Build accountancy capacity, but make it future ready

South African Institute of Professional Accountants
3 February 2021

Build accountancy capacity, but make it future ready – SAIPA

Building an ample workforce of South African accountancy professionals is pointless if they are not equipped with future-ready competencies.

“The accountancy community needs to start thinking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and how technology is changing the profession,” says Professor Rashied Small, CoFE Executive at the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA).

According to him, the main effect is that those in the profession will move from producing information to utilising it effectively in business decision-making.

“It therefore becomes essential that advanced initial and continuing professional development programmes be designed to prepare them for this new reality,” says Professor Small. This is the function of SAIPA’s Centre of Future Excellence (CoFE), which has developed its Competency Framework around this need.

Accounting technician

Typically, accounting technicians provide support services to professional accountants and the accountancy functions. Their duties include, among others, cash management, capturing financial records, recording payments and expenses, and compiling reports for accountants.

“As their work is taken over by AI and robotic process automation, or RPA, accounting technicians will assume the more critical functions of validating source data and investigating information anomalies,” says Professor Small.

Their main activities will be data mining and assuring the integrity of financial and business data flowing through the enterprise. To achieve their objectives, they will interact with various stakeholders, including operational managers, customers and suppliers, and technology providers, while reporting their findings to the professional accountant.

Professional accountant

Professional accountants currently maintain and manage an organisation’s financial function. They provide services around standards-driven financial reporting and accountancy practices, and assure the accuracy of financial statements and the legal compliance of accountancy records.

Likewise, many of their traditional technical duties will be automated as 4IR principles immerse commerce and industry. Inevitably, they will transition to the role of strategic business advisor, creating valuable insights and foresight for organisations from financial and business data.

“Their focus will be on interpreting, disseminating and monetising information produced throughout accountancy and business processes to the benefit of their corporate leadership,” says Professor Small.

Embracing technology

Deploying more accountants with legacy training will not serve the needs of the growing number of technology-driven businesses. Rather, professional development must focus on the competencies that will help accountants transition to their new advisory role.

Accounting technicians must also be given the opportunity to acquire the skills that will enable their role as corporate data custodians.

Accountancy professionals can also no longer limit themselves exclusively to financial matters. Rather, they must add value throughout the business ecosystem, including its supply chain and value chain.

“Professional bodies, accountants and auditors who continue to focus on compliance will be nothing but compliance officers, which will add no real value to organisations seeking to leverage their data investment,” warns Professor Small.

Cybernetically enhanced accountants

Professor Small says that SAIPA has accepted the inevitable changes facing the accountancy profession. Instead of fighting to preserve the traditional accountancy model or competing against technology, the Institute intends to pioneer the evolution of the profession in the 4IR era.

“We must fuse accountancy with technology if we wish to remain relevant in this new world,” he concludes.