Improving Accountant Skills for a Disruptive Digital World

The greatest challenge facing the accounting and auditing profession today is investing in the education and training needed to keep pace with the changing environment. Advances in technology and digitalization have led the industry to demand a different set of skills than many professional accountants have today. In today’s professional landscape, we are essentially applying 2005 skills in a 2020 environment.

Rashied Small, Executive: Education, Training and Membership of the South African Institute of Professional Accountants

Chartered accountants: from chartered accountants to consulting service providers

Thanks to technology and software, it is easier and faster than ever to produce financial statements that comply with all relevant industry regulations. Many financial statements that an accountant used to produce through manual processes and repetitive data entry can now be produced by software in minutes. Today’s clients expect a higher level of cognitive analytics from accountants. They turn to accountants to help them intelligently analyze their financial information so they can find ways to grow and sustain their businesses based on those numbers.

The kind of problem solving, critical thinking, and analysis that accountants need to provide this type of advisory service is not included in the curricula of traditional higher education institutions. Traditionally, if a client’s financial statements show that sales are increasing, they might conclude that the business is growing. However, if these sales trends and percentages are analyzed against the growth of their industry, an accountant who can critically analyze this information can infer that companies are not growing as quickly as the industry as a whole. This type of analysis and critical thinking could alert a client to a growing gap between industry growth and company sales growth before the client moves into a dangerous zone.

How skills-based education and training helps accountants develop

Three years ago, the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (Saipa) launched a program to teach professional accountants to apply their technical understanding of finance, auditing and accounting to take on more responsibility analytical. This competency-based training helps accountants give clients a narrative of what their financial statements can tell them about their business.

The feedback Saipa receives from the industry shows that young accountants who have completed this training are meeting their advisory needs. The new breed of professional accountants have begun to question, analyze and investigate client financial information instead of just providing numbers, which is exactly what the industry needs.

Addressing the higher level of ethical responsibility imposed on accountants

Another change in the industry is the level of ethical responsibility of professional accountants. The primary responsibility of accountants is not to clients, but to the public interest. The increased emphasis that has been placed on an accountant’s ethical responsibility means that accountants are increasingly placed in positions where they must balance their responsibilities to a client and the public.

If an accountant learns that a client has paid someone to receive work, which is essentially a bribe, an accountant will document this as services rendered under standard accounting practices. From an ethical point of view, however, this accountant should question the ethics of his client, report him and withdraw from this mission.

All professional accountants must adhere to regulations relating to ethics, but Saipa cements these concepts among its members by creating a platform where these issues can be raised. Within the institute, we compel professionals to discuss ethical dilemmas and how they approach these situations based on their knowledge and expertise. We are helping a growing number of professionals continue to question any issues that may impinge on an accountant’s responsibility to maintain ethical standards within the profession.

As the industry changes and evolves, accounting professionals must adapt. Digital disruption, combined with increased business demands and an increased burden on accountants to uphold ethical practices means these professionals must invest in the training they need to prepare for the future.

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