Accountants in Barbados and across the region have been warned to adapt to changing technology or face extinction.
As local and regional professionals gathered here for the ACCA Caribbean’s annual member conference at the Hilton Resort, they examined the likely impact of artificial intelligence and other forms of technology on accounting.
President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Barbados (ICAB) Lydia McCollin told the conference that monumental change was taking place across economies and societies as technology becomes more pervasive.
She warned that several professions could easily be threatened if individuals and companies did not adapt by engaging in training and upgrading of skills, adding that the accounting profession was “on the frontline of sectors affected by technological change”.
The theme for the conference was Leading Change . . . Reshaping our future.
McCollin said: “Artificial intelligence; blockchain technologies; data analytics; cloud computing; new business models and disruptors for example, Uber, Amazon and Facebook; global warming and climate change, these are some of the topical issues… already changing the way that accountants work and the expectations of their clients.”
McCollin said it was critical that accountancy organizations work together so that accountants do not become irrelevant.
She warned that merely understanding accounting principles “inside-out and flawlessly compiling numbers as prescribed under these conventions” was not enough.
McCollin said a career in chartered accountancy now depends more on the ability to take on duties and add value far beyond the relatively narrow job descriptions historically associated with the profession.
She said: “We must prepare accountants to become value-added advisors and analysts rather than number-crunchers or the dreaded ‘bean counter’ as we are sometimes called.
“The accountant of tomorrow will differ significantly from the accountant of today.
“We must therefore be among the forces helping to shape the change.”
Future accountants need to be “able and willing to adapt to the changing face of the field”, she suggested.
The ICAB president pointed out that in addition to changes in regulations, the future of accounting requires continuous education and training.
“The future of accounting requires workers who have social skills and marketing knowledge for consulting with clients and offering insights into data as well as recommending solutions to problems,” she said.
Professionals who are familiar with new digital tools will be more in demand, she predicted.
McCollin also warned employers that there was a noticeable shift from the traditional model of full-time employment at one location, to one where people preferred to freelance or work part-time and from anywhere in the world.
She said: “These changes provide both challenges and opportunities.
“What is clear to me is that as we navigate these changes, we must seek to make the future of work meaningful, productive and worthwhile for individuals, businesses, economies and societies.
“Accountants of the future may therefore be multi-lingual and multi-cultural to seize opportunities in a globalised environment driven by technology.”
ICAB has taken steps toward helping local accountants get ready for the changes, the president told the audience, highlighting the association’s ‘FutureTech committee’ that was set up to analyse major changes affecting the profession and make recommendations for actions to be taken by ICAB, members and other interest groups.
The head of ACCA Caribbean Shelly-Ann Mohammed promised that organization would continue to “develop the accountancy profession the world needs”.
Mohammed announced that the ACCA would be signing a memorandum of understanding with the Chamber of Commerce to provide technical assistance and knowledge-sharing on a number of technical subject areas as well as contribute to the development of the accountancy profession.
Addressing the forum, Comptroller General in the Ministry of Finance Margaret Sivers said Government was aware that change in the public sector was also necessary as technology becomes more pervasive.
She said it was for that reason that the Mia Mottley administration had embarked on a number of initiatives that were expected to “leave Barbados holding a place of excellence in all areas”.
Promising that it would not be business as usual, Sivers declared that Government would be embarking on an extensive training programme for financial officers in the public sector, but noted that it would require the assistance of the private sector, including ICAB.
Sivers said: “This process has already commence where we had our first meeting with the public sector committee of the Institute of Chartered Accountants.
“Additionally, work has commenced on developing a framework for the establishment of a centralised internal audit department for the Government in the very near future.
“This department will be staffed appropriately with the requisite training being provided not only in internal audit but also in analytics and risk management.”