Accountant’s Day: repetitive activities to be replaced by digital skills, says professor
Today, September 22, is Accountant’s Day in Brazil. Accountancy is an applied science that aims to measure and evaluate the assets and financial reality of people and organizations.
To celebrate these professionals, FGV News spoke to Professor Edilene Santana Santos, the coordinator of the new Accounting, Finance and Analytics Course at the Sao Paulo School of Business Administration (FGV EAESP).
According to her, accounting is an information science focused on decision making. That is, today the area is not limited to the technical view of its professionals, but is focused on the development of multifaceted, hybrid skills that unite businesses, accounting, finance and disruptive technologies involving digital transformation.
Thus, accounting courses ought to increasingly leave behind restricted ideas and reflect the fact that accounting is part of a broader context.
How has digital acceleration impacted the field of accounting?
I see three main impacts that are most relevant to the area, affecting both accounting and finance.
The first one is robotization. In recent years, companies have been deploying robots to replace repetitive and routine accounting and finance activities with technology. This has made it possible to replace people and streamline processes.
The second major impact goes beyond repetitive activities and it stems from the increasing existence of a huge mass of data, called big data. Combined with technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, this has enabled companies to integrate this into their information for decision making.
The last impact is the revolution that technology is causing in businesses themselves. There are now fintechs in the area of accounting and finance. They are new businesses based on new technologies. In addition, some existing accounting firms have become fully digitized. Given that accounting works with information, we need to understand these new businesses, how they generate value and their cost structure in order to support decision making.
What is digital acceleration’s main challenge for the profession and what is its main benefit?
When it comes to digital acceleration, the main challenge I see is continuous learning, because everything is changing rapidly and we have to be willing to learn new things all the time. Together with this, we need the flexibility to anticipate, accept and adapt to changes.
There are also opportunities alongside these challenges. In a crisis, we have the chance to acquire new skills and get ahead by learning. There are also opportunities in the new businesses that will be created.
What skills should accountants pay attention to?
This digital revolution is causing a need for three new types of skills and competencies.
The first is competence in technology and data analysis. Because of these new technologies, we have to be familiarized and digitally upskilled. And we don’t just need technical skills in new technologies. After all, we don’t just have to use them, but also apply them and realize how value can be created with them.
So, one very important skill to understand is how these new technologies will impact businesses and society, in order to help companies to improve their decisions and add value.
Last but not least, you need to have soft skills, because in fact you will have to convince people about information. Decisions are made by people and if you don’t have emotional intelligence and relationship skills, you won’t get companies to use the information.
What changes will there be in the training of new accountants?
Things are changing a lot. Traditionally, undergraduate accounting courses in Brazil were highly technical and focused solely on accounting itself. However, accounting is the science of information for decision making.
In addition to new skills in technology and data analytics, there are also business skills, along with soft skills. So, accounting courses need to stop focusing solely on the technical side and understand that there is a new context.
What new opportunities and career options is digital acceleration offering?
The main professional associations have highlighted the need for accounting and finance professionals to stop being mere processors of past transactions and turn into “big data champions.” This is a great challenge, but they argue that these professionals are in an ideal position to build strategies based on big data. They are already results-focused and have a comprehensive view of the business. All that is missing is to integrate digital competencies.
What do you believe this profession will be like in future, due to digital acceleration?
Digital acceleration needs to be ever more present, so continuous learning will be required. Things are only going to get faster and more intense.
Some people have predicted that the accounting and finance area will go extinct, but in fact, the only thing that will go extinct is routine and repetitive activities, which are still performed by some professionals. That will indeed end. However, in its place, there will be great demand for people with new skills, which will be increasingly valued. In fact, these skills are already in greater demand and there is a shortage of professionals who have them.
In short, there will be fewer people doing this, but they will be much more competent, skilled and valued, and they will be earning more, so the future will be better.
This article is part of a special series called Connections for the Future, which began on July 22, which in Brazil is Social Scientist’s Day.