Why accountants need to prepare themselves to be finance leaders of the future

CFOs at the Finance Indaba Conversations discuss why their roles are evolving beyond number crunching.

The fourth industrial revolution has begun and even accountants – people whose core skills were considered indispensable – are being affected. Globalisation and technology are changing how companies operate and CFOs are no longer just required to forecast and reconcile budgets.

This Finance Indaba Conversation was sponsored by The South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA). During his brief introduction, Prof Rashied Small, executive at SAIPA said that the role of future accountants is no longer reactionary but future thinking.

“Critical thinking and foresight are now a requirement. Accountants need to be able to interpret big data to help solve problems and drive sustainability,” he explained.

Panellist Zoliswa Mashinini, finance director: Africa and Middle East at G4S said that the accountant of the future needs to have integrity, be an excellent communicator and a problem solver to be effective. “You need to know what you stand for and demonstrate good ethics. You need drive internal stakeholder engagement and understand the business and you need to solve problems. CEOs are looking for CFOs who are problem solvers,” she explained.

Rachel Madziwanyika, CFO at Bühler Southern Africa, said, “If we don’t upskill and match the fast-changing digital climate we will be obsolete.” Rachel said a key role of the future accountant would be making sense of big data. “The future accountant will have to predict the future and create efficiencies. In fact, we will need to become creative because we won’t just be reacting to information.”

In addition, she explained accountants would also need to know how to merge financial data with non-financial data and communicate with people at all levels of the organisation, including clients.

Zoliswa said she learnt early on in her career that versatility was important because now in her role as CFO she finds herself stepping into sales pitches or standing in for her CEO at meetings.

Some organisations are going as far as rebranding the CFO title, explained Siphiwe Madonsela, chief finance and value management officer at Standard Bank. “The mandate of the CFO is expanding. The core function is still finance; however more commercial skills are required. Organisations are building the skills of financial staff, so they can also operate in the boardroom to help find optimal solutions. Finance teams are increasingly becoming multi-disciplinary teams.”

Rachel said accountants can no longer rest on their laurels. “We need to learn to be competitive in what we offer, otherwise we lose value because you are competing with a global market. Process-related jobs are now held by machines not people. Artificial Intelligence is a reality for many international organisations who are replacing people with software and machines. Globalisation is creating a smaller world and things that happen in other countries have impact on us, which is why we need to upskill ourselves so we can compete in the global village that we are living in,” she said.

But competing in a global village said Rachel, comes with its challenges. Rachel is based in South Africa, but her team is based in Prague. “Cultural barriers and differences are real, and they are big. It’s not an easy transition,” she explained.

In conclusion the panellists agreed that the accountant of the future needs to be an all-rounder. “You can’t be the jack of all trades and the master of none. You need to master some of the new skills required and accept that you will be stronger in some than in others,” said Zoliswa, “You don’t have to master everything.”

Rachel explained that the role of the CFO was still critical, and that while AI can take over certain roles, it could never replace the role of the CFO. “CFOs add value by thinking in a future-thinking manner. What you can’t automate is what you think of the business in the future.”

In the chat
Zandile Thwala
, Silver Spoon Asset Management – “Budgeting is moving away from just filling in a wish list table for departments. It needs to be aligned to meeting the set KPIs on a rolling forecast throughout the year. Hence business partnership is becoming core for the future accountant.”

Farial Fakier, Faes Accounting and Business Solutions – “I run a small accounting practice and engagement with my small business owners/clients is crucial. I engage them all the time.”

Jonathan Ramsamy, FranklinCovey South Africa – “The accountant of the future should be able to know how to ask the right questions because of their business understanding and rely on the team to provide the right answers.”