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Tech can aid accounting profession take lead industry role

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 03 Nov 2022
From left: IFAC president Alan Johnson, former SAIPA board chairperson Kantha Naicker, and SAIPA CEO Shahied Daniels.
From left: IFAC president Alan Johnson, former SAIPA board chairperson Kantha Naicker, and SAIPA CEO Shahied Daniels.

In the age of digital and technological change, the accounting profession needs to evolve towards performing advisory functions, among others.

This was the consensus among finance industry leaders attending the fourth annual South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA) Accounting iNdaba yesterday.

Themed “Technomics for Sustainability”, the two-day event brings together finance industry players, to unpack subjects relevant to the accountancy landscape, especially as it relates to technology and taxation.

Delivering the keynote address, Alan Johnson, president of the International Federation of Accountants(IFAC), said the implementation of technology has become more critical to every profession and industry everywhere.

South Africa’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs), for example, have harnessed the opportunities of digital technologies, using smartphone technology to adapt to COVID-19 and rising fuel costs, said Johnson.

“In South Africa, SMEs are about 2.6 million, employ between 50% and 60% of the country’s workforce, and contribute around 35% of the country’s GDP. Their adaptation to the digital realm has ensured communities have access to essential goods and services, and have paved the road for other enterprises, both large and small, to enter the region.

“Global technology giants have come to recognise South Africa’s potential as a hub for growing markets on this continent.”

The IFAC president is of the view that digitalisation will create the need for trusted advisors, with wide skills sets, comprehensive knowledge of regulation and the integrity of a professional accountant.

“As all organisations enter the digital transformation, certain roles will, by necessity, need to be rethought. To understand the behaviours and the competencies that our profession considers to be indispensable, we need to understand and predict demand, and adapt our skills at the same time.

“The trend towards data analysis, transformation and security could eliminate certain accounting and financial positions, but the change will mainly take the form of greater integration of people, processes and technology into newly-defined accounting careers. We cannot afford to wait to respond to this demand; we need to anticipate it.

“Organisations, especially small businesses, need trusted advisors. Industries may turn to the accountancy profession to provide essential data and the context that makes that data relevant. The accountant of the future will need to perform new roles, with advisory responsibilities rather than exclusively technical ones. With digital technologies, industries around the world have recognised the power of harnessing this data.”

The global advocacy organisation for the accountancy profession, IFAC comprises 181 professional accountancy member organisations, representing more than three million accountants worldwide.

According to Johnson, as the global voice of the accountancy profession, IFAC’s role is to speak out, lead and develop a future-ready profession.

He pointed out that the profession needs to apply digital tools to enable sustainability and advance the public interest.

Stepping up

As SAIPA celebrates 40 years of existence, CEO Shahied Daniels said the organisation is determined to play a key role in the evolution of accountancy in SA, adapting strategic models in evolving business needs.

“Four decades of dynamic growth has prepared us for complex circumstances in which we currently find ourselves and the forces that are shaping the future of the accountancy profession.

“The days are long gone where an accountant is seen as a number-cruncher or bean-counter. The professional accountant is on a journey to become a trusted, strategic business partner…underpinned by digital transformation, which is the new business language.

“We have included digital proficiency as a mandatory CPD [continuous professional development]. We’ve added digital proficiency because it is expected of us to be relevant in order to serve clients and businesses, and to be at the cutting-edge in making a difference and adding value to businesses.

“We are going to become digital professional accountants, including using data as the base of how we see and position ourselves through data mining and data analytics. In doing so, certain things won’t change – ethics and public trust must be at all times at the forefront as we continue this digital transformation.”

The 15 000-member SAIPA has committed to move along with the digital transformation journey and ensure its members don’t lag behind in the process.

As a result, the accounting body in September launched its digital transformation resource toolkit, the Digital Hub, in a move to bridge the digital divide in the accountancy profession.