Demand for qualified accountants is expected to remain buoyant and may even increase over the next five years, pointing to positive job prospects in a bleak global environment with record unemployment rates.
This was the major conclusion derived from Accountancy: The Future Outlook, a research report developed jointly by the ACCA’s business intelligence unit working with the BPRI group. Their research was based on telephone interviews with more than 750 CFOs, partners and senior finance executives conducted during December 2008 and January 2009.
Generally, CFOs, partners and senior accountants predict buoyant demand for qualified accountants over the next five years, with almost two-thirds of those surveyed expecting demand to increase. A little more than a quarter expect demand to stay the same and by far the smallest percentage – less than one in 10 respondents – anticipate falling demand.
Many reasons account for the expected increase in demand for qualified accountants. Business and economic growth, whether positive or negative, is cited as a key factor.
Many respondents based in the Asia Pacific region foresee industrial growth – bothdomestic and global –particularly in developing economies such as China, India and in the Middle East triggering greater demand for qualified accountants, regardless of the current global economic downturn. Demand in these countries may be further compounded by a perceived shortage of qualified accountants, noted a respondent from a Malaysia-based accountancy firm.
Ironically, shrinking economic growth may also fuel demand for qualified accountants. Some respondents predicted that a tougher trading climate will make the financial insight provided by qualified accountants even more valuable. Tighter controls on spending will need to be matched with greater creativity in generating income streams, which is an area in which accountants specialise.
‘Demand for qualified accountants will increase because we are going through a recession,’ commented a respondent from the South African public sector. ‘Businesses need to keep their eye on the ball with regards to expenditure of income and general liquidity.’
The trend towards the convergence and standardisation of accounting and reporting standards around the world is similarly stimulating increased demand for qualified accountants. As the adoption and updating of International Financial Reporting Standards gathers speed, qualified accountants will be needed in increasing numbers to help organisations interpret and apply these complex standards.
Tougher laws on compliance are also driving demand for qualified accountants. The accountancy and business environment is becoming more Byzantine, whether due to additional regulatory burdens, global competition or innovation in business finance and transactions, and more qualified accountants will therefore be needed to help organisations operate successfully.
According to Accountancy: The Future Outlook, there is a growing global expectation that accountants must go beyond technical competencies to fill relatively complex roles with strategic, advisory and risk management dimensions. A respondent from a Malaysia-based accountancy firm said that there is ‘a greater push for smart accountants [who are] not only looking at numbers but also involved in other decision-making within the organisation.’
These wider expectations reflect the challenges facing today’s organisations, particularly their need for intensive risk management and forward-looking analysis in order to ensure sustainable business. Survey participants see accountants as becoming strategic advisers to the business, rather than backroom number-crunchers focused myopically on day-to-day accounting.
Conversely, in some developing accounting markets there remains a strong, ongoing need for more qualified accountants who can demonstrate even basic accounting skills to plug the perceived shortage of skilled accounting expertise.
In other words, successful accountants of the future will need to develop holistic business and financial skills such as those highlighted in Accountancy: The Future Outlook while honing essential technical competencies.
Well-Rounded Skills Required
Topping the list of skills expected to be more in demand is enterprise risk management, which aims to manage risks by taking an integrated view of all the various uncertainties that exist across an organisation.
Strategic scenario planning and skills in improving the use of data and knowledge, both of which relate to an organisation’s ability to make effective decisions, are also expected to be more in demand in five years.
Likewise, increased demand is foreseen for project modelling and costing skills. By applying data within sophisticated models, skilled accountants can generate information of real use when evaluating potential investment decisions thereby ensuring that scarce resources are applied effectively to maximise returns.
Skill in the area of intellectual capital accounting and management is also expected to be in greater demand, reflecting the increasing importance of intangible assets.
In addition, ‘softer’ skills such as communications are becoming increasingly important as accountants are expected to communicate effectively in order to nurture relationships within the business and with stakeholders.
Although new and expanded skills are expected of accountants, they must go hand-in-hand with traditional accounting and financial skills. Indeed, many respondents – more than a third of the total – do not expect any financial skills to be less in demand in the next five years.
What this research ultimately reveals is that organisations in a risky, uncertain world need a well-rounded hybrid accountant armed with technical competencies as well as strategic, analytical and softer skills in order to enable sustainable business success. These accountants will be ideally placed to advise organisations on strategy and decision-making, capitalising on information drawn from accurate data and informed by broad business knowledge. Looking ahead, prospects seem upbeat for qualified accountants who have the opportunity to step up and take the lead in driving future business success.