Koh Wee Kwang, 43, started his career in accountancy 19 years ago as an audit assistant, and made his climb in the industry to his current position as the director in accounting firm CA Singapore. As a practising public accountant over the past one and a half years, he has been leading numerous advisory engagements.
Adapting as the industry evolved over the years, he has accumulated a wealth of experience and learning points. We extract the best tips from him below to help those in accountancy survive the future economy.
Which jobs in accountancy will be made redundant by technology, and which are the ones that are here to stay?
Wee Kwang: Disruption in the accountancy sector will occur bottom-up. Disruptions are occurring in three waves simultaneously. Between now and the next three to five years, bookkeepers and lower-level clerical accounting staff will be disrupted. The image of accountants as bean counters will vanish over time. The role of the bean counters will be taken over by computers, which are more efficient and could potentially produce management accounts that are far more accurate than those prepared by human beings.
The second wave will disrupt the accountants in managerial position in the next five to 10 years. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be heavily utilised to assist financial controllers and accounting mangers in their role as gatekeepers.
The third wave will disrupt external auditors in the next 10-15 years as blockchain technology matures over time.
Are new job roles coming to the sector?
Accountant need to re-invent themselves as trusted business advisors who possess superb quantitative and qualitative skills.
The new job roles require accountants to have “FRS”. I am not referring to the Financial Reporting Standards in Singapore most accountants should be familiar with. I am referring to the below critical skillsets that every accountant need to have.
- Financial Analysis requires critical thinking skill.
- Risk Management requires an adaptive mind and ability to contextualise solutions.
- Sustainability Reporting requires broad-based learning. Continuous and innovative learning is going to be more important than ever before.
For those accountants made redundant, what are some transferable skills they have that can be put into good use elsewhere?
Accountants generally have good quantitative skills and the stomach to assimilate huge quantity of data. Accountants could be retrained in the field of data analytics and financial analysis. In additions, accountants have a good understanding of internal controls and corporate governance. These are all transferable skills.
Certain accounting roles are very narrowly-focused such as accounts receivables and payables, internal audit, and business and financial instrument valuation. Accountants should embrace a diversity of roles to remain relevant in the future. Organisations should indoctrinate the importance of rotating employees across different roles.
It is the lowest rung of the accounting workers that we should be worried about. These workers are currently in clerical and processing roles. It would be extremely challenging for a lot of them to acquire the necessary cognitive skills to move up the value chain. For people in this category, my advice is for them is to start reflecting on what their passions are and start taking proactive step to develop their passions.
What are some recent uses of technology in the accountancy?
The Big Four have invested in blockchain and AI. Ernst & Young (EY) has announced the pilot of the EY Blockchain Analyzer, a suite of blockchain audit technologies that enhances the ability to perform an in-depth review of cryptocurrency business transactions.
AI, meanwhile, is used to pick up specific terms of lease contract to ensure compliance with the accounting standard.
What is CA doing to prepare workers? Are there plans to digitalise processes and adopt new technologies?
We digitalised our audit documentation by adopting electronic workpapers about three years ago. With electronic workpapers, we are now looking to capture the exponential benefit of digitalisation by automating the financial statements preparation process.
CA has also digitised the following three job functions:
- Tax computation: All the client’s past tax computations are organised and tracked in the tax software and it partially automates the tax computation process by populating the prior year balances on the current year tax computation before we start preparing the current year computation.
- Customer relationship management (CRM): It is a cloud-based solution which enables us to access to client’s information wherever we are.
- Staff engagement: This is a mobile application, which allows us to automate the daily attendance, the registration, attendance and participation of the firm’s events and in-house courses. Course materials are also posted on the app so that staff can access them on their mobile.
The firm is now working with government agencies to automate the processes for obtaining bank confirmation and engagement letter by directly pulling client’s information from our CRM and subsequently following up with clients for non-replies. This will reap substantial time savings in administrative work.