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IFAC: driving a future- ready profession

2019 promises to be an exciting year, and no profession is better positioned to help businesses navigate these tumultuous times than accountancy, writes In-Ki Joo, president of the International Federation of Accountants.

This year promises to be one of rapid change and increasing uncertainty, driven by geopolitical events, volatile financial markets and rapid technology developments.

Among the most important themes will be the impact of technology on the profession, the ongoing fight against fraud and corruption, continued attention to smart regulation, and the role of education in helping to ensure accountants remain relevant and future-ready.

The promises and challenges of new technologies have been much discussed in the last few years. For the accountancy profession, technology has the potential to complement and enhance our skills and allow us to provide better, more accurate insights. Combining strategic insights and business acumen with technology’s vast data capabilities will enable us to provide higher-value services as advisors and planners who can navigate increasingly complex financial systems.

Accountants will also have an important advisory role in cybersecurity. As more people, businesses and government entities become connected through the Cloud and other digital tools, security risks for servers, sites, software and companies increase exponentially. As experts in evaluating a company’s risks, and with unique insights into their data and finances, accountants can play a key role in ensuring that data is safe and secure.

Technology like artificial intelligence, Blockchain and Big Data will also play an important role in the fight against fraud and corruption. But even with the help of new technology, fraud and corruption can only be beaten with strong corporate governance. This is another area in which accountants can add real value – and where technology can help us make great strides.

IFAC has long-endorsed the OECD’s Principles of Good Governance. For many years, we have argued that effective checks and balances are critical in the fight against corruption. As a profession, we abide by globally accepted standards, but we need our efforts to be complemented by strong corporate governance. In our G20 submissions, IFAC, on behalf of the global accounting profession, recommends specific actions to support an anti-corruption environment, including greater consistency and enforcement of whistleblower protections.

Professional accountants working in businesses and on their boards, have the remarkable opportunity to positively influence governance. They must continue to champion open, transparent and accountable cultures. Together, technology and culture change will help to fight fraud and corruption.

A key related topic is the fragmented global regulatory landscape. Today, global businesses are faced with a complex and ever-changing array of regulations. Regulatory fragmentation poses significant issues for all international organisations. On the global profession’s behalf, and firmly in the public interest, IFAC has raised this issue over many years. Last April, IFAC and Business at OECD launched a ground-breaking report which estimated the cost of regulatory fragmentation at a staggering $780bn a year.

To help fix the issue, IFAC has called for greater international co-operation by regulators and supervisors on key regulatory issues. The profession needs to speak out, not just on regulation that affects accountants, but on regulation that impacts economic activity – and is therefore of public interest. IFAC has developed 10 guiding principles to facilitate smart regulation; these include wide consultation on regulation before implementation, and post-implementation assessments to identify intended and unintended consequences.

With a rapidly changing global landscape comes a persistent need to ensure that professional education and development is nimble, relevant and future-ready. Lifelong learning and continuous improvement are hallmarks of our profession, and we have a responsibility to ensure all accountants are equipped with a learning environment that reflects today’s realities and prepares them for future change.

Last year, IFAC and the International Accounting Education Standards Board announced a multi-stakeholder advisory group to create a more agile, comprehensive and integrated approach to accountancy education. The group’s work will be immensely important to supporting a futureready profession, and ensuring its relevance and appeal for the next generation.

It is nearly impossible to think about a future-ready profession without considering the next generation of talent. As IFAC’s survey of Generation Z shows, the profession continues to be seen as relevant and interesting to this next generation. In fact, nearly three-quarters of respondents worldwide indicated they would consider an accountancy career, and over a fifth had already committed to one.

The profession is at the cutting edge of some of the world’s most exciting new technology, and is on the front line in the fight against corruption. We are also working hard to ensure that our educational infrastructure is one that will continue to serve the profession well at all levels of experience.

All these priority areas are relevant, timely and appealing to the talented young people we need to fuel our future. Everyone, from deeply experienced professionals to our passionate millennials and Gen Zers, must play a positive, constructive role in our profession’s future.

From embracing new technology to agile training and education, the accountancy profession will continue to play a critical role in building strong and sustainable economies


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