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Making accounting exciting again for the future workforce

Nikhil Parambath
Nikhil Parambath • 5 min read
Making accounting exciting again for the future workforce
Digitalisation and streamlining of core accounting processes can deliver a sea change to the profession. Photo: Pexels
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The technology boom in recent years has taken some shine off the accountancy profession, which has typically been regarded as a stable and rewarding profession.

In Singapore, local university cohorts of accountancy graduates have dropped, and even fewer graduates go on to become accountants and auditors. Yet, with the demand for qualified accountants showing no signs of abating, this has created a critical talent gap in the Finance & Accounting (F&A) industry in Singapore.

The widespread talent shortage points to a larger branding issue for the accountancy profession. Just last month, a new Accountancy Workforce Review Committee was set up to dispel the perception that the accountancy profession is “boring, monotonous and repetitive”, in a bid to persuade more to take up accountancy.

The “boring” tag aside, long working hours, heavy workloads, and low starting pay are also factors dampening interest in accounting degrees and related careers. While local firms have resorted to offering higher compensation and recruiting offshore accountants to fill the roles temporarily, these measures will not fix the fundamental talent pipeline problem: The future workforce simply doesn’t want to work in accounting.

There is an urgent need to revitalise the accounting profession, to ensure that the accountancy sector is still able to attract and retain talent in the long run. Otherwise, experts have flagged concerns that the persistent labour shortage could cause a consolidation of the market, which can be detrimental to competition. This may further limit the career opportunities and working conditions that appeal to professionals, exacerbating the talent shortage.

Addressing the pain points in accounting

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Revitalising the accounting profession is not simply about improving perceptions of the profession. Rather, it requires changing the very nature of the work itself.

Accounting has traditionally been a process of manual data entry, review, and revisions, which can be tedious and time-consuming. Due to factors such as human error and inconsistent formatting, teams are tied down spending most of their time gathering data and processing spreadsheets, which prevents them from participating in more productive, strategic tasks.

Although there are many digital solutions that finance and accounting (F&A) teams can leverage today to make their job easier, they may be hesitant to do so for several reasons. Caught up in a situation where employees are too preoccupied with their day-to-day tasks to revamp their setup, and a false belief that current processes are still fine when they eventually manage to close their books on time every month -- disregarding the frustration that accompanies it -- F&A teams have generally been slow to embrace technology.

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Ensuring the accountancy profession remains relevant in a digital world

As technology continues to disrupt the workplace, helping businesses and accountancy professionals navigate these changes will be crucial to ensure that accountancy remains attractive as a profession.

Businesses must recognise the urgency of automating their F&A function, or risk being weighed down by inefficient processes that drive away talent. Business leaders, such as the chief finance officer (CFO), must take the lead on digital transformation initiatives, and ensure that the team is on board to ensure its smooth rollout.

Freed from menial, routine tasks, professionals will be able to focus on more higher-value activities, and on helping the business make good financial decisions. Having that sense of ownership and opportunity to contribute on a strategic level will go a long way in boosting employee engagement and fulfilment.

At the same time, professionals will have to invest in the relevant skills to work effectively alongside new technologies. According to a Deloitte study, 16 out of 20 F&A job roles will undergo changes in job tasks, and 8 emerging F&A job roles will shape the future of F&A functions over the next two to five years in Singapore.

By mapping out their potential career paths, professionals can identify and develop the skills needed to progress or transition into an emerging role. These skills could range from data analytics, to financial modelling and fraud risk management. Businesses can leverage resources such as jobs transformation maps by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA), training subsidies, as well as implement job rotation opportunities for F&A professionals to gain exposure and upskill.

Last but not least, it is important that the education sector also ensures that the curriculum keeps up and reflects the present and future needs of the accounting industry. Beyond teaching accounting principles and concepts, giving students a chance to explore emerging software and tools in school as well as internship experiences can help them understand the needs of their future workplace better. This empowers future accountants to approach technology from the mindset of tech as an enabler.

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What the future of accounting looks like

The benefits of accounting automation and technologies are clear. Recent AI developments have unlocked even more possibilities, such as the ability to predict and prevent transaction failures before they occur, which thus minimises the time and resources spent on mitigating billing, reconciliation and settlement delays. Although F&A teams have generally been apprehensive about changing what has worked for them, in today’s fast-evolving business landscape, it’s even more critical that business leaders take a hard look at their current processes, and ensure their F&A teams are equipped for success.

Digitalisation and streamlining of core accounting processes can deliver a sea change to the profession, and push the role of the F&A professional to the forefront as a strategic business partner. This way, we will be able to unlock the true value of the accounting function and continue to attract the F&A talent needed to support Singapore’s status as a thriving business hub.

Nikhil Parambath is the regional vice president for Asia at BlackLine

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