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The year of possibility: trends that will shift the accountancy landscape in 2024

The accountancy profession has undergone a dramatic shift in recent years, with the emergence of new technologies, as well as various changes in regulatory and business environments. While the profession has weathered many storms, there is much to be optimistic about as we look towards the year ahead.

From digitalisation and consultancy to Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, 2024 is set to be a year of growth and possibility for the accountancy professional ready to tackle the opportunities it presents.

Continued emphasis on digitalisation

Digitalisation remains vital going forward as businesses continue to recognise the benefits that embracing technology presents in the areas of corporate reporting, decision making, and the optimisation of business resources.
More accountancy professionals and businesses will adopt packages and systems that automate everyday transactions and financial data in the coming year. By using these systems, there is far less room for human error than with manual operating environments, allowing organisations to better manage risk and compliance, lower operating costs, achieve greater productivity and efficiency, and boost customer satisfaction. Digitation also allows both accountancy professionals and businesses to have access to the most updated information on a “real-time” basis, allowing them to take immediate actions when risks are identified.

Accountancy professionals as valued business partners

Moving beyond the ‘number cruncher’ stereotype, accountancy professionals will increasingly embrace the role of trusted advisors and strategic business consultants for their clients in the coming year and foreseeable future. This is not a new phenomenon, as technology has already fuelled this shift for a number of years. However, the coming year will see a focus on building these relationships with clientele, as accountancy professionals look to broaden their horizons and embrace new ways of working.

As more of our everyday tasks become automated, the accountancy professional has more bandwidth to focus on what really matters – interpreting data, providing valuable insights, and contributing to strategic decision-making. They will be expected to provide more nuanced perspectives that extend beyond the realm of financial statements toward the goal of driving organisational success. Business owners and managers will be able to lean on accountancy professionals as trusted business advisors that can provide oversight and support to make effective business decisions.

A greater focus on ‘soft skills’

There is debate around the use of the term ‘soft skills’, as it implies these skills may not be as valuable or important as other, more technical skills. However, as accountancy professionals embrace new and more involved roles in businesses, skills such as emotional intelligence, flexibility, and the ability to effectively problem solve are more vital than ever.

In the capacity of someone who informs decision-making in a business, an accountancy professional needs to know, among other things, how to choose their words wisely and the appropriate way to behave in dealings with clients. We all know that there are instances where emotions may run high, and stress levels even higher. During times like this it’s important to be able to keep your cool, communicate effectively and, most importantly, navigate conflict in the most appropriate way. In the digital and information era, effective communication has become one of the more valuable skills for accountants.

ESG opportunities

With ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) structures becoming increasingly prominent, accountancy professionals are favourably positioned to offer assurance and advisory services. In cases where companies would need to verify the accuracy of ESG claims from a listed entity, for instance, an accountancy professional is more than capable to assist.
Small businesses will also soon begin adopting ESG policies into their own frameworks as consumer demand for ethical practices in business rises. In such instances, accountancy professionals are in good stead to offer their services from an advisory perspective.

Not forgetting that the measurement of ESG impact is based on data and analytics, which an accountant deals with every day. There are plenty of opportunities coming to the fore for professionals in this space to take advantage of, and it’s crucial that they are prepared to do so to survive and thrive in this new era of business.

Embracing Blockchain and cryptocurrency

According to recent statistics, it’s estimated that around 5.8 million South Africans (nearly 10% of the population) own cryptocurrency. Despite the hesitance many accountancy professionals feel towards these platforms, more and more businesses are dealing in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and require expert consultancy and financial management.

There are few professionals who understand and embrace Blockchain and cryptocurrency in business, which is a shame as this is the direction that many businesses are headed. In this context, Blockchain technology is not only applied for the accounting of cryptocurrencies but is becoming a useful accounting tool to integrate financial and non-financial information. It provides a safe environment that offers security and authenticity of business transactions. You are shooting yourself in the foot if you choose to remain wary and fearful of these platforms as an accountancy professional. Educate yourself so that you can diversify your offerings to clients of all industries.

As accountancy continues to evolve, professionals who can adapt and stay up to date on the latest trends and developments will ensure the longevity of their businesses and skills. To transcend the stereotypical role of ‘number crunchers’, accountancy professionals must prepare to be trusted advisors, partners in business, and experts in digitalisation.

By Leana Van Der Merwe, Technical and Standards Executive at the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA)