Employees sitting with AI robot
Accounting | The Profession

The future is now

CPA Canada president and CEO, Joy Thomas, reflects on building a profession ready for disruption

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For CPAs in Canada, it’s been a remarkable five years of growth, prosperity and global recognition for the work we do. The unification of the profession has united us in purpose and helped solidify our brand, both in Canada and around the world. And yet, even at this pinnacle of success, it’s important to remember: now is no time to rest on our laurels.

Especially as it relates to technology, CPAs are facing a tsunami of change. Technological disruption is a common theme in just about every business these days, and accounting is no different. Already, big data and analytics are transforming how we audit, budget and forecast, while cloud computing is changing the way we control, share and store information. Indeed, the very notion of what an accountant is, is changing—and will continue to change.

Not so long ago, the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), on whose board I serve, released a report entitled “Developing a Future-Ready Profession.” While acknowledging the risk inherent in emerging technologies such as robotics and automation, or cognitive and artificial intelligence, IFAC also recognizes the significant opportunities that a more strategic-minded focus can bring the profession.

What’s certainly at risk with technological change are repetitive accounting tasks—and while that imperils certain positions, it also opens the doors to many more. As the IFAC report makes clear, cognitive and artificial intelligence promise to enhance the advice provided by financial professionals—placing us in a much more strategic position within our organizations. It’s the same thing with robotics, which is replacing many mundane tasks while allowing clients 24/7 service and a reduced risk of human error.

For many organizations, AI and robotics are perhaps a few years off. Not so with blockchain, one of the most disruptive technologies of the past couple of years. Blockchain offers a new way for many organizations to transact—be it financially, legally or otherwise—and has already been adopted by a slew of Fortune 500 companies. While blockchain threatens to “cut out the middleman” for many in the financial services sector, it also, as the IFAC report points out, “provides full visibility on transactions with an audit trail and significant opportunities for finance and accounting, as well as the finance system more broadly.” Transparency, in all corners of the financial world, is something that CPAs should fully embrace.

Of course, embracing disruption is easier said than done—and truth be told, CPAs can be a cautious bunch. But, transformational change is what’s needed to fully realize the potential of these new technologies. Business leaders need to build the technological paradigm shift into their strategic and operational plans—and CPAs, in particular, need to become digital evangelists within their organization. We have a great opportunity to leverage technology—in audit and control, automation of processes, and many other areas—to deliver better decisions at a lower cost.

CPA Canada is one of the largest national accounting bodies in the world representing more than 210,000 members. Yes, change will continue to disrupt business models and alter the future of work. At the same time, however, Canadian CPAs have the skill sets to successfully navigate change and it is essential that continues. For CPA Canada, this means we must ensure our programs remain relevant, both in terms of content and learning styles. We want Canadian CPAs to use adaptive, innovative and resilient mindsets to develop strategies that not only drive success but also help shape the future.

“By failing to prepare,” Benjamin Franklin once said, “you are preparing to fail.” By embracing change and learning to ride (and not fight) this technological wave, I firmly believe that CPAs will be prepared to succeed—and lead—well into the future.