Date posted: 15/04/2019 4 min read

Will your firm survive?

Kristin Stubbins, Assurance Innovation & Disruption Lead, PwC Australia, shares her view on digital disruption, trust and the future of the profession.

In Brief

  • In 10 years' time, routine tasks will be automated, putting an emphasis on forward-looking predictions rather than historical information
  • All firms need to prepare for digital disruption – it won’t only impact the big end of town
  • Trust has always been a key aspect of the CA brand and new technologies will support the judgements CAs make

My name is Kristin Stubbins and I'm a partner at PwC in Sydney. I look after some of our largest clients and head the innovation and disruption function in our assurance business, looking at our traditional audit business and how it should look for the future.

I believe everyone in the profession is thinking about how to evolve audit. There are a number of steps in play around automating everything that we do. This will happen in an accelerated way over the next five years in terms of what auditors do around robotics and other technologies.

What's more exciting is the use of different technologies such as blockchain or artificial intelligence (AI). Can we foresee a time where blockchain facilitates the audit of large companies on a real-time basis? How does AI give humans better insights into the judgements that are being made both on a historical and a predictive basis?

Speaking to RegTech and FinTech professionals around the globe, it's clear that in Australia we could be a lot further advanced. I think the profession has been somewhat stuck in a traditional mindset. Yes, we are being disrupted but that isn't obvious to everybody.

Changing mindsets

As the lead on innovation and disruption for PwC's audit business Australia, I'm happy to share some of our thinking around disruption and what we're doing.

First, we realised there is a whole mindset challenge around digital, and it's people my age - partners, that typically need to change, not our younger staff.

Second, we are looking at innovation from both top down, where we pick areas to focus on from a leadership level, and bottom up, where we encourage all of our people to come forward with their great ideas.

In addition, we keeping a watchful eye on everything that's out there in terms of RegTech - basically emerging technology in the regulation space, and trying to see how we can leverage the technologies here at PwC.

The barometer we use to test whether new approaches are relevant is pretty simple. If our clients like it, we know we have been successful. If something doesn't resonate with a client, we fail fast. We involve clients in the development of all our technology products from an early stage because we will get a good indication pretty early on as to whether or not it's going to work.

A fundamental shift

I predict that in 10 years' time the profession will look quite different. All routine tasks will be automated whether in a finance function, back office or audit function. There will be increased use of new technologies, and that will mean a high level of sophistication of analysis and checking of routine information. This will allow finance functions and professionals to focus more on forward-looking information rather than backward-looking information. And that is a fundamental shift in our profession.

"Smaller and medium-sized accounting firms need to keep an open mind about the future because disruption will impact all of us, not just the big end of town."
Kristin Stubbins FCA, Partner, Assurance Innovation & Disruption Lead, PwC Australia.

Even today, technology is available that's quite reasonably priced, which would help enormously with the provision of services to a whole range of clients. It's about having a mindset that's open to this.

Trust is part of the equation

I think the future of chartered accounting as a profession lies in the broader trust equation.

Trust has always been inherent in the CA brand, but previously I think we have really focused on confidence over historical numbers, whether that is as CAs in a tax role, financial reporting role or an auditing role.

Where we are heading is more around providing greater confidence in forecasting, in judgements and predictions. New technologies will help with those judgements, and the profession has an opportunity to broaden its brand beyond historical information to more forward-looking information, and potentially other areas where society might require confidence. That could be around the authenticity of a supply chain or around certain vendors in a client supply chain. Where I see the opportunity for the profession is in providing trust to people.