“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new,” said Greek philosopher, Socrates. If this is true, then why, almost 2500 years later, are the disruptive children in the classroom still scolded for being bad apples when they should be praised for changing the status quo? One profession is embracing disruption as the new order of the day. Here is how chartered accountants [(CAs(SA)], along with other professions, are preparing to navigate their way through the disruption of the digital age.
The ability to adapt to change (which is happening at an unprecedented rate) is arguably one of the most important attributes that CAs(SA) will need in our digital age.
In January 2016, the founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, said that we are entering a fourth industrial revolution; characterised by new technologies that will fundamentally alter the way in which we live, work and relate to one another.
He added that technological advances such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, biotechnology and quantum computing, among others, could transform industries in every country.
“Future CAs(SA) will need a balance between non-technical and technical skills to continue to demonstrate competence in serving the public’s interest,” says Professor Karin Barac, head of the Auditing Department at the University of Pretoria, “Future CAs(SA) will also need more business acumen to support decision making.”
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This is precisely why, in a project called CA2025, the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), together with the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (IRBA), has commissioned research into the expected competencies of CAs(SA) and Registered Auditors (RAs) in the future.
This research, which is being undertaken by a research team comprising academics from the University of Pretoria’s Department of Auditing recently concluded the first phase of a three part study to identify current thinking of the competencies that future CAs and RAs will most likely require.
Karin Barac, lead researcher for CA2025, offers a perspective on gaps in the CA(SA) skills set that need to be filled in South Africa.
“Competence is highly prized by the accounting and auditing professions, in addition to theoretical knowledge,” says Barac. “This explains the stringent assessment methods used for certifying accounting and auditing professionals, where it is not uncommon for candidates to make several attempts before meeting the assessment criteria and qualifying.
“Qualification expectations are specified in terms of outcomes, or what an individual can accomplish, rather than just theoretical knowledge.”
“The CAs of tomorrow will need a clear understanding of big data and analytics, together with a high level of IT competence.”
“Included among their non-technical skills,” Barac continues, “will be the need to demonstrate competence in high order thinking skills (such as critical thinking skills, analytical and problem solving skills, as well as strategic thinking skills) to interpret computer generated data and to make the right decisions. Future CAs(SA) will need more business acumen to support decision-making.
“This will need to be done by CAs(SA) who are both ethical and lifelong learners and who demonstrate continuous and timely efforts to learn, unlearn and relearn.”
Although it is early days, a general theme has emerged through the research.
“Preliminary findings show a “knowledge triangle” of technical knowledge, business acumen, strategy and risk,” says Barac. “This is supported by higher order skills, interpersonal skills as well as leadership and citizenship qualities.”
An important competency that has emerged is citizenship; described as the ability to display social conscience across cultures.
“Our emphasis is on the need for CAs(SA) to be relevant and to evolve as the needs of the market unfolds,” says Mandi Olivier, Senior Executive for Professional Development at SAICA. “It’s incredibly important that we create entry level CAs(SA) who can think critically and out of the box, and adapt with ease to the changing environment.”