Technology is radically reshaping the finance and accounting function, forcing today’s professional accountants to embrace new digital tools across all aspects of their work. Artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud computing, robotic process automation (RPA) and data analytics are among the technologies affecting the methods, tools and processes used in the accounting ecosystem.
Consider audit services, for example, which has long been characterised by laborious transaction processing. With RPA eliminating such time-consuming work, more efficient and comprehensive audits can be performed using an entire set of financial accounts and transactions, instead of just a sample. RPA can also improve compliance and reduce risk by flagging anomalies which traditional controls may fail to identify. Freed up from tedious manual tasks, auditors can thus focus on higher-value activities like planning and budgeting.
However, for every person excited by these transformations, there is another who is struggling to cope. In a survey of thought leaders by Accounting Today, the two concerns most frequently cited as the biggest challenges facing the profession were the impact of new technologies, and accounting’s ability to adapt to the rapid pace of change. A 2017 survey jointly conducted by EY and CPA Australia also found that 79 per cent (eight in 10) of Singapore-based finance and accounting professionals do not feel equipped with the necessary skills to meet the demands of their jobs in 10 years’ time.
These findings back up the results of a 2016 survey by the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants which measured the rate of technology adoption among the accountancy profession. The study revealed that Singapore’s accountancy sector is lagging behind in harnessing technology, with only 67 per cent of public accounting firms adopting at least one software or technology in their daily operations.
To fill these skills gaps, as well as to develop Singapore into a leading global accountancy hub, the Government unveiled a sector-wide Accountancy Roadmap in 2018. It aims to achieve annual growth of 5.6 per cent to reach S$2.03 billion in nominal value-add by 2020. In support of this Roadmap, the Accountancy Industry Digital Plan was launched last August to help small- and medium-sized practices (SMPs) — which make up 98 per cent of the industry — adopt technology for greater productivity and competitiveness.
With such ambitious plans for the sector, there is a bright future for accountants who possess the tech literacy to help make sense of the ever-larger volumes of data. Recruitment agency Kelly Services has in fact named the accounting sector as offering one of the strongest job-growth prospects in its 2019 Singapore Salary Guide, particularly for those in Professional, Manager, Executive and Technician (PMET) positions. Armed with digital know-how, PMETs will be able to play higher-value or more strategic roles and help lead organisational growth.
Singapore Management University (SMU)’s Associate Professor of Accounting (Practice), Wang Jiwei, commented that professionals occupying business and IT-related roles are also increasingly required to have technical accounting skills. This will enable them to communicate with accountants, understand and analyse financial reports and recommend courses of action to management, thus gaining an edge in the competitive job market.