Attendees at the Accounting iNdaba 2019 had mixed feelings about the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the Accounting Profession.
The iNdaba, now in its second day, is being hosted by the South African Institute of Professional Accountants from 13th to 15th August at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
The theme of the event is "The Future-Ready Professional Accountant in the Fourth Industrial Revolution".
"The contrast in attitudes among delegates is the best indicator that the iNdaba is a timely and much needed intervention," says Professor Rashied Small, Executive: Education and Training at SAIPA. "It's imperative that we start a conversation around this topic without delay and that is the goal of this conference."
Doom and gloom
Of those interviewed, some thought the acceleration in the application of 4IR technologies spelled the end of their accounting career. "The conference has opened my eyes to what's really happening," said one accountant. "The more I hear about these things, the more I feel I'm becoming redundant," said another. Yet another observed: "I realise I need to start training now to be employable in the next five years."
Others saw 4IR as irrelevant to their market segment. "I work with small businesses who can't export their data to CSV format without my help," reported an SMP owner, who said the greatest impact would be felt at corporate level. "I doubt I will have to worry about them replacing me with AI and automation."
One public sector accountant felt that red tape and bureaucracy will hinder the implementation of technology in government entities. "We still create financials in Excel and export the data to Word for formatting into reports," he said. "There are no integrated systems to help us. I don't see this changing in the next ten years if it is not driven from the top."
Several attendees accepted the technological revolution as a boon. Said one government employee: "It takes me two weeks to prepare financial statements after month end, by which time the information is irrelevant. I'm excited because machines can take over the posting and number crunching, allowing me to focus on offering strategic guidance to my superiors."
Confidence and training
Conversely, another delegate revealed a need for training in soft skills and leadership to gain confidence as a trusted business advisor. "I'm just an accountant. I can't tell the CEO of the company what to do. If I get my facts wrong, I'd get fired," he said. "That's why we need to learn data analytics, because we need to make sure we get our facts right," retorted his colleague.
"As we can see, people hold a diverse range of feelings and opinions on 4IR," says Professor Small. "If these attitudes are driven by poor information then their response to it will be ill conceived."
Small encourages all Professional Accountants to educate themselves in terms of their understanding of 4IR. As their traditional work is taken over by automated processes, they must also equip themselves with the skills required to act in a business advisory capacity.
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