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Comment: Predicting the future can be perilous

By ACCA UK regional head of policy for Europe and the Americas Nick Jeffrey


It has been that time of year. Seemingly everything you read did one of two things. Either the writer was taking a look back at 2017 - the year in review, or a look back at things you might have forgotten, that sort of thing - sometimes wistfully, sometimes with the benefit of hindsight, sometimes with the tone “you thought that was bad…”. Or the writer was looking forward to 2018 - the year ahead, or a look forward to speculate on the outcome of known calendar events (who will win the football World Cup?), that sort of thing - sometimes hopefully, sometimes with the benefit of foresight, sometimes with the tone “you thought that was bad, wait until…”.

I enjoy listening to debates featuring futurists. When someone says “There will be cities with city farms”, or “we won’t need car parks because the driverless car will come to you”, I am taken to that place at some time in the future, trying to imagine what that might be like. As an auditor I am wondering what assumptions they have made in arriving at these forecasts. Self sustaining cities would be brilliant, wouldn’t they? I have no idea how they would work, and my lack of knowledge doesn’t help. But I wonder how they can be possible if we don’t first solve pollution, transport and energy. And then how can a city be self sustaining, when its inhabitants are likely to demand skills (construction?) or food (champagne?) which it cannot necessarily find within its limits? So self sustaining, at least to my way of thinking, perhaps cannot be an absolute goal, and so maybe the issue is to trade with partners sustainably. Or maybe the futurist is assuming that the city will be self sustaining for the essentials, and trade sustainably in non-essential goods…

As for driverless cars: maybe it is just that I am from a certain generation, but I enjoy driving a car, with a manual gearbox, and I don’t want to own a driverless car. But for those who are more open minded don’t we need car parks to park these driverless cars, which are parked close to where the driverless passengers want to be picked up?

And so it goes on…

Leaving aside city farms and driverless car parking and looking ahead to my own working year, it will be dominated by the agenda of ACCA, and the agenda of others.

For ACCA we have our first sitting of our new professional exams in September. They are market leading, and we are very proud of the resulting boost to employability. The changes are employer led and backed up by a solid body of research and testing. But we still need to do everything we can to ensure they land well with our students, their tutors and employers, and our members. We are doing our bit to deliver the accountancy profession the world needs, and that necessitates being forward looking.

As for the agenda of others, much of what I do will be reacting to the actions of others. The results of the Brexit negotiations will likely change my region forever. And if that is not change for the profession, then it is certainly change for our members’ employers and their customers. The future of Europe, the future of the profession and what the profession does, the skills and education agenda, open access and social mobility and equal rights - all of these things will impact what I and my colleagues do in the coming 12 months.

Little on those agendas has a clear outcome. At ACCA our professional insights team is keen to ensure that our research is forward looking. We seek to spot emerging trends.

It is a great time to be in the accountancy profession, and to be doing my job. I am interested by those that indulge in crystal balls. Thinking about and debating the future is a critical part of my job, and of what ACCA does.

And if England win the football World Cup? Then there will be a lot of humbled “experts” who predicted in 2017 that we had no chance…

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