The Making of an Accountant: Professional Development in the Digital Age

A recent report from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) sheds light on the challenges facing accountants as we move further into the digital age—and the attributes they will need to be successful.

Accountants will need a broad and evolving skill set

The ACCA’s report, Learning for the Future, stresses that while the digital age requires new skills and training, social interactions are increasingly essential to turn what is learned into effective skills in the work environment.

The report predicts that social change and technological innovations will mean that there is greater opportunity for those accountants prepared to evolve. However those who are not may find themselves marginalised.

The report highlighted four areas where accountant training and practice will change.

Technology in accounting

Robotic Process Automation, Artificial Intelligence and cloud-based computing all have an impact on accounting, with many tasks now automated and some roles reducing, there are now different expectations of those entering and moving up the profession. “Interpretation of data, communication, vision and strategy are increasingly top responsibilities for the future accountant,” says the ACCA.

The evolving workplace

Evolving business models are overturning traditional perceptions of work and ushering in more flexible and dynamic team-based structures. Rather than developing staff in existing roles, many organisations are now hiring freelancers or contractors to cover certain projects or growth phases. With people working longer in life and multi-generational workplaces, another challenge will be to ensure all generations are able to work together, leveraging each other’s strength and experiences.

Flexibility in career

More flexible career paths and the diminishing concept of a job for life can create challenges for those trying to progress and those generations already in the workplace.

The self-curated learning trend

Responsibility for ensuring professional development is increasingly upon individuals rather than their employers. “While employers must embrace the variability of content and providers now available, learners must become more educated as to what activities they can undertake to achieve the performance level they are aiming at,” says the ACCA.

Taking responsibility for professional development

ACCA’s executive director for strategy and development, Alan Hatfield, says the successful accountant of the future will be one who recognises the need to develop their skills on a continuous basis, and will take full responsibility for ensuring this happens.

“While they need to be technically competent, they also need to have the softer skills required for the value added aspects of their role,” he says.

“As the pace of change progresses, we need to ever more refresh and build upon our skills to remain relevant.”

However, he believes employers still have a responsibility to maintain a culture that supports continuous learning and long-term employee development in the workplace, including mentoring and coaching from peers, colleagues and fellow professionals. The ACCA recently introduced its own online mentoring programme to facilitate connections across their global membership.

“Organisation-wide learning is probably a thing of the past and a one-size fits all approach can never effectively address the variety of needs.”

“The learning and development community should endeavour to move away from being providers and rather become curators of learning content. They must step in and provide guidance and support on how to achieve the most from the range of developmental programmes available.”

Do you see your profession changing? What would help you embrace change and keep ahead of the competition?