The pandemic has changed how we work – and where we work from. How much will it change demand for key accounting skills? Three experts weigh in.
Senior manager, professional development, CPA Australia
CPA Australia’s recent pre-COVID-19 research identified a number of key insights into the skills accountants need to focus on. These include the need to manage and lead change, and not just people, an ability to contextualise data and the solutions and limitations it offers, and the growing need to work across organisations to deliver an integrated approach to company reporting.
I see these skills becoming more important in a post-COVID-19 environment. In particular, throughout the pandemic, we have seen not only the importance of managing people, but also managing and leading change during uncertain and turbulent times. Embracing, enabling and leading innovation and transformational change will be important for finance professionals to ensure the sustainability of their organisations.
Accountants will also need to re-skill in data and digital technologies. Generating insights from data to enable decision-making at the executive level requires more than just producing a data report. Accountants need to be able to interpret the data and provide insights that add value to the finance function and organisation more broadly.
In addition to data, finance professionals need to look to implementing digital solutions that create new value for their organisation in an increasingly complex and competitive business environment.
I think the most important skill or attribute for a finance professional in a post-COVID-19 world will be the ability to re-skill and adapt to changing circumstances. Loretta Ross, CPA Australia
However, I think the most important skill or attribute for a finance professional in a post-COVID-19 world will be the ability to re-skill and adapt to changing circumstances. Anticipating the future, understanding opportunities and trends and adapting to new situations will prove to be the leading advantage for an accounting professional in the future.
Alain Boey FCPA
Chief transformation officer, Media Prima Berhad
The pandemic has shown just how vital technology has become to our lives and to the economy. In a post-COVID-19 world, technical accounting knowledge will need to be complemented by digital know-how.
Technology is changing so fast, and there are areas of compliance work that can be completed by machines. Accountants need to find ways to remain relevant in the age of technology. They need to understand how digital trends, such as big data and blockchain, will affect their industry, as well as the businesses they work in. They should be able to clearly communicate this knowledge within their business.
I believe accountants need to seek opportunities that can be found within data. Analytical skills, and the ability to share insights behind the numbers, will become even more important – and it is something that employers will come to expect.
Accountants need to be seen as partners to the business – not just the people who sit behind a desk dealing with the numbers. They will need to add more value.
Accountants need to be seen as partners to the business – not just the people who sit behind a desk dealing with the numbers. They will need to add more value. Alain Boey FCPA, Media Prima Berhad
Machines are very structured, so accountants will also need to be very creative in how they interpret the numbers and their relevance to the business. They will also need to be creative in the way they present the numbers, so that everyone can understand how the numbers impact the business.
Providing strategic thinking behind the numbers will be increasingly important in the future. It’s one of the things that machines can’t do.
Regional director, Hays Accountancy and Finance
Accountants have focused on helping their employer or clients survive this crisis, which has proven the value of reliable advice. A genuine level of trust has developed between employers or clients and their accountants, with the latter helping businesses get back on their feet. Therefore, post-pandemic, employers and clients will continue to seek out the expertise of a trusted adviser.
As a result, we expect to see greater demand for accountants who can offer more strategic insight and who possess strong consulting skills. In particular, demand within professional practice will be for “second movers” who have amassed a suitable level of experience. This is due to the heightened focus on return on investment and an increased reliance on professional services for technical expertise and advisory capabilities.
Taking inspiration from similar trends, commerce and industry will see demand for management accountants with solid experience in budgeting, forecasting and analytics.
As part of this, the ability to add value will remain important, too, with employers looking for accountants who can not only analyse data, but also make informed recommendations based upon it. Now more than ever, accountants must be more than simply a traditional number-cruncher!
We expect to see greater demand for accountants who can offer more strategic insight and who possess strong consulting skills. David Cawley, Hays Accountancy and Finance
However, that’s not to say there will be little demand for compliance – far from it. In particular, we expect to see demand for experienced financial accountants and payroll specialists with skills aligned to statutory financial reporting, accounts payable, accounts receivable, expense management and payroll processing.
We also expect to see high demand within cash collection, data analysis and budgeting.
CPA Australia resource:
Report on technology and the skills of accountants
Meet the experts
Loretta Ross is senior manager of professional development at CPA Australia. With more than 18 years of experience in the finance industry, Ross has extensive knowledge and skills in best-practice learning and development, leading and managing teams to produce a wide variety of activities from large-scale conferences to short, online courses. Ross is passionate about learning and applying adult learning principles to create high quality, engaging and valuable learning experiences that assist professionals to maximise their career potential.
Alain Boey FCPA
Alain Boey FCPA is passionate about digital and the opportunities coming from new technology. His focus has been on the traditional and disruptive technologies that have an impact on consumers and businesses. He is a member of CPA Australia’s Disciplinary Panel. Boey is a member of the Digital Transformation Committee of CPA Australia's Malaysia Division, as well as of the Digital Technology Working Group for the Professional Accountant in Business of the Malaysian Institute of Accountants. He also mentors start-ups across various industries.
David Cawley is regional director of Hays Accountancy and Finance in Australia. Over his 17-year career with Hays, Cawley has held a variety of roles in both the UK and Australia. He has extensive experience recruiting permanent positions, contract roles and temporary assignments across the private and public sectors.