Study: Singapore’s Accounting Professionals Not Prepared for Future Job Demands

Singapore’s finance and accounting professionals are not prepared for future job demands amid disruptions in the economy, according to a new survey by EY and CPA Australia.

The report, "Future-proof Your Finance Capability," surveyed 150 Singapore-based accounting and finance professionals between August and September 2017.

An overwhelming 79% of the respondents said they are currently not equipped with the necessary skills to meet the demands of their job in 10 years’ time. The top inhibitors preventing them from acquiring new skills include a lack of time (73%), financial resources (45%) and employer support (37%).

“With the fast pace of change, a new skill may become irrelevant or obsolete sooner rather than later,” says Vincent Toong, Assurance Partner at Ernst & Young LLP.

“To stay relevant and be future-ready, accounting professionals have to remain nimble and be flexible with their skill sets, adopt the mindset of a lifelong learner to keep abreast of industry trends and developments, and acquire the skills needed as the economy evolves.”

According to the survey, 6 in 10 found the current curriculum offered by education and professional bodies insufficient to develop future-ready skills. A similar number said their organizations are not helping them do so.

The survey respondents shared that professional bodies, educational institutions and the government can help by infusing technology into accounting curriculum or by introducing courses on adjacent skills so they can upskill.

Melvin Yong, Singapore Country Head at CPA Australia says: “Acquiring skills of the future is a life-long learning journey that individuals must personally own.

“While organizations, educators and professional bodies can help, individuals may wish to look into how they can continually invest in their future, leverage advancements in technology, and ensure they continue to enhance their relevance to their organizations and are never left behind in the disruptive era.”

Strategic thinking and technology skills highly valued; risk management not a focus

The survey revealed that the top drivers of change that have the most impact on the accounting profession are the spread of digital technologies and business model disruptions; increased regulation and governance; and increasing globalization.

Against these changes, the top skills that finance and accounting professionals think they need to be equipped with in 10 years’ time are strategic thinking, business acumen, leadership, communication and influencing, and analysis and advisory.

Technology skills, such as information technology and digital skills, and information management skills (such as statistical analysis and data mining), are also gaining prominence.

“The evolving role of the accounting professional calls for new skill sets, and it is clear that they need more than technical skills if they are to remain relevant in organizations,” says Toong.

“As accounting professionals are increasingly being asked to be business advisors to other functions in their organizations, it is not surprising that strategic thinking and business acumen and leadership skills rank high. Further, as more companies recognize the value of data and analytics, these professionals need to be able to harness technology to extract insights so that they can support better decision-making.”

Interestingly, risk management skills did not feature among the top skills that finance and accounting professionals think they will need to be future ready, despite being regarded highly by CFOs in our 2016 survey Ready for the future economy? The CFO’s perspective.

Toong explains the divergence in views: “Larger organizations typically have a separate risk function while in smaller firms, the responsibility often rests with the owner-management or is outsourced to professionals. Hence many finance and accounting professionals do not see risk management as core to their role.”

Shared responsibility for progress

The report charts the way forward for individuals, organizations, and professional bodies and educators.

For individuals, they must see change as an enablement and not an impediment, and embrace lifelong learning and emerging technologies.

Professional bodies and educators should keep their curriculum and courses relevant and fit for real-world readiness, catering to current needs while projecting the demands of the future.

Employers should support skills development both in terms of time and financial resources, including allocating annual budgets for training and upskilling of organizational finance capabilities.

Toong concludes: “Collaboration and partnership hold the key to overcoming many of the challenges in today’s disrupted environment. For the finance function, and by extension, the accounting profession to be future-ready, it will take all stakeholders – whether individuals, corporates, education providers or professional bodies – to actively evolve their roles and capabilities to partake in the opportunities in the future economy.”