Talking heads: what are the key issues at the cutting edge?

As ACCA launches a major new initiative that looks at the future of the accountancy profession, what do those at the cutting edge believe are the key issues?

This article was first published in the June 2016 international edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

ACCA’s report, Professional accountants – the future, is the culmination of a two-year initiative to understand the key drivers of change that are shaping the finance function and to identify the qualities required by the practitioners of the future. We spoke to senior finance professionals to find out what they think are the crucial factors to consider. 

Fayezul Choudhury

‘For accountants to be relevant and to add value, they have to respond to change. The main areas accountants will need to respond to in order to evolve as a profession are probably fourfold.

‘One is globalisation, which is proceeding apace. It’s an integrated economy nowadays: the language of business has to be global, the practice of business is global, and even national economic policies don’t take place in isolation any more. The contagion of crises can spread rapidly. Business has to be able to rely on the work of accountants around the world, so the global profession has to grow and maintain a very high quality.

‘The second area is technology, which has transformed the profession, and that will only continue. The third area is sheer complexity. The world is just becoming more complex, and accountants have to respond to that. And finally, integrity. For accountants to add value, they have to be trusted. That means stepping up and realising that we have a social obligation beyond just corporate responsibility. 

‘Accountants have to become very influential. When they speak, people need to listen. When they warn, people need to take it seriously. When they assert that the financial decisions being made are based on solid evidence, that should give the numbers real credibility.’

CEO, International Federation of Accountants

Pamela Monroe Ellis FCCA

‘As professional accountants, how do we speak out against corruption without threatening our own security? It’s a huge challenge for us going forward. We can codify best practices in terms of ethics and integrity, but at a personal level, how do we address these issues, which we encounter on a daily basis? As the fiduciary agents in government and the private sector, we are at the forefront of this challenge. 

‘Since Enron and WorldCom, the accounting profession has changed tremendously. We have become so dynamic and diverse. We respond on a daily basis to change because we are integrated in business and society; we influence society in all our actions. We have to be mindful of what is happening around us and respond appropriately, and we have to realise that we are viewed as bastions of integrity and that the general public relies on us for our honesty. The future of the profession depends on us standing up, understanding expectations and responding appropriately.’

Auditor general of Jamaica 

Helen Brand

‘In our research into the future of the profession we discovered a brave new world of more regulation, greater globalisation, ever increasing risk and massive technological advancement.

‘On top of technical excellence, finance professionals now require creativity, emotional intelligence and the vision to lead. These interpersonal strengths are the means by which professional accountants are able to extract the maximum value from their technical knowledge, skills and abilities.’

Chief executive, ACCA

Barry Cooper FCCA

‘You’ll always need good accountants. And as companies increase their international operations, there are two types of skill that accountants need: one is technical skill to understand things like transfer pricing, hedging and managing cashflows. Secondly, while accountants act as smart business people, they need also to be aware of the impact their organisations have. As companies globalise, more accountants have to get involved with broader issues – for example, ethical issues about how you treat labour in other countries and tax avoidance. These are big issues on the global scene.’

Former ACCA president and associate dean, industry engagement and partnerships, Deakin Business School, Australia

'We all stand or fall by our reputation, so we all have a responsibility to each other to maintain high ethical standards'