Date posted: 7/07/2020 6 min read

Challenged to change

The very existence of professions is being challenged and disrupted and only those that change will survive.

In Brief

  • The status and existence of professions is being challenged and disrupted in the 21st century
  • The disruptions are coming from increased competition, globalisation and innovative technologies
  • 95% of Chartered Accountants under 35 agree that the profession must change

The status and even the existence of professions is being challenged and disrupted in the 21st century by a combination of increased competition, globalisation and innovative technologies.

For accountants, disruption is coming from data analytics and automation, with new providers taking over what were formerly regarded as core accounting activities.

One scenario in the book The Future of Professions: how technology will transform the work of human experts by father and son team Daniel and Richard Susskind, is that increased automation will erode the need for professions.

“The keys to the kingdom are changing, or, if not changing, they are at least being shared with others,” the Susskinds wrote.

Not everyone sees the total demise of professions as inevitable, but the march of automation has prompted a rethink of their roles and relevance. For many accountants, this has meant a renewed focus on leveraging their expertise to provide insight to the businesses they work with.

A new report by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) 21st Century Profession found that change is necessary for professions to remain relevant into the future.

In two surveys across Australia and New Zealand, one of Chartered Accountants and the other of the public, the need for change was well understood, particularly by younger accountants.

While 57% of all the Chartered Accountants surveyed agreed that professions needed to change, the figure for Chartered Accountants under 35 years of age – who will lead the profession into the future – was 95%. Among the public, 50% agreed about the need for change.

"Technology and changing stakeholder expectations are combining with an often-deserved loss of trust to challenge the reason that professions exist.”

The 21st century profession

Professions that leverage disruption will continue to make a difference into the 21st century. But they must ensure that their skills and expertise remain grounded on a solid foundation of ethics.

Read the reportAbout The 21st century profession

“The fee-paying public are relentlessly evolving and demanding,” was another.

To those respondents who identified a need to change, a further question was asked: how?

The responses were very different from the public and from Chartered Accountants.

Where two-thirds of the public thought professions needed to be more transparent, the most popular response among Chartered Accountants was the two-thirds who said professions needed to provide different services.

One of the failings of professions identified by the Susskinds in their book is that in terms of technology, the operating model of many professions relies on “increasingly antiquated techniques for creating and sharing knowledge.”

According to the OECD, about 9% of jobs across OECD countries can be automated.

Artificial Intelligence is ushering in another wave of change, with potential for automation across all industries. Even medical diagnoses are increasingly available faster and more accurately using AI and machine learning.

Academic research suggests that some occupations will disappear with improved automation and digitisation, but occupations that require members to have higher levels of educational achievement are less likely to be taken over by technology.

Therefore professions that embrace technology are not consigning themselves to oblivion. Rather they are adapting to ensure their survival.

In a data-rich world, professions will play a vital role in interpreting information and determining what is relevant to their clients.

In financial reporting, software such as Xero and MYOB have enabled many small businesses to prepare their own basic financial statements without the help of accountants.

So, although accountants may no longer be required to prepare financial statements, they can leverage their financial and industry expertise to provide businesses with deep insight into what the trends and numbers mean, and what this means for the future of their business.

With change comes opportunity, and as 95% of younger Chartered Accountants are aware of this, it would seem the profession is ready to embrace this future, even if it is nothing like the past.

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