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In the changing accountancy landscape, ethical practice is more important than ever

By Shahied Daniels, Chief Executive of the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA)

By now, accountancy professionals and entrepreneurs are well aware of the ongoing changes in the industry as a result of technological advancements, such as automation and AI. These changes have long been a daunting prospect for some, who are often of the belief that technology spells doom for their professional futures.

However, the changing tides necessitate a shift in perspective, approach and practice for the accountancy professional operating in the current environment and this must also include a shift in how accountancy professionals, leaders and entrepreneurs view ethical practice.

Agility and ethics are tightly intertwined because the more the industry changes, the more exposed we and our clients and environments become. With the proliferation of digital technology, many accountancy professionals and businesses have migrated to the cloud or are making use of digital accounting software and platforms. These systems cannot be avoided – we are operating in a time when accessibility and efficiency are non-negotiable – but it’s also important to ensure that there are proper measures in place to prevent the sensitive information of clients and businesses from falling into the wrong hands.

A simplified example is when anyone has access to your mobile phone and password. Sensitive information and data is now in the hands of someone else. The same goes for Professional Accountants (SA) and accountancy professionals across the board.

We are entrusted with high volumes of sensitive information by our clients and within our own organisations. Without the right digital protective measures in place, this information can easily fall into the wrong hands and cause devastating consequences – it’s not hyperbole to assert that the wrong handling of this information could even disrupt the economy at large. Consider the recent data breaches at a prominent credit bureau and data security threats at various government departments – these are huge red flags for the finance industry.

As such, ethical practice in the digital age involves not only acting morally and always in the best interest of the client, our industry and the country, but taking a proactive approach to securing data, ensuring personal computers and devices are protected with antivirus and malware protection software through a reputable provider. It is incumbent on business leaders, organisations and professional accountancy bodies too, to fully embrace technology and innovation, supporting industry professionals in not only understanding the urgent need for these measures, but how to go about practically implementing them too.

We must take the necessary precautions and educate ourselves as accountancy professionals. The more informed you are, the better decisions you will be taking, and the more capable you’ll be of embracing the coming changes.

I urge all accountancy professionals to attend the upcoming SAIPA Accountancy iNdaba, taking place virtually on 1 and 2 November 2023. The event promises to delve deeper into the powerful intersections between agility and ethical practice, a topic that will be covered in greater depth by speaker presentations, panel discussions, and interactive workshops made up of industry experts and executives from across the accountancy profession.

To register to attend the Accountancy iNdaba, or to find out how to leverage the event to boost your organisation’s name in the industry by becoming a sponsor, visit www.saipa.co.za/accounting-indaba-2023 or email RBates@saipa.co.za.