Tomorrow’s companies will have three main questions for their Professional Accountants: what will happen, what needs to happen, and how can we make the second outcome happen? To answer them, practitioners must acquire competence across three domains – business expertise, soft skills, and a working knowledge of 4th Industrial Revolution technologies.
Above all, a grasp of data science is essential. Data scientists apply statistical algorithms to selected company data to solve given business problems. Automating this process for on-demand use is the basis for artificial intelligence (AI). Professional Accountants must understand how such solutions are developed. This will empower them to collaborate with data scientists to achieve meaningful results for their clients or employers.
Statistics is a major component of data science and the only way to accurately predict the future. Accountants who wish to remain relevant must understand how to apply algorithms to data to predict the probability of events occurring and discover the best strategic choices.
Without appropriate graphical representation, complex analytical results may seem meaningless to a less technical audience. It falls to the Professional Accountant to close the gap between analysis and presentation by learning the craft of data visualisation.
A requirement of data science is domain-specific expertise. The same is true for Professional Accountants and will become their main competitive advantage in the near future. As trusted business advisors, they must attain a deep understanding of their client’s or employer’s business and the forces that impact its success. It follows that specialising in specific industry niches and striving for mastery of them will win the astute accountant more trust and therefore more business in those spheres.
Of all the soft skills, leadership will be the most important. Business advisors are influencers who can convincingly pitch strategy options, overcome adversity and win over dissenters. Accountants should, therefore, seek out opportunities to study and apply leadership in their duties. In addition, they should learn interpersonal competencies like reporting, teamwork, emotional intelligence, communication, conflict resolution, public speaking, and more.
Continuing professional development
Whether it is 4IR or any other changes in the business arena, Professional Accountants must devote themselves to lifelong learning. Apart from certified online courses and CPD events, many YouTube videos are available to explain these and other topics at various levels of technical complexity for free.
Continuous professional development is no longer restricted to the Profession itself and may take us outside our comfort zone. But if we wish to remain of value to our clients, we must be willing to expand our skill sets to satisfy their evolving demands.
Professor Rashied Small, Executive: Education and Training at the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA).