ACCA’s Pat Semenya shares the three trends that are reshaping the finance landscape

From automation to working from home, finance professionals are focusing on becoming future fit.

Deployment of advanced technologies and Advisory services, increased use of social media, and embracing working from home are three key trends that Pat Semenya, ACCA Southern Africa head, sees as reshaping the finance landscape.

Technology in today’s business landscape has transformed systems and processes, converting manual tasks into automated functions.

“Some mundane jobs don’t need to be performed by humans anymore, like processing of invoices and capturing of orders, making businesses more effective and efficient” says Pat.

The challenge brought by this seemingly progressive stance is that it creates an unintended void in terms of employment in the finance entry level roles, taking into consideration the South African context where unemployment is steadily rising.

This cultural shift has been driven by several factors that are centred around labour supply, generation change and client focus. In addition, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic majorly influenced our working settings and processes.

Automated accounting processes and cloud-based accounting have also been gaining traction. “There is more reliance on big data now and the focus is on analytics. We see that with our members, and that’s what our partners and stakeholders are focused on too,” she says.

The focus on data analytics has led to job losses and resulted in growing advisory services work in a form of Small Medium Practices.

Hybrid approach
“Experts are predicting a hybrid approach with financial advisory and data analytics,” says Pat. “In accounting there are hard skills, but there is still a need to use judgement and industry knowledge, there are lots of softer elements to consider. We have noticed a trend whereby accomplished professionals who have been retrenched partnering with accounting and cloud software solution providers. In this way, the product will provide a solution and the subject matter expert can decode the data for financial insight and decision-making.”

As a result, more is required of professional accountants. “Professionalism has become a buzzword in every sector,” she says. “It is important to belong to a professional body so that one has access to Continuous Professional Development support material that address specific gaps in finance as a result of the rise in accounting and business software solutions. There is no room for complacency – even with senior professionals who have years of experience have to develop to keep up with the trends.”

Pat highlights that ACCA has seen an increased appetite for membership to provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace and in line with career aspirations during the lockdowns. “It’s privileged space for professional bodies to demonstrate their value in terms of how they contribute the development of the profession and also the advancement of public value” she says.

Brand matters
Another emerging trend is accountants using social media to improve brand awareness of their firms and advisory services including personal promotion for their expertise. “There has been an increase in demand for advisory services and consequent brand awareness to drive traffic, boost exposure, demonstrate expertise and also provide opportunities to learn about other industries,” Pat says.

“Accountants are traditionally seen as hard numbers people, engaging with social media and other business function software is a different approach. CFOs are realising that they are not a standalone office but an integral part of the business. As an example, they gain a competitive advantage by understanding software that provides data on competitors and industry trends,” she adds.

Remote work
Pat believes that remote working will continue post-Covid-19. “Research shows that accounting leaders have recognised the benefit of working from home and that over 70 percent of firms will continue with remote working,” she says. “We are also seeing resistance from professionals to returning to the office in the traditional sense.

“I, for example, have been working from home for a year now and the idea of going back to the office environment fulltime is daunting. There is more work-life balance with remote working, less stress and the ability to get more done.”

This means that companies will have to reimagine the working environment and require leaders to reconsider some of the traditional leadership styles. “One of the most dramatic, yet somewhat less discussed impacts of COVID-19 is the increased focus on trust in the work place. People will have to be measured on output and managers will require a change of perspective,” she says.

Pat has also been pondering the impact these trends will have both upstream and downstream in terms of remuneration package structuring.

“There is an understanding that professionals are expensive to employ. I see a likelihood of that changing and levelling out. Outside the technical expertise, some of the considerations that justified professional salaries in the past where lifestyles, hosting of clients and travelling costs, among other reasons. In the past year most of these considerations did not apply. Companies may need to revisit some of these considerations and rather factor in work-from-home allowances.

Future fit
The pandemic induced locked down highlighted the gaps that exist between various education systems in the country, specifically access to and the use technology including infrastructure capacity related factors.

“With the trends that are now emerging in the labour market, the education systems require a rethink to ensure a sustainable pipeline of future fit professionals that can mitigate the ever-growing skills gap and unemployment rate,” she says.