The future of careers defined for the accountancy profession

Golden opportunities to transform business to create and support a sustainable world

In recent years the accountancy profession has suffered some reputational damage, however, ACCA’s latest report, Future ready: accountancy careers in the 2020s indicates golden opportunities ahead.

Lahore (Muhammad Yasir) The report by Jamie Lyon, Head of Business Management, ACCA, Professional Insights, reveals a significant number of trends signalling that the future can and should be bright for those whose careers are already in progress and for aspiring young professionals.

These trends range from the rise of data possibilities which will be become central to their role and linked to the adoption of automation technologies, and will free up professional accountants to add more value, provide greater connectivity, highlighting the rising importance of inclusivity in the workplace, the changing nature of work, and evolving business models. 

“Now is the opportunity of a lifetime for the accountancy profession to build on its strong foundations and evolve: an opportunity to adapt and play its future part in building sustainable organisations for the long run. It’s a great opportunity for countries like Pakistan to develop globally in-demand, future-ready accountancy talent to capitalise on our youth bulge. Timing is everything.” – Sajjeed Aslam, head of ACCA Pakistan

The report brings together ACCA’s global research over the last three years, additional desktop research, including a member survey and interviews conducted with finance leaders, HR professionals and recruitment specialists in key markets to understand how careers may transform.

The report suggests there is a growing opportunity for the profession to contribute to building sustainable and purposeful organisations.  ‘This imperative is at the heart of the future profession,’ says Lyon. The report identifies a number of ‘career zones’ of opportunity where accountants can play a key role in supporting these ambitions. These include:

Assurance advocates. In fast-changing, digitally disrupted markets, organizations need to manage risk appropriately and ethically. Professional accountants can use digital tools and technologies to transform the risk, audit, compliance and internal control landscape to ensure effective stewardship of organizations and protect value.  They can also support responsible business practice, and drive transparency and trust in the organization.

Business transformers. Business models will keep evolving in response to new technologies and changing market opportunities. Accountants can support businesses of all sizes in these efforts, as entrepreneurs or business advisers, or by taking a leading role in transforming smaller accountancy practices to bring new value to clients. Instead they may be leading finance operational change programmes or wider business transformation initiatives that are all designed to innovate and grow organizations.

Data navigators. Data is an enterprise asset that can be used in everything from building the business case for new investments to profiling competitive threats. Accountants can act as strategic advisers and business partners, helping to develop and apply rich data sets and use emerging analytical tools to provide real-time insights into how to create and sustain long-term value through better decision making.

Digital playmakers. Digital adoption is key to creating competitive advantage through innovation. Accountants can act as technology evangelists, identifying the potential of robotics, machine learning and other emerging cognitive technologies to transform finance and business operations, or they may be working with technology teams to drive productivity and digital transformation initiatives.

Sustainability trailblazers. In today’s world, value is created by more than just financial capital, and intangible assets are a growing proportion of enterprise value. Accountants can help evolve frameworks that capture, measure and report on activities that truly drive value, providing more meaningful and transparent information about the organisation’s performance.

Professional accountants could make an impact in more than one of these ‘zones of opportunity’ during their careers. Lyon envisages a future world of career transformation, where many individuals will have different types of roles during their working life, building more variable career paths rather than necessarily climbing the traditional vertical career ladder. ‘We will see more fluidity in terms of how people navigate across different types of activity,’ he says. ‘Roles are changing more quickly, and that is driving the need to develop new skills. That in turn is transforming the learning opportunities that are needed in the workplace.

In playing their part in building sustainable businesses, accountants will still need to apply the seven professional competencies – or quotients. These quotients include more typical competencies (technical and ethical, intelligence, digital, and experience) and the softer skills (creative, digital and emotional intelligence). For example, the emotional intelligence quotient could become particularly important in the future, through assisting in understanding the viewpoints of wider stakeholders or advocating ethical approaches to the adoption of new technologies. ‘These professional quotients are so very relevant in this emerging world,’ Lyon says. ‘Accountants will need to apply a range of broad skills to have maximum impact in organisations. Those who succeed can look forward to a new world of opportunity and the chance to build brilliant careers.’