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The changing skillset of the modern accountant

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The skillset of the accountant is changing at a speed that was unimaginable a decade ago. They are expected to be masters in IT, business process flows, business rescue, strategy and human resources.

This is a far cry from the fundamental accounting role of old – preparing financial statements and ensuring compliance boxes are ticked. Those functions are being replaced by computers and artificial intelligence. Accountants are expected to be fonts of business intelligence and to interpet what the figures reflect.

In much the same way, the role of the CFO is undergoing sweeping change. The CFO has moved from the side office to the boardroom and is expected to be the CEO’s wingman (or woman), with a deep-level understanding of macro issues such as legal developments, regulatory standards, and the fast-changing competitive landscape. This has never been more true than over the last year when companies have had to re-think every aspect of their businesses to survive the commercial devastation of Covid.

As the following article from Fin24 makes clear, the pressures on accountants and CFOs are such that a new skillset is being demanded of them.

From Fin24: The changes that have been occurring in the professional world of work have meant that careers that were considered bankable about a decade ago and now slowly being rendered irrelevant by machines an artificial intelligence that can do the same job. The same goes for accountants.

Even World Economic Forum leader Till Leopold warned white collar jobs would not be spared in the onslaught of jobs for skilled and educated people in the coming year, saying that 35% of the skills requirements for many existing professions will change in the near future.

This has implications for accountants on the African continent, according to the CEO of CFO Africa and CEO of the South African Institute for Business Accountants (Saiba), Nicolaas van Wyk.

He told Fin24 that the impact of the fourth industrial revolution and tech are changing the world of work for accountants.

“Five years ago, more emphasis came up on CFO’s and there was a lot being made of the role of the modern CFO. The role has moved from a purely finance function into the boardroom.

Broader skillset expected

“Now people who are accountants are also expected to have business skills, strategy, operation, human resources and information and communication technology,” said van Wyk.

Van Wyk said 70% of JSE listed company CFO’s our accountants by study and professional, while the remaining 30% were led by corporate executives with broad skills and competences. While Chartered Accountants are still present, they mostly serve to assist the CFO, van Wyk said.

“CFO’s need to be more mobile and be able to work anywhere in the world. We set a benchmark to qualify as CFO and award the designation so that companies are assured of that person’s competence. It is all the more essential with the scandals in place surrounding the profession,” said van Wyk.

He elaborated saying there might be corrupt politicians and state-owned entity leaders, but most of the time they cannot act without an enabling CFO. He said CFO Africa and Saiba have reached out to government to offer auditing and accounting capacity to its efforts in fighting corruption.

“We are making submissions to the Department of Public Enterprises. It is part of government’s efforts to clean things up and it is emanating from the Zondo Commission. everyone is building up defenses and we are doing it by bolstering the designation of the CFO,” he said.

Independent labour analyst Andrew Levy said C-suite executives remained one of the most critical components to South Africa’s efforts when it came to drawing critical skills to help the economy recover.

Xpatweb director Marisa Jacobs said the impact of COVID-19 on South Africa’s world of work would deepen the formal economy’s reliance on tech and the idea of virtual work.

“We only released the critical skills list after COVID-19, so it will be interesting to understand pre COVID-19 versus post COVID-19 world to see if there has been a dramatic shift, but we can see engineering remains in the top 10, which we weren’t expecting to see due to the impact on manufacturing. IT reliance is high because of the fourth industrial revolution and the high use of tech,” said Jacob.

Intimidation of CFO’s concerning

Van Wyk said the intimidation and murder of CFO’s who had lost their lives in the fight against corruption in government departments and SOEs was also of serious concern.

“It is a small number of CFO’s who are corrupt but many are in organisations where the culture cannot easily be shifted in a positive direction. For example, Markus Jooste didn’t act on his own. He had a CFO who facilitated things. We must strengthen the ethical role and technical knowledge,” said van Wyk.

Van Wyk said he believed CFO’s could assist South Africa at a strategic level as sovereign credit rating agencies have been giving SA downgrades, adding that CFO’s can improve the profession and the economic fortunes of the continent.