‘Accountancy must leave spreadsheet comfort zone’ – ACCA report reveals challenges and opportunities for digital accountants

20 March 2020

89% of accountants believe digital skills are necessary in their industry

63% of accountants surveyed believe they have the right level of digital skills

Accountants urged to invest three minutes-a-day identifying continuous learning opportunities

 Continuous learning and reacting to digital transformation investment could help accountants define their digital skills and ensure they are future-ready, a report has revealed.

 The Digital Accountant, produced by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), surveyed more than 4,200 accountants globally. The report explores the digital challenges accountants face and how they can maximise opportunities by becoming a digital citizen.

In the report’s survey, respondents recorded a higher level of ability in the more traditional areas of spreadsheeting – 81% indicated an expert ability level. When asked about their understanding of enterprise resource planning solutions, 72% identified as experts.

However just 20% of accountants believed they had expertise in emerging technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Clive Webb, Senior Subject Manager- Business Management at ACCA and the report’s author, believes greater ambition with technology can help accountants be future-ready for digital challenges.

Mr Webb added that a digital skill set can help accountants address critical, and at times unforeseen, issues facing businesses in the world today.

He said: ‘Being able to predict where market disruption is coming from is imperative, there is a fundamental need for accounting and finance professions to have a robust and comprehensive digital skill set. This must then be applied to help accountants and the businesses they support to address the issues of the day – namely ones such as the current global Coronavirus pandemic we are combatting.

‘Making best use of technology in times such as these is key. The report recognises a gradual comfort zone has developed in accountancy in relation to technology. It is important to recognise the days of spreadsheets being the new technology for accountants are over.

‘The profession is comfortable with older digital technology such as spreadsheets, enterprise resource planning. Digital transformation is one of the key conversations across businesses at present. The amounts invested by organisations are significant; the benefits substantial.

‘Accountants must now have the capability to respond to digital challenges presented by the profession. This can be achieved by showing purpose, ambition and understanding technology such as blockchain and the use of coding.

‘Speaking the language of technology and appreciating how it can drive business models can benefit accountants significantly. This could be from spending just three minutes-a-day invested in continuous learning and identifying future opportunities on how to improve their understanding of technology.’

Mr Webb called on the accountancy profession to not rest on its laurels by ensuring it keeps pace with new and emerging technologies in the near-future.

He continued: ‘The evolution of technology and the digital landscape will continue. The pace of change that we have seen in recent years may well be eclipsed by the operationalisation of technologies such as 5G and hyperautomation.

‘The business model of today is likely to be far from the business models of five to ten years’ time. The integrated workplace of smart systems, smart cities, smart workplaces and flexible working lives is becoming a reality.

‘Whatever role practitioners carry out in the accounting and finance profession, they can make a difference in this technological world. While digital skills are important, their trust and ethics are the crucial and unique lens of the accountancy professional.’