The accountancy profession is undergoing disruption like never before. Here we look at some of the ways that the profession will change in years to come.
While core accountancy knowledge and skills – such as budgeting, reporting and advising clients – remain important, the rising tide of data and new tech also means accountants of the future will need new skills to advance their careers.
1. Future accountants will need social intelligence – not just technical skills
With robots and artificial intelligence predicted to take over half of all workplace tasks by 2025 those accountants who will thrive will be those who can do all the things software can’t. Machines might be able to craft a purchase order in two seconds flat. However, they’re pretty useless at nurturing new client relationships, inspiring a team or translating dense financial language into words that non-financial people will understand.
2. Carbon emissions will enter the balance sheet
Last year outgoing Bank of England governor Mark Carney warned those companies that ignored environmental issues would “go bankrupt”. At the same time, the Financial Reporting Council recently launched a review into whether auditors should reflect the financial risks of the climate crisis in their accounts. With the UK aiming to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 (and businesses making similar pledges), expect to see the environment enter the balance sheet. It’ll provide opportunities for accountants too: by 2030, it’s predicted ‘green-collar jobs’ will increase to 2m.
3. Understanding and analysing data will become crucial for accountants
It’s not difficult to see why businesses love data: it allows them to forecast sales, bolster internal audit and target consumers with laser-like precision. While many firms might be drowning in data, there’s a shortage of data scientists who can understand and interpret what these figures mean. All good news for accountants, who are in an excellent position to train up and plug that gap.
4. Freelance accountants will be everywhere
Today, 4.8m people in the UK are self-employed, around 15 per cent of the workforce. These aren’t just Deliveroo cyclists or people flogging craft doilies on eBay, but an increasing army of freelance accountants too, many working from home or co-working spaces. Being your own boss comes with a substantial caveat though: its feast-or-famine nature means work (and pay-cheques) can be irregular. Those gig economy accountants who are successful share one trait: they have commercial acumen in spades, whether it’s sniffing out new clients or savvy Instagram marketing. A
5. Time to get your head in the cloud
The UK is fast becoming a cashless society: UK businesses look set to process 11bn contactless transactions a year by 2026, four times as much as ten years previously. Along with the need to make clients tech-ready for Making Tax Digital, it doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict that any Luddite accountant who resists cloud-bookkeeping will be at a severe disadvantage.
6. Disruption will create new accountancy roles
It’s not all doom-and-gloom when it comes to the robot revolution: the World Economic Forum predicts automation will create more jobs than those it will eradicate. Tech such as driverless cars will require new taxing solutions, while the likes of blockchain, cryptocurrencies and smart payments will all need to be regulated. The result? New roles for accountants everywhere.
7. A big health check for auditing
Carillion, BHS, Thomas Cook, Patisserie Valerie – auditing scandals have been behind some of the biggest company collapses in recent years. The Brydon Report, published in December, urged for a radical shake-up of the entire auditing sector. Its recommendations included the creation of a standalone audit profession, shareholders/investors becoming more involved in the audit process and auditors undergoing training in forensic accounting so they can spot fraud better.
8. The rise of the holistic accountant
For years, the careers mantra went something like this: to be employable, you needed to develop a niche; a unique specialism allowing you to stand out from the crowd. Yet, in last year’s <Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World> writer David Epstein argues that those who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences tend to do better than specialists who manage to silo themselves thanks to their narrow expertise. The increasing trend for finance business partners – who work across different departments – backs up the theory that jack-of-all-trade accountants with a 360° approach will be much sought-after.
9. The fintech explosion means more choice for accountants
Arguably, there’s never been a better time for accountants to follow their passion. The fintech revolution means that accounting talent are considering careers at much smaller firms, rather than sending CVs to the big four as they would have done ten years ago. There are thousands of startups out there who need a quality CFO, in sectors from movies to charities. The all-hands-on-deck nature of smaller firms also means it’s a fantastic way to acquire a broader range of responsibilities too.
10. Accountants will have to think more strategically
The 2008 financial crisis sent shockwaves throughout the business world. Almost overnight, they no longer had the financial clout to invest in new ventures and had to make redundancies. However, some savvy firms started to see the potential of their back-room bookkeepers. By marrying their numerical nous with a knowledge of external factors (share prices, market trends, legislative changes plus whatever competitors are up to), these accountants had a unique join-the-dots insight, helpful for leaders’ decision-making and forcing companies to become leaner. As a result, those accountants who can think and plan strategically will be in heavy demand.
The content team are the owners of AAT Comment.