By Datuk Muhamad Umar Swift, Chief Executive Officer, Bursa Malaysia

The World Economic Forum (WEF) in its Future of Jobs Report stated that “surveyed organisations around the world predict 26 million fewer jobs by 2027 in Record-Keeping and Administrative roles, including Cashiers and Ticket Clerks; Data Entry, Accounting, Bookkeeping and Payroll Clerks; and Administrative and Executive Secretaries, driven mainly by digitalisation and automation.”

In an era marked by rapid transformation, traditional roles like that of accountants find themselves at a crossroad, grappling with questions about their future.

Is accountancy on the decline or is it experiencing a renaissance in the face of modern times and waves of technological advancements?

To shed light on this question, The Malaysian Institute of Certified Public Accountants (MICPA) and the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) recently carried out a survey to gauge public sentiment on accountancy as a profession.

The rise of automation, especially in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), is often quoted as the harbinger of decline for one of the world’s oldest professions. We are all too familiar with the narrative that machines can and will replace the role of accountants (or other numerical data-related professions). However, in the survey conducted by MICPA x CA ANZ, interest and confidence in the profession remain high. 75 percent of respondents think that accountancy is an interesting career while 77 percent remain steadfast that it provides a well-paid career path.

An evolving profession

Accounting dates back to ancient Mesopotamia and other early civilisations where record-keeping was crucial for temple finances and trade. While some may myopically view accounting as just book-keeping, the influence or gravitas of the profession extends far deeper.

Accountancy is in fact, the processing of information about economic entities. The profession continues to be the analysts of crucial data, transforming sets of numbers into actionable quotients. Perhaps, the name of the profession should also evolve. No longer chained to simply performing traditional scopes, the value we bring to an organisation transcends bookkeeping and auditing. Many business leaders and CEOs are trained and certified accountants. This is a testament that accountants can ascend to strategic roles, becoming invaluable advisors and leaders in the complex realm of financial decision-making.

The repertoire of skills of an accountant has also multiplied over the years, offering a plethora of opportunities. In fact, 77% of respondents also agreed that a career in accounting offers variety.As a corporate leader for over 25 years, with foundation as an accounting professional, I can vouch that the profession has indeed evolved and continues to transform. It will require ongoing adjustments to adapt to new economic sectors.

As the expectations from the profession continues to evolve, with professional accountants becoming strategic partners offering essential guidance in a multitude of dimensions ranging from risk management, financial planning, and regulatory compliance, accountants are poised to retain and even enhance their influence in the years ahead. From being value counters to value creators, the profession should continue to redefine itself.

Globalisation also has a profound impact on accountancy, as businesses expand their operations across borders. This has created a demand for accountants with expertise in international accounting standards and cross-border transactions.

The rise of e-commerce and intangible assets has also required accountants to adapt their practices to new forms of business and value creation in the digital and green economy. Accounting for intangible assets is one of the burgeoning areas where leadership and new practices in accountancy needs to play a crucial role in measuring and reporting the value of newer assets such as intellectual property and patents, to carbon credits, as companies and economies transition to lower-carbon pathways.

Leveraging the digital wave

Advancements in the digital age complement and aid decision-making and strategic planning in the progress of this profession. Granted, certain tasks will be automated but this will enable professionals to scale the value chain, performing higher value roles. Some of the upsides include:

  1. Mastery of AI tools: the option and ability to leverage on machine learning facility and integrate it into financial workflows.
  2. Be one with the data: extract meaningful insights from a pool of data to drive business decisions, based on hard facts and statistics.
  3. Out with mundane routines, and instead embrace strategic discourse: with greater bandwidth, accountants can spend more time participating in high-level decision-making processes.
  4. With time freed up by digitalisation, accountants can spend it on life-enhancing contributions such as upskilling or even achieving better work-life balance. 

Indeed, accountancy is experiencing a renaissance and is far from being in decline. The continued evolution of accountancy demonstrates its resilience and adaptability to embrace new technologies in shaping the future of business and finance.

To fully grasp a future of opportunities, one must equip oneself with the necessary knowledge, training and certification. The MICPA x CA ANZ Qualifying Programme provides candidates with diverse skills, fostering adaptability in a rapidly changing business landscape. On top of that, it also bestows two professional qualifications from both esteemed bodies (MICPA and CA ANZ), in addition to granting access to the esteemed Global Accounting Alliance (GAA).

Malaysia will need 60,000 qualified accountancy professionals by 2030 to meet the demands in supporting the growth of the nation. At the current rate, we are still short of a little over 20,000.