Financial

University of Joburg offers ‘4IR for accountants’ courses

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Husain Coovadia, senior lecturer at the UJ School of Accounting.
Husain Coovadia, senior lecturer at the UJ School of Accounting.

The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) has partnered with the University of Johannesburg (UJ) to introduce online courses aimed at equipping local chartered accountants (CAs) with essential fourth industrial revolution skills.

The short learning programmes, which fall under ‘4IR for accountants’ courses, provide an introduction to the 4IR, exploring key topics such as artificial intelligence (AI), the history of AI and accounting, machine learning, natural language processing, blockchain and ethics.

The courses are run 100% online for a minimum of eight weeks. The key focus areas include value creation, digital acumen, judgement and decision-making, business strategy and ethics, and values and attitudes.

Technology has advanced rapidly over the last few decades, particularly with regard to AI. This advancement has professionals across disciplines fearing the unknown, and more specifically, what their role will be after the implementation of these new technologies, notes UJ. The chartered accountancy profession is no exception to this.

“CAs need to start using the latest technologies to provide a competitive-edge to their clients or businesses,” says Husain Coovadia, senior lecturer at the UJ School of Accounting.

“Through the use of various 4IR technologies, more accurate predications can be made, thus influencing various business decisions taken by CAs. CAs that understand how to use these technologies will be providing that competitive-edge. Thus, this makes AI an immensely important element for the CA of the future.

At the end of the course, students will be able to develop a business strategy aligned to business objectives in respect of 4IR; identify and assess key challenges to the widespread application of blockchain; and identify and assess key concerns with regard to the future of AI systems, among others, notes UJ.

“Many of the mundane tasks performed by CAs can be automated. For example, natural language processing tools can scan through thousands of documents in a short space of time to extract important information, thus providing faster and more accurate information to influence business decisions,” adds Coovadia.

“Topics such as AI, machine learning, natural language processing and blockchain are firstly covered from a technical point of view, by providing insight to the ways in which these technologies operate. Once students have obtained the digital acumen competency, we then provide insight into the role a CA (SA) can play with regard to 4IR and how these tools can be used in business.”

Local accounting professionals are closely watching how AI will impact their profession, with growing fears that some accounting functions such as bookkeeping and reporting will soon become obsolete due to automation.

A report by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales concluded that in the coming decades, intelligent systems will take over more and more decision-making tasks from humans.

Discussing the possibility of AI replacing accountants in future, Coovadia says: “I do not think that AI would replace the chartered accountant. However, I do think it may influence as well as significantly impact the role a chartered accountant would play in the future.

“This role would be for machines and humans to work together to create value for the entity. It is therefore imperative that chartered accountants follow a path of lifelong learning to equip themselves with the necessary skills to fulfil their role in the future.”

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