Regardless of whether we’re accountants and finance professionals that have already qualified or are in the process of qualifying we put a lot of trust into our employers and accounting bodies hoping that they will make appropriate decisions on how to navigate the affects of Industry 4.0 so that our careers within accounting & finance remain relevant and sustainable, however they’re also being impacted as much, if not more, by the such rapid change and disruptions.
The danger of marginal actions
Naturally in as much as our organisations & employers will play a large role in facilitating us to have relevant career opportunities they will also represent a major barrier in how fast we can acquire the necessary knowledge to continue to do so because there’s a very real risk they’ll misunderstand the nature of these disruptive changes, as they specifically relate to accounting & finance, and so will end up having little to no proper workforce strategies to effectively adopt increased digitisation of our work on the one hand, and on the other to appropriately align us us potential business partners that could do with our expertise. There’s also a strong likelihood that resource constraints triggered by short-term profitability pressures from organisations inevitably being disrupted themselves will all mean that it’s easy to picture & sense a potential mismatch between the magnitude of the upcoming changes facing our profession and the relatively marginal actions being taken by companies to address these challenges.
Taking back control
The only sure fire way of improving our odds of getting the right experiences to control our own circumstances & destiny is to actively seek out & identify those organisations & finance leaders that are getting it right in terms of their accounting talent and if you don’t fancy moving organisations then I’d encourage you to get out from behind your desks to go and meet with business partners so that you can figure out where and how you can be adding value to them. If you don’t know where to start and can’t afford to wait or pay for training then leverage free resources like subscribing to our Strength In The Numbers Show with its podcasts, videos, blogs as well as proactively engage with others doing & feeling the same. Particularly if you’ve questions or concerns then raise them, there’s bound to be other people in similar boats to you, so together you might be able to combine your strengths and do something about it.
The quest for meaningful work
One trend we’re starting to see in response to the disillusionment being felt by accounting & finance professionals towards the slow and marginal actions being taken by traditional employers is for more and more groups of finance business partners to get up and leave behind their corporate lives and instead start up their own smaller partnerships as virtual or part-time CFOs supporting Small and Medium Sized enterprises as a path to rewarding and meaningful work. In fact it’s what I’ve done since it allows me the flexibility to consult with larger multinationals, as well as write, travel, deliver talks & trainings, gain new fresh perspectives by connecting with others in various walks of life, business & academia rather than being stuck behind a desk all day.
The structural challenge for accounting bodies
Okay so what about the professional accounting & finance bodies and institutes, what are they doing now. Well they’re actually producing some great reports & white papers, holding various forums in the their traditional power-bases (i.e. English-speaking countries) and we shouldn’t expect any less or different. By their very structure and nature they will tend to be reactive and late to the party. Why? Well if we think about it, particularly if you’re a student about to sit an exam today how much of of what you’re going to be tested on will be about how to best embrace and deal with all the digitisation going on or the business partnering demands that are happening right now, let alone figuring out what it might mean for the future.
“You’ll probably find your textbooks and exams biased towards testable technical skills and older theories, whilst useful, won’t guarantee you a job in the accounting & finance team of the future.”
Don’t get me wrong these technical skills are our table stakes so that our profession can even think of having a seat at the decision making table in our organisations, it simply goes without saying. But I’d also say digitisation and business partnering don’t even make up 10% of the current examination syllabus, so does that strike you as right or conducive to being successful or let alone remain relevant at your chosen profession in finance? It’s essential our certifying accounting bodies & institutes, business schools, colleges & universities do their part but they can’t be expected to do it all themselves because they’re operating on an old industrial revolution model, namely they’re not structurally set up to rapidly update syllabuses. Firstly because with the rate of change it’s nearly impossible for all the developments to be incorporated efficiently or effectively into their syllabuses; and secondly their existing eco-systems of tuition, examiners, printing materials, and course books around them as well as the need to earn most of their income from their paid-for syllabuses & certification which means that they’ll never be able to structurally or cost effectively keep up without going bust.
Regardless, community matters most
So it falls to those of us who are living with it day in and day out to share and connect each other to what we know, improve our collective learning and is yet another reason to have Strength in the Numbers, with guest mentors and advice that’s practical because it works on how to handle these times of rapid change. And it’s accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world, whether or not they’re belonging to a particular accounting body, so that we can survive and thrive, not only now but as the fourth industrial revolution unfolds further.
“Getting an accounting qualification or certification is one of the best things to do to make a difference in our society, it potentially gives us a position from which we can help businesses make better decisions for the good of their customers, suppliers, communities, colleagues and yes shareholders and other lenders too.”
Despite all the challenges that are presenting with Industry 4.0 I’m taking a glass half-full view of the future. And ultimately organisations of all shapes and sizes act as excellent avenues for people to come together and create something that’s bigger than themselves, and so far as I know they’re still one of the best ways to contribute and make a difference.