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'New' accounting needs data and analysis skills

Published on Friday, 29 Nov 2013
Matthew Hayes
Jane Cheng

Catching up with technology poses a growing problem to many in different industries, but accounting is one of the professions most affected.

A joint report by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants’ ( ACCA) Accountancy Futures Academy and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) says 10 new technological developments will have a serious effect on accounting, including big data, mobile technology, cloud computing, internet payment systems and social platforms.

Surveying more than 2,100 members globally, 84 per cent of those polled in Asia-Pacific said mobile technology will have a large impact on business and 76 per cent said big data will be influential, while only 56 per cent worried about cyber crime. “Over 80 per cent of those polled claim IT had an impact on the way accountants and the finance function do business,” says Jane Cheng, head of ACCA Hong Kong.

Matthew Hayes, managing partner covering finance and accounting for Experis Hong Kong, echoes this view. “There has been a very significant shift in recent years driven by advances in technology,” he says.

Changes have included globalisation with the help of the internet, changing business models through the back-end system of enterprise resource planning (ERP), and decreased need for upfront investment into IT with cloud computing, allowing the outsourcing of IT functions.

“The trend for companies to make more of their existing customer base through the analysis of ‘big data’ has created greater potential for accountants to influence company performance through more effective forecasting and planning,” Hayes says.

Cheng, who has an IT background, wants to encourage accountants at every level to make use of technology rather than be led by it, so that they can take their contribution to the next level. “You have to catch up with all this technology, be a step ahead and make use of it, rather than be passive,” she says.

The study presents a list of skills accountants need to strengthen. The more practical skills of mining big data for business intelligence, data modelling and analysis are top, but traditional skills – knowledge, project and change management, and the ability to attract and keep top talent – will also be requirements in future.

“We have noticed a growing demand for accountants with knowledge and experience in ERP system implementation, upgrade and maintenance,” says Quinny Chan, manager of Michael Page Finance for Hong Kong and Southern China. “More clients are looking for accountants who can understand the impact of system changes on business and accounting processes, as well as accountants with strong interpersonal skills who are able to communicate with IT professionals effectively about their system requirements. In some specialised accounting functions like treasury, we see an increasing trend in using more advanced technology such as online e-banking systems.”

Technology is credited with moving accounting up the value chain. Accountants are able to analyse data and performance to save time, effort and money for the company. At the same time, they have a better understanding of markets and the direction of business. However, experience is still very valuable, as technology is just a tool and not an end in itself, Cheng says. “The automated processes move the whole staff up the value chain as they can do more value-added work,” she says.

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