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In the age of information, data is power

To prepare for tomorrow’s business landscape, CPA Canada has embarked on an unprecedented dialogue, examining where the profession is going both domestically and globally – and where it should be going. President and CEO Joy Thomas writes

Our profession is undergoing an evolution being driven by many influences, with technology being a key factor.

Consider how Big Data and sophisticated analytics are transforming the way audits, budgets and forecasts are prepared and strategies developed. Cloud computing is profoundly changing the way information is gathered, protected, stored and shared, while virtual and augmented reality hold new possibilities for the future training of accountants.

The new initiative by Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) is called CPA Canada Foresight: Reimagining the Profession, and we want to hear from accountants and non-accountants alike from around the globe.

Everyone with their eyes on the future of business and the profession is invited to contribute ideas and have a say. We see this discussion having an impact that goes way beyond accounting.

Our profession serves as a strategic advisor to all sectors of the economy, so it is going to play a leading role in our society’s collective response to rapid, transformational change.

With that in mind, CPA Canada Foresight has been actively seeking opinions and ideas from stakeholders. The initiative features inperson roundtables and an online discussion – open to anyone around the world with an interest in the profession’s future.

As a global profession, it is important that a broad perspective is obtained on what a reimagined profession might look like, and I encourage you to join the conversation.

To date, hundreds of people have visited the site to engage in lively discussions and exchange ideas, bringing new perspectives that augment the more formal in-person roundtables.

The in-person roundtables are an important element of the initiative and help to ensure a multi-stakeholder approach. From the C-suite, the regulatory and investment communities, standard-setters and leaders from CPA firms, academia and the public sector, we have endeavoured to capture the full accounting ecosystem in our discussions. At the roundtables, participants gather to share their experiences, concerns and ideas and to develop plausible scenarios for how the future might unfold.

These events also feature guest speakers providing insights on related topics, ranging from managing disruption and embracing technology to digitisation and globalisation’s impact on our profession.

At one session, Sree Ramaswamy, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute, spoke about the potential opportunity that comes with new technologies.

I found his insights particularly on point, and quote him here: “Often the discussion is technology versus people, robots versus humans, and that’s not the way to look at it. The more valuable way to look at it is that we all have tasks as part of our job; some of those get automated away, so which are those tasks? What’s the best way to create value with the time that’s freed up for these human workers? That means reorienting business processes and changing the outcomes for individual workers.”


While roundtable and online discussions cover everything from the overall challenges facing the profession to the specifics of how ethical standards will need to evolve with the times, there have been topics that have proven to be central and, thus, come up time and again. These major Foresight themes include:

Technology: The speed, scale and scope of disruptive technologies such as blockchain robotics and AI; • Data: How to manage Big Data, including data analytics and especially data governance;

New skills and competencies: including technical skills in areas of data analytics and data management, and enabling competencies such as resiliency and adaptability, and

The changing role of accountants: Shifting away from traditional roles of measuring, to focus on strategic, real-time analysis.

Given its timely nature, it is understandable that CPA Canada Foresight has been a major topic of discussion in Canadian and international accounting circles.

Recently, I was part of the CPA Canada delegation at the World Council of Accountants meetings in Sydney. Attendees from around the world were briefed on the Foresight discussions to date, and were invited to consider participating in the conversation themselves.

In addition, they were encouraged to extend the invitation to colleagues. CPA Canada encourages more individuals to make themselves heard globally via Foresight. While the chairs at the roundtables are filled, the lively online discussion continues until the end of December 2018.

In 2019, CPA Canada will review what has been heard during the Foresight discussions and report back to its members, stakeholders and the world at large. Working collectively, we can build a stronger profession – one that can anticipate change and successfully navigate the challenges and opportunities that tomorrow brings.

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