Drivers of change and future skills – insights from ACCA

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Business success has always involved change. Meeting it, adapting to it, or in some cases, even creating change. But if change has always been constant in business, recent years has seen the pace increase substantially

New hardware, software, threats, services and regulations are all arriving at a breakneck speed and all of these changes will have a significant impact on commerce. For FDs and CFOs, the trick is identifying what changes will have the most impact on your business and how can you best prepare to meet—and take advantage of—these challenges now.

One way to do this is by recruiting and developing a modern finance team. But what does that mean in practice? This challenge can be split roughly into two segments. What skills are required by a workforce of the future -- and then, critically, what your business can do to attract and retain these highly prized individuals.

What skills are needed?

Let’s start with skills. We published a comprehensive report -- supported by one of the largest ever global studies across the profession -- on the skills accountants need as we head into the next decade. As expected, there are a diverse selection of emerging issues where technical and communication skills that are lacking today will be vital by 2020–25.

And it’s not just your standard tech requirements. They are important, but business is downstream from society and tech trends are usually societal. Young professionals will adapt readily to new technology.

There’s one exception, however. According to our report, professional accountants see an urgent need to become accomplished users of business intelligence and data analytics technologies so that they can improve identification of all types of related risk in the business.

More broadly, the bigger challenges will be technical i.e. skills and fluencies that don’t permeate into mass culture.

Financial managers are going to need deeper technical knowledge of, and different approaches to, some areas of financial management, as well as mastery of a new financial management discipline.

Included in this is understanding global trade and markets, Islamic finance, investment appraisal, and alternative ways of raising finance. Multi-lingualism will be a desirable skill as accountants interact with teams from around the world.

The report also noted that “A detailed familiarity with local tax and capital movement laws and business practices will also be needed to work across (and with others in) multiple geographies”.

What topped the list of competencies expected to be most important over the next decade is the ability to communicate a more holistic view of corporate reporting.

The scope and amount of corporate reporting is expanding. Contributing factors include the increasingly global nature of business and investment, and the growing power of large corporates and of internet enabled stakeholder activists.

These factors have led to, and combined with, the loss of trust in corporate structures, behaviours and information that followed the global financial crisis of 2007–8.

The result has been more regulation and more (and more frequent) corporate disclosures. There has also been widespread and growing awareness of the interconnectedness of financial and non-financial reporting, and the benefits of having a more complete picture of a business.

How can you attract (and retain) these skills?

Identifying these critical skills are one thing. Creating a workspace that attracts, rewards and amplifies them is something else entirely. It’s here where we must confront the much vaunted (and oft maligned) generation known as millennials.

But while popular perception may hold that those at the outset of their careers (16-25 year olds) may think differently to those starting to shift into mid-career (31-36 year olds), this conventional wisdom is not borne out by our study.

In fact, there’s positive news for the profession. Of the 19,000 16 to 36 year olds asked, 85% responded positively to the idea of a career in finance. The risk is millennial proclivity for changing roles frequently.

Gallup data reveal that 21% of millennials report changing jobs within the last year which is more than three times the number of non-millennials who report the same. That’s not because of silly stereotypes about listless, impatient youth.

It’s because millennials are focused on developing their careers and attaining new capabilities. They have ambitions to move quickly, yet organisations who focus on providing opportunities to learn new skills, and clear progression opportunities may be better placed in winning the attraction and retention war.

The factors that keep Generation Next remaining with a particular employer are broadly similar to those that attracted them in the first place. The opportunity to learn new skills and career progression opportunities topped the list of most important factors attracting them to a particular employer. This held true for retaining talent, alongside, of course, financial remuneration.

Are you ready?

Through canny hiring, relevant training and staff retention, you’ll be a long way towards meeting the future head on. We can help, too. We’ve got a strong track record in always looking ahead to anticipate change and understand its impact on business, finance and accountancy.

And we know that now, more than ever before, the role of the accountant is changing. The next generation of professional accountants will increasingly be expected to bring strategic insight as repetitive tasks become more automated. And not only will they need agility and resourcefulness, they must also bring an ethical and human dimension to leadership.

That’s why we’ve made major updates to our flagship accountancy qualification to keep it future-fit and to make sure it continues to produce finance professionals with the skills your organisation needs, both now and for the future. The changes are a direct response to our research programme into what the future holds for professional accountants. We know there’s a clear demand from employers for a collection of technical knowledge, digital skills and abilities, as well as professional behaviour and qualities.

Talk to us today about recruiting and developing the work-ready professional accountants you need to add immediate value to your organisation.

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