“Accountants must choose a more central role,” Mark Farrar

Mark Farrar, AAT Chief Executive, has been discussing how accountants can meet the future needs of businesses and the public sector. Find out where he thinks the accountancy profession is heading.

The recent International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) session made me think on how the role of accountants must change, which is very relevant to our AAT members. Around 45% of our members operate in commercial sectors, and 23% in the public sector.

The message, in a nutshell, was that accountants need to look beyond the balance sheet and take a more central role within the business.

It’s something we as accountants must choose to take the initiative on.

Thanks to the digital tools we now have to hand, there’s a much larger space that we as accountants can occupy. And therefore a wider spectrum of information that accountants need to take ownership of.

Accountants can bring valuable insight to data analysis, beyond financial data. They should also be able to improve internal communication of this data, and potentially, for certain larger organisations, external communication of it as well.

Embedded accounting

For me, this is where the fun starts.

We talk regularly about business partnering, but accountants need to be embedded in the very fabric of the business – an integral part of the decision making.

That includes those in practice, who can take on that “virtual finance director” role. In turn, that would improve the attractiveness of the profession in terms of what it’s doing.

So what sort of non-financial data could accountants own?

An example could be the carbon footprint of the business. Not just reporting the carbon footprint, but saving money, reviewing various processes, the unit costs. It’s about looking at procurement and business cases.

Ultimately, it’s about bringing different blocks of data together and analysing them in a coherent way, so it makes sense too for the people trying to run the organisation.

A lot of this is about taking the accountant’s skills around data and controls, and starting to analyse a much wider range of information. It’s a constant theme that I hear time and time again.

Choose to do it

It goes all the way back to that integrated reporting message. If a CEO wants someone to dig out some carbon statistics and analysis – it’s not finance, necessarily, so is it our territory? It is, if you choose it.

If you don’t choose it, someone else will, and the more someone else does it, the harder it will be for you to break in.

A senior finance professional from the Shell Group said that it’s proving challenging to recruit into the accountancy space, but it’s an awful lot easier to recruit into the digital one. That’s indicative of other organisations as well.

We need to seize control and shift the focus. The power that can come from the job, if you push into these spaces, is intertwined with business management – you are the business management at that point.

You’re not just partnering it any more.

For more on looking beyond the balance sheet as an accountant;

Mark Farrar is the Chief Executive of AAT.

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