The Changing Face of the Accountancy Profession

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Rachel Grimes

By Rachel Grimes

Rachel Grimes is the President of the International Federation of Accountants. Ms. Grimes was appointed President in November 2016 after serving as Deputy President since 2014 and IFAC Board member since 2011. She was nominated by CPA Australia and Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia (ICAA), now the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand. She is also a member of the Nominating Committee.

Ms. Grimes is currently Chief Financial Officer, Group Technology Finance at Westpac Group, a multinational financial services firm. Previous to this, Ms. Grimes was Director of Mergers and Acquisitions at Westpac. She has more than 25 years of experience across the financial services sector, working with Westpac and BT Financial Group as well as for PwC.

Ms. Grimes joined the ICAA in Australia in 1994 and advanced to Fellowship in 2002, before being appointed as a Director in 2006. Ms. Grimes was appointed President of ICAA in 2011. She also held the offices of ICAA State Chair of the New South Wales Regional Council in 2004. Ms. Grimes was Chair of the ICAA Executive Remuneration Committee, the ICAA Nominating Committee, and the Information and Communication Technology Sub-Committee. Ms. Grimes is a Chartered Accountant.

The centuries-old accounting profession has come a long way from manual bookkeeping to present day artificial intelligence (AI) that is changing the day-to-day structure of how we work, both as accountants and across other professional services industries. Despite concerns about how emerging technologies will impact accounting professionals, the role of the profession has always remained consistent.

Bound by a global Code of Ethics, accountants have a clear public interest mandate to support transparent and accountable organizations, as well as stable capital markets that underpin economic growth. By embracing technology to work smarter and more efficiently, the profession can provide deeper insight to its clients while simultaneously helping them understand the rapidly approaching “new normal” for business operations.

The profession is preparing for the increasing sophistication of technology like AI, and emerging technologies in fields like blockchain and data extraction. For example, IBM estimates there are 300 million pages of regulation that exist in the world today. The accountancy profession, which must continually understand the ever-changing global regulatory landscape, could use AI to sift that data for relevant information to help its clients navigate a range of landscapes, including taxation and more.

Amazingly, these technologies have only just scratched the surface of their potential. And yet already learning algorithms—the power behind AI—are facilitating millions of business transactions every day. More than ever, accountants understand that adopting these developments as everyday tools will require new skills to augment their capabilities, and increasingly focus their skills on providing strategic advice to the businesses and organizations they serve.

Cyber Security: The New Normal

In my role as IFAC President, and in my work life as Chief Financial Officer for the technology division of one of Australia’s largest banks, I observe technology’s advance every day. I am continually amazed by technology’s ability to enhance the efficiency of work—and life—all over the world. Across Africa and in countries like India, for example, mobile telecommunications technology and internet have made it possible to connect millions of people to their first bank account and secure money transfer.

But this explosion in global consumer demand for, and access to, technology and technology-enabled services has led to new and potentially very costly business risks and challenges. Cyber fraud, personal information theft, and even cyber terrorism and espionage have highlighted the importance of enhanced digital security as a new normal for businesses.

There is real opportunity for the accounting profession to help assist businesses and organizations successfully navigate the digital landscape. Professional accountants operate throughout the global economy in many sectors. From auditors as external advisers assessing risk, to audit committee chairs, chief financial officers and internal auditors monitoring an organization’s current state, the profession has a multi-faceted opportunity to help organizations prevent cyber threats.

In the future, blockchain holds great promise as a tool to help accountants assure a company’s financial security. The new technology has already transformed entire transaction structures for businesses. Its decentralized architecture could provide new levels of transparency and accountability and revolutionize real-time corporate reporting.

Making the Most of AI

The learning algorithms at the heart of today’s AI cannot create. They have no feelings. They cannot learn common sense or reasoning. They don’t know what creativity or planning is. They certainly can’t deploy human judgment or an accountant’s professional skepticism.

And yet they are already changing the accounting profession—for the better. AI is another technology-enabled tool to help eliminate repetitive accounting functions and help accountants and auditors provide new levels of insight to their clients.

AI is a concept that has been around for a long time, and it is here to stay. Learning algorithms are now predicting outcomes with increasing accuracy, enhanced by the increasing speed and power of computers to remember and crunch vast amounts of information.

But when paired with a human accountants’ technical knowledge and adherence to a global Code of Ethics, AI offers vast new potential for accountants to accurately interpret data and develop insights that will underpin more valuable strategic recommendations for their clients.

This also presents accountants with the opportunity to play a greater role as a strategic adviser and contribute to a more fulfilling and analytically-driven career that can open up more doors. With this in mind, what’s needed is a workforce equipped with the right tools and training to make the most of AI. Recruiting technology-savvy next generation talent is crucial to optimizing the profession’s potential.

Ad opt or Be Left Behind.

With a growing trend toward protectionism and nationalism in some major economies, professional accountants are increasingly seen as well-positioned strategic advisers, able to help businesses and organizations navigate a volatile business environment and uncertain regulatory terrain.

Technology will go on helping to burnish the profession’s credentials as a trusted adviser. But our professional call-to-action is clear: continue to adopt and implement emerging technologies or be left on the sidelines. Accountancy profession leaders are firmly focused on technology’s opportunities and challenges, and understand that tomorrow’s accountants must be fluent in data analytics, and able to pair AI’s power and potential with human judgment, skills and our Code of Ethics.

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