What to expect from the future of accounting in South Africa
Rapid changes in technology mean traditional professions will need drastic evolution to remain relevant or become obsolete. The future of accounting in South Africa will involve adaptation while retaining core aspects.
Accountants in demand
While Information Technology (IT)-related positions are some of the most desperately needed placements within South Africa, accounting is a strong second. According to the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), South Africa is in need of some 22 000 qualified accountants countrywide, with a particular need for specialised accountants, including Chartered Accountants. The biggest barriers are education-related, with many potential candidates failing to pass the exams.
Types of accounting jobs
There are many different types of jobs that fall under the accounting banner. These include:
- Auditor: this person will analyse a company’s financial statements to ensure accuracy and compliance with legislation. Financial statements reviewed include those related to business assets, bank balances and ledgers.
- Budget analyst: clients need assistance in creating and implementing a business budget. An analyst will have a clear understanding of the business environment to make decisions based on current and potential earnings.
- Forensic accountant: these are accountants who investigate the biggest financial discrepancies such as fraud and industrial espionage.
- Staff accountant: this individual works for any organisation preparing taxes, reports, and financial statements. Other duties could include bookkeeping, budget evaluation, and general accounts.
- Tax accountant: these accountants will keep updated on national legislation and regulations related to tax.
Changes in the future of accounting
The socio-economic, environmental, and technological advances being made globally are resulting in massive changes across every industry. New jobs are being created while more established roles are quickly being replaced. Here’s a look at what changes are set to take place in the accounting profession within South Africa over the next few years.
Achieving gender equality in accounting
In many respects, South Africa is fast addressing the gender gap. Our current cabinet is only one of 11 worldwide with an equal representation of men and women. However, as is evidenced by our horrendous femicide rates, there is still a lot that needs to be done in terms of female empowerment. In accounting, it’s anticipated that the profession – still undeniably dominated by men, particularly in leadership roles – will begin to bridge the gap as more women rise in ranks. As with Iceland, a country that made it illegal for men to earn more than women for the same role, South Africa will seek to address issues of equal pay, opportunity, and treatment.
Enhanced technological capabilities in accounting
There will be an increasing adoption of smart technologies such as dedicated accounting software which will provide superior accounting services and push the trend of outsourcing accounting services. The increased use of social media and communicative technology will improve collaboration, engagement, and disclosure with stakeholders and other affected parties.
Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in accounting
The aforementioned adoption of superior technologies – including AI, blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT) – will disrupt classical accounting. Rather than focusing on manual transactions, number crunching, and report compilation, accountants will be free to focus on business enhancement initiatives, risk management, and the development of sustainable business models.
More regulations for accounting
The advancement of technologies within accounting will also call for more regulations to ensure data protection. With regards to AI, accounting firms will want to understand the impact of data on AI decision-making, ethical behaviour, and the quality of financial assumptions. Accounting standards’ regulators will need to ensure standards are maintained when looking at human- and machine-integrated accounting.
Increased globalisation of accounting
Globalisation encourages the free flow of money between markets, transferring skills and outsourcing while also seeking to resolve threats related to local regulations. Despite Brexit and the US’ isolation-focused policies, globalisation will continue with accountants seeking ways to work inter-continentally.
Development of new accounting curricula
The aforementioned globalisation, technological advancements, evolving tax regulations, and associated adaptations to the accounting profession demands a change in the education of both incoming and existing accountants in line with future digital technologies. At present, few universities are developing transformative curricula to meet these demands but this will change. Accounting firms are actually seeking to partner with universities and colleges to bridge the gap between learnt knowledge and practical knowledge in the workplace. Accountants can expect courses focusing on digital technology, integrated report, and carbon emission accounting, among others.
More need for advanced education requirements
Beyond the skills development in terms of the changing accounting profession, there is going to be a need for more advanced skills in terms of accounting to meet growing demand. Where AI is able to perform the more manual accounting tasks, there will be a push for accountants to pursue master’s degrees while working.
Need to specialise in accounting
Connected with further education training is the need for accountants to specialise in niche accounting markets, rather than the general overview of accounting skills. The advancement of technology means that accounting firms of all sizes have access to the same tools which is leading to a rise in these niche markets. Some examples of specialised markets include carbon emission accounting and healthcare accounting, among others.
The basics in accounting will remain
While change is inevitable within the accounting profession, and technology will assist greatly, computers are not perfect and humans will still be required to perform basic accounting to ensure everything is run correctly. There will still be anomalies and discrepancies that individual accountants will have to analyse and correct, as well as going through business processes with company leaders to overcome any challenges.
Where traditional accounting was once perceived as people surrounded by stacks of paper-filled filing cabinets, sitting with calculators in basements trying to balance amounts, this is no more. The increase in digital technologies, accounting software, AI and other related advancements will see the duties of the accountant change, while the core function of the accountant remains the same. Accountants will just need to make better use of interpersonal and analytical skills to work with automated technology.