Written by Anthony Walters, head of European policy at ACCA
“BREXIT means Brexit” has been the repeated cry of most front-bench politicians since the EU Referendum result – despite the apparent absence of any clear understanding of what this really means.
While most in the accountancy profession would have been cringing at the cavalier use of stats and figures during the build-up to the referendum itself, it’s now clear that, alongside lawyers, accountants are going to have a major role in shaping and responding to what comes next.
The Big Four are already hiring Brexit teams that comprise heavily of accountancy experts. Such experts will play a critical role in assessing immediate financial impacts, identifying and managing longer-term risks and navigating the legislative and regulatory minefield that’s likely to take shape in the next two or three years. Indeed, learning how to respond to such rapidly-changing business landscapes may well become the ‘new normal’ for the accountancy profession.
When the ACCA launched its ‘Professional accountants – the future’ research forecasting major developments likely to impact on the profession to 2020 and beyond, few would have foreseen the scale of political and economic shock we have seen in recent weeks. Many of those surveyed over two years saw technological disruption as the major challenge for today’s professionals, rather than the potential renegotiation of decades-old trade agreements.
Yet, astutely, respondents were keen to stress the growing importance of skills not generally associated with accountancy: creativity, emotional intelligence and vision. Increasing demand for these qualities reflect the expanded roles of finance professionals within most businesses, requiring not just traditional core technical and ethical competencies but also the ability to take a fully-formed, strategic approach to business development.
The research found that the professional of the future will have to be masters of a broad range of skills, which we’ve termed ‘the magnificent seven’:
- Technical and ethical competencies (TEQ) – The skills and abilities to perform activities consistently to a defined standard while maintaining the highest standards of integrity, independence and professional scepticism.
- Intelligence (IQ) – The ability to acquire and use knowledge: thinking, reasoning and solving problems.
- Creativity (CQ) – The ability to apply existing knowledge in a new situation, explore potential outcomes, and generate new ideas.
- Digital quotient (DQ) – The awareness and application of existing and emerging digital technologies, capabilities, practices, strategies and culture.
- Emotional intelligence (EQ) – The ability to identify your own emotions and those of others, harness and apply them to tasks, and regulate and manage them.
- Vision (VQ) – The ability to anticipate future trends accurately by extrapolating existing data and other information sources.
- Experience (XQ) – The ability to understand customer expectations, meet desired outcomes and create value.
Combining these skills is likely to be crucial in enabling professional accountants to take a front seat in shaping and driving business strategy. These skills will also be essential for those in financial services dealing with clients facing sudden uncertainty about everything from a plummeting sterling through to the potential implications for taxation, tariffs and regulation. It would be a mistake to simply dismiss these competencies as ‘soft skills’ which are secondary to the ‘hard’ technical skills. At the core of the seven competencies identified in the research is agility – in a fast moving world agility is likely to be key to success and survival. With increasing automation in certain areas of the profession it is this agile range of skills that’s likely to add true value to the work of professional accountants.
Just as with responding to the impact of digital technologies, fostering such skills requires investment and support from individuals and organisations alike. As David Cameron put it, we are now in a new reality. We need to respond to this and for business and government alike that means looking long and hard at the skills that will be required to navigate the choppy waters that lie ahead.
Beyond the need for more agile professionals, the research also identified political uncertainty and increased regulation (at national and global level) as other major challenges facing the accountancy profession. This is clearly illustrated in recent calls for governments around the world to adopt greater fairness and transparency in taxation and governance. While the challenges and questions posed by uncoupling the UK from the EU may be taking up the column inches, it should be noted that this kind of instability is not taking place in isolation, as electorates from around the world continue to react to globalisation and the after-effects of global financial crisis.
While there is no shortage of uncertainty what is clear is that professionals will play a hugely important role in shaping the new post-Brexit reality. Expert skills, trust and integrity – the key ingredients of professionalism – will be absolutely critical in rebuilding public confidence in business and government. Professional accountants in particular will have a vital role in shaping financial and business strategy that boosts economic performance for the benefit of business and wider society. But before we embark on this journey into unchartered territories it’s crucial that professionals go equipped with a range of sharpened skills to tackle the challenges that await.