By Nazatul Izma
Job obsolescence, specifically risks to accounting jobs as organisations embrace technology, was an overriding concern at the recent MIA International Accountants Conference 2018 with the theme of Riding the Digital Wave, Leading Transformation.
Below are some of the insights and recommendations for accountants seeking to future-proof themselves in the era of Industrial Revolution 4.0, culled from the Plenary 1 session.
Automation is a Key Risk for Accounting Jobs
According to research from the likes of the McKinsey Global Institute and Frey and Osborne’s seminal Future of Employment report, as cited by plenary session moderator David Chew, Producer/Presenter BFM89.9, “Accountants and auditors have a 98% risk of losing their jobs to automation as opposed to dentists and even dancers.”
Meanwhile, MIA CEO Dr. Nurmazilah Dato’Mahzan quoted highlights from the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s research paper entitled the Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2018: How Technology Affects Jobs.
The ADO 2018 report identified the three essential technologies that are impacting all workers – artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain (BC) and robotics. Further, the report categorised jobs into four classes – routine/cognitive, routine/manual, non-routine/cognitive and non-routine/manual.
“Today, the job of accountants is typically routine/cognitive and almost 100% at risk of being automated. However, members and accountants working in non-routine yet cognitive jobs face a lesser risk of being automated,” warned Dr. Nurmazilah.
Accountants Need to Acquire Higher Order Skills
According to Dr. Nurmazilah, citing research from the World Economic Forum (WEF), there is growing demand for jobs that require analytical thinking and problem solving, systems analysis and evaluation. However, there is a declining trend in terms of jobs requiring memory, verbal, management of financials, quality control, safety awareness, etc. which are in probability replaceable or can be supplanted by robots.
Dr. Noel Tagoe, Executive Vice-President, Research and Curricula, CGMA underscored that as data and analytics become predominant, accountants need to acquire the right skills and competencies to play in the data space.
According to Dr. Tagoe, his conversation with 15 data analytics heads of 15 top FTSE 100 companies, showed that there are four key competencies for managing data: data strategy and planning abilities; ability to extract and store data; ability to analyse and model data; and ability to communicate insights about the data.
“Their advice to accountants is to major in data strategy and planning and data communications.” To do data strategy and planning, accountants must understand the business externally and internally and the ecosystem back and forth. To do data communications, accountants have got to be masters of communications.
“Strip accountants of everything and you are storytellers about the numbers. You have to learn to tell stories in different ways. Become polymaths of telling stories or polyglots, just in different languages,” said Dr. Tagoe.
Dr. Tagoe also advised accountants not to compete in areas where computers shine e.g. predictions and calculations. “Do excel in areas where humans are superior – empathy, judgement and creativity – and in the computer-human interface where humans improve what computers do and vice versa.”
Rethink Your Roles to Add Value, Become Trusted Business Advisors
Since the ADB research reported losses in routine cognitive jobs and routine manual jobs where algorithms are able to replicate these jobs, such as in bookkeeping, accountants have to rethink their roles.
“We have to seriously think about how we advance and enhance our skills as accountants, in order to provide services where we can apply our expertise, our professional judgement and decision-making abilities,” urged Dr. Nurmazilah. These are the abilities that accountants must harness in order to become indispensable and valued business partners able to provide business with trusted advisory, she continued.
“There is more potential in the space of non-routine advisory and communications-based roles. There are reports that a high percentage of new jobs being created in Malaysia are about public relations (PR) and communications. Accountants should remain multiskilled and look into how you do communications and get people to use financial data that is provided by machines. Take that and use the analytical skills and judgement and professional scepticism – which are all in our education standards – to give advice and be trusted advisors,” she concluded.