Digital adoption is on the rise, and accountants are increasingly being asked to leverage digital to enhance the value they bring, says the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) in a new briefing paper called Coding: as a professional accountant, why you should be interested. Narayanan Vaidyanathan, head of business futures at ACCA, speaks to Joe Pickard
The ACCA paper explains why professional accountants should be aware of, and interested, in coding.
Research conducted for the report found that out of 992 ACCA members, 57% said they had no knowledge of coding, while 40% expressed an in interest in learning.
Looking ahead three years, none of the respondents wanted to remain without knowledge of coding. For the same time frame, six in ten wanted to develop a basic knowledge, and a further one in four sought advanced knowledge in coding.
The Accountant: How are you building a basic understanding of coding into your curriculum?
Narayanan Vaidyanathan: This is available as CPD for our members at the moment. As we say in this paper: “Not every professional accountant may need to code, but even a basic understanding can add value to their organisations,” so we see this as a post-ACCA-qualification development need.
TA: When developing a curriculum or CPD that is very ‘tech heavy’, how hard is it to keep up to date with rapid changes in technology? Is this the case for coding?
NV: It’s essential to ensure that any training or development – whether ‘tech heavy’ or not – is up to date, relevant and engaging. So we work hard to ensure this is the case, partnering with experts to do so. We want to make sure that what we offer our members is relevant to their role and to their aspirations.
The CPD we offer for coding is pitched at both a high-level introduction, Machine learning – an introduction for finance professionals, which gives a business-oriented view of AI; and then those looking for more hands-on training such as with Python labs, where Machine learning with Python for finance professionals will be more appropriate.
TA: Will teaching coding will become easier in future years as future generations begin to develop these skills at an earlier age? How specialised is coding in the accountancy profession?
NV: You see, hear and read stories about coding being done by primary school-aged children, and that its popularity is on the rise. So I think it will become easier in the future as demand increases.
For the accountancy profession, we think it’s good for accountants to have an understanding of coding – that’s why we did this paper; and then offer them a choice of taking the CPD training to develop their own coding skills if they wish.
It’s a value add that they can choose to avail of if they wish.
In terms of coding being specialised, we’re keen for our audience to appreciate the programmatic way of thinking. This is about how to translate business questions and processes into for example, coding language which says – if this happens, do so and so.
This conceptual understanding is relatively future-proof and is a transferable skill even if future coding languages evolve in their syntax.
TA: Just how beneficial can knowledge and experience of coding be to an accountant’s career in terms of career progression?
NV: Again, we see this as a value add, something that can be taken as a CPD course to develop understanding. Being digitally and tech savvy is very important for the modern professional accountant. These skills can help to differentiate oneself in the marketplace, and open up new avenues for progression.
TA: How in-demand are these skills currently? How do you see demand increasing in the future?
NV: As our research shows, the majority of accountants we asked want to know more about coding.
We’re already seeing examples of our members engaging strongly with this space to automate and improve processes or to derive tangible business insights. We think that the need to understand how to use tech tools to analyse data or improve processes will remain.
Some professional accountants will code, others will use low-code or drag-and-drop tools, while yet others will understand it conceptually and business partner well with those who actually do the coding.
Wherever one sits in the spectrum, there is a way to engage and use this understanding to add value.