AS the business landscape becomes more complex and globalised, the role of the accountant has expanded from technical specialist to trusted adviser to companies and organisations.
This has made it necessary for accountancy professionals to expand their skills, knowledge and abilities to adapt to the ever-changing international standards of accounting, as well as the increase in cross-border commercial activities.
An accountant's expertise is now required in a diverse range of specialisations, including tax, business valuation, treasury and risk management.
"As we move into the future, accountants will continue to adopt new skills that bolster their role as valuable business strategists to their employers and clients. With volatility being the norm in the future operating environment, the accountant of the future will have to adopt an innovative, adaptable and global mindset," says Gerard Ee, president of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA).
"The accountant's analytical mind, ability to quickly discern patterns, and a focused, objective approach to issues, are just as important, if not more so than ever, in today's highly complex and uncertain world."
He notes that the strategic mindset and technical expertise that an accountant offers is perhaps why a significant percentage of C-suite executives have a background in accountancy.
Looking ahead, accountants are set to play a leading role in managing the challenges that arise as a result of technology and globalisation, from cyber security and big data to fighting corruption and money laundering. Technology will also provide solutions for the more routine and mundane aspects such as bookkeeping, allowing accountancy professionals to focus on tasks that provide greater business value.
The accountancy profession will also continue to be essential to economic stability and growth around the globe. This is because accounting provides the high-quality financial information that governments, investors and businesses require to make sound financial and policy decisions.
With far more cross-border transactions in business, finance and trade, accountants must be at the forefront of helping governments and businesses make sense of the rapidly changing regulatory and business landscape.
"Accountancy can have a big impact in advancing economies, by providing reliable information and a means of accountability that can be used to fight fraud and corruption that continue to plague many nations and their citizens," says Olivia Kirtley, president of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC).
In such an environment of change, being able to attract, develop and retain the best talent available becomes key. Ms Kirtley notes that the digital age enables competency-based development and many more ways to learn and gain knowledge - including through IFAC's Global Knowledge Gateway.
"With the rapid changes in technology, globalisation, and the evolution of the profession, we need to rethink not only the desired attributes of professionals we hire, but also how we train and develop them," she says.
"We must leverage all of these resources to provide more leadership training, critical and strategic thinking, and broader business competencies."
Asean Economic Community
The impending formation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) is also expected to have an impact on the accountancy profession, offering the prospect of greater mobility for professionals among the group's 10 countries. In such an environment, the recognition of qualifications and standards will be important.
"It will be great if, as a regional group, the AEC can continue its progress on adoption and implementation of international standards for accountancy as well as international corporate governance practices and integrated reporting," says Ms Kirtley.
However, some countries in the bloc face a shortage of qualified accountants to spearhead the adoption and adaptation of international standards to meet local needs. Furthermore, English is not a commonly used language in some of the Asean countries, the language that global accounting standards are written in.
"While global accounting standards can be translated into local languages, the accuracy of the translation could pose a concern. As a result, the availability of useful application guidance in the local language to help the accountants in these countries is limited," remarks Mr Ee.
The differing levels of economic development among AEC countries is another challenge. This will require those countries with more established and mature professional accountancy organisations (PAOs) to find ways to mentor those that are less developed.
Ms Kirtley argues that regional accountancy organisations, such as the Asean Federation of Accountants and strong local PAOs, have an important role to play in raising the capacity and capability of the accountancy profession and to help grow the economic pie in Asean. The profession's advocacy for good organisational governance is also going to be crucial to fulfilling the AEC's economic promise.
"We must actively promote the value and broad skills of accountants - in particular professional scepticism and constructive challenge - to help organisations move further towards greater transparency and accountability," she says.
This push for transparency is critical as high-quality and reliable financial reporting is needed to facilitate economic development within the AEC, as it provides the foundation upon which strong investor confidence and capital markets are built.
Global accountancy hub
Singapore's accountancy sector is also poised for significant change as it strives to become a global hub for the profession by 2020. If it succeeds in doing so, Singapore's competitiveness and international position will be boosted, and the Republic will be well placed to take a leadership role in the region.
This will translate to greater professional recognition and career mobility for accountancy professionals here. Playing a key role in this mission is ISCA, which acts as Singapore's national accountancy body.
"National, high profile and respected PAOs play an important role in the fabric of every community they serve. As Singapore's recognised PAO, ISCA is a trusted and credible adviser to government and regulators, and the wider community," says Ms Kirtley.
In preparation for Singapore's development into a global accountancy hub, ISCA has been transforming itself to be a globally recognised PAO, notes Mr Ee.
He says: "Raising our visibility on the global stage also leads to greater professional recognition for our members, who are then empowered to work not just in Singapore but in key capital cities around the world."
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