5 ways accounting careers will change in the future

As part of our series, AAT: life at 40, we look at the future for career pathways in accountancy and finance.

In a year when Covid-19 has severely disrupted education, vocational routes offer many attractive opportunities. It’s likely, too, that the accounting profession’s next intake won’t follow a traditional career path. Here’s what to expect in the future

1. Education vs training

Unemployment is set to grow sharply as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Office for Budget Responsibility has said the unemployment rate could peak at between 9.7% to 13.2% in the next few years.

Prime minister Boris Johnson says the Government wants to give people the skills to find and create new and better jobs. “We’re transforming the foundations of the skills system so that everyone has the chance to train and retrain.”

The Government also plans to make it easier for people to study part-time, by making higher education loans more flexible.

Mark Farrar, chief executive of AAT, said the prime minister’s commitment to skills and retraining for adults – at every stage of life and from any background – is of vital importance to the success of the jobs market.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is generating huge retraining and upskilling needs, and individuals with the required skills will ultimately fuel the nation’s economic recovery. Offering training to specifically meet employers’ needs gives us a clear direction of travel with further education skills training needed more than ever in a post-Covid-19 and Brexit world.”

So with unemployment set to grow and the UK government focusing on education and training, will accountants be educated or trained?

Looking to the future, accountants will continue to learn with a mixture of both education and hands-on training, as both education and training are equally valuable, says Suzie Webb, AAT’s director of education and development.

“The ‘balance’ will depend on the individual,” Webb explains. “The context, the end-point being targeted, the previous experience and knowledge of the learner, etc. There is not (and nor should there be) a ‘one size fits all’ way of developing individuals.”

2. New trajectories

The career path of the accountant is not following the set trajectory it once did. Instead, a wider range of options are available to explore.

Those entering the accounting industry will take up roles such as outsourcing director, finance business partner and data analyst. These avenues will continue to expand in the coming years.

Companies wanting to fill these emerging roles will still be looking for recognised qualifications, however.

“AAT has high awareness and recognition within the market – around 80% of employers have heard of AAT,” says Rob Alder, AAT’s head of business development. “Employers like candidates with AAT backed up with experience, because it demonstrates someone has the practical skills needed to fulfil a range of functions within a finance team.”

Alder adds that AAT is popular in all sectors of the economy across a range of businesses, from SMEs to the public sector.

“Employers know from previous recessions the benefit of people increasing their studies as they
invest in making themselves
more employable.”

3. Evolving demands

Specialist recruiter Robert Half has highlighted that many businesses are redesigning traditional job roles to meet current day demands. The recruiter recently surveyed more than 1,500 executives, with the results revealing thatone-in-three businesses are rescoping roles to assist with their recovery post-Covid.

As firms look to ensure agility and resilience moving forward, the survey showed the top two in-demand skills are focused on IT security (32%) and IT management (30%), followed by financial management (25%) and business planning and analysis (21%).

5. Automation and digitisation

Many businesses are seeking to automate and streamline their finance functions through cloud-based systems. So it’s no surprise that for the finance and accounting sector, the survey revealed an increased focus on candidates with digital operations and data analytics experience, as well as a rise in demand for credit and cash control roles.

Similarly, for financial services, there was a prioritisation of candidates with cloud computing and analytical skills, coupled with an increase in demand for payment and analyst roles.

While digital and technical capabilities remain critical to business recovery, 41% of executives say “soft” skills will be key to dealing with ongoing uncertainty.

The top in-demand “soft” skills include creative thinking (38%) and agility (36%), while effective communication (35%), strong leadership (33%) and strategic thinking (29%) are also in high demand.

Recently, a report by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) revealed that the role of the CFO is rapidly evolving too thanks to Covid-19. In the “CFO of the Future” report, respondents strongly agreed with the hypothesis that CFOs will play an increasingly important role in strategy formulation, validation, and execution.

5. Converging skillsets

So as clients and businesses demand a wider service offering, the increased use of technology for tasks such as data entry mean the skillsets of accountants will continue to change.

Donne Burrows, chief operating officer at Engine B, which provides a data management solution to accountants, says it is now important for accountants to have a grasp of how technology is applied within the profession. This includes some knowledge of how data and analytics are used in accountancy.

For example, how technology brings siloed data together to help advise clients more effectively.

“It is really important to consider the skills that organisations will need from their accountants in the future,” she says. “There is clearly a big focus on technology and data and analytics, so getting yourself exposure to these areas will be a real benefit in the future.”

She adds that technology is also one of the sectors actively hiring and, with competition for talent fierce, professional qualifications are a bonus.

Webb notes that although technology is changing the tasks that accountants perform, knowledge of the fundamentals of accounting is still vital.

“The evolution of technology is changing what accountants will do in the future and how they do it,” she says. “But it doesn’t change the importance of excellent building blocks and a sound knowledge of
the fundamentals of accounting, which is what AAT provides through our qualifications.”

David Nunn is Content Manager at AAT.

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