Nick Frost, partner at KPMG in the UK, says: “To deal with this real threat we must become the best at accountancy-based or financial process data analytics.”
The biggest growth in demand is for budding auditors who can trawl through vast quantities of big data using advanced analytics. “Big data is starting to take hold on the industry, with the Big Four leading the way,” says Alex Stremme, assistant dean at Warwick Business School.
Richard Anning, head of IT faculty at accountancy body ICAEW, says that it is now possible to test 100% of transactions rather than a sample — “which enables greater emphasis on exceptions, outliers and profiling the riskiest transactions”.
Despite concerns over data security, cloud computing too is a focus area for accountants, as more audit clients seek to prepare their accounts, administer payrolls, and file tax returns online.
Faye Chue, head of business insights at ACCA, another leading accountancy body, says that cloud, mobile and social media technologies will change the way accountants work.
“Their role will no longer be primarily reactive and backward-looking but proactive, continuous, forward-looking and engaged,” she says.
These new high-tech tools are spurring a shift in the training and education of accountancy professionals. At NYU Stern School of Business for example, the accounting department is developing new courses in statistical and data analysis, says Alex Dontoh, professor of accounting and deputy chair of the department.
He says there is a “need for students to develop technical skills in data analytics and information technology, in order to stay relevant in the professional accounting marketplace”.
The tech trend is part of a bigger shift in the package of skills accountants need. There is an ever-greater focus on core management and leadership skills.
Accountants will need to manage broader business problems, says Dr Edgar Loew, professor of management practice in accounting at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. “They are not pure accountants checking figures without thinking beyond them — they need to be able to analyse the situation of the entire company.”
Accountants with these traits are hot in demand among employers. Naeema Pasha, head of careers for Henley Business School, says: “We have seen an increase in activity in recruitment from accountancy firms.”