to protect small firms in the digital economy,’ found that smaller firms are collectively attacked seven million times per year, costing the UK economy an estimated £5.26 billion.
Almost all (93%) the 1000 members surveyed by the FSB and Verve had taken steps to protect their business from digital threats but a whopping two thirds (66%) had been victims of online crime in the last two years. Over that period, those affected had been victims on four occasions on average, costing each business almost £3000 in total.
Owen says the increased risks of cyber security will lead to a corresponding demand for finance professionals to work in audit, risk and compliance including IT audit. “Accountancy professionals with demonstrable knowledge of data, information security and general controls are highly attractive to employers,” he notes.
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