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The Profession

In the face of economic upheaval, CPAs lock in on upskilling

Focusing on big data and technological innovation will help prepare finance professionals for the challenges facing the sector, experts say

Mature woman working from home during COVID-19 pandemicCPAs can take advantage of new virtual programming and build on their expertise to guide clients and organizations through periods of change (Getty Images/damircudic)

With the COVID-19 pandemic introducing unprecedented uncertainty and disruption, CPAs are focused on upskilling to navigate the recent economic upheaval.

Digital skills and data literacy are at the top of this list, experts say.

“The reality is that technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things, virtual and augmented reality, and robotics will make businesses more resilient to future pandemics, and anyone that can help companies exploit these technologies will be in a great position,” says Bernard Marr, a futurist, strategic business and technology adviser to governments, as well as the author of Future Value Drivers and From Data to Decisions, two of CPA Canada’s management accounting guidelines (MAGs).

Developing a digital mindset is critical for success in today’s marketplace, agrees CPA Salina Dharamsi, senior manager, Campus Talent Acquisition, at PwC.

“The pace of technological change is only going to get faster and our clients are counting on us to help them navigate this change,” she says. “To compete in digital tomorrow, we’ll need to use technology to do our jobs differently. This includes further developing our technology skill sets, including harnessing data, using visualization tools and building bots and automations to provide more value to the client.”

Dharamsi is a panellist at The ONE conference this year, where she will be speaking about career journeys and the tools needed to succeed in the accounting world and beyond. Other areas of focus at the 2020 conference, which has moved to a virtual format, include developing a mental-health culture, agile business solutions and data and privacy.

“We took people from industry, from public accounting, from government, and talked about the issues we’re all seeing in the accounting industry as a whole [and] what this cross-section of industry is seeing as trends and issues that CPAs should be focusing on from a skills perspective,” says Peter Harris, CPA, CA, assurance partner with PwC Calgary and advisory committee member for The ONE.

Upskilling around big data is one area the committee agreed was pivotal, says Harris. “Even if you’re a small- or medium-size company, you have so much data,” he says. “It’s not just the financial information that comes through, you see so much more from the operations perspective—how do you make sense of all of that?”

It’s this issue of too much raw data that inspired CPA Canada’s data management certificate, which teaches CPAs how to harness the power of data and turn it into meaningful information.

“Our certificate offering focuses on providing programs that meet the needs of our members,” says Geneviève Grenier, FCPA, FCMA, director, professional programs with CPA Canada. “This is a great example of online learning that will provide the latest and greatest learning on technology.

“Among content such as data governance, technology transformation and technical topics core to CPAs, we have focused many sessions on key topics for businesses as we continue to navigate unprecedented change,” she says, adding that with recent shifts due to the pandemic, content elements have been customized so that members can continue to stay agile . In addition to upskilling related to technology and data, Harris says the advisory committee focused on the theme of CFOs maintaining relevance as a trusted adviser. This is also reflected in CPA Canada’s programs, including the webinar Insights for Finance Leaders, as they continue to grapple with the economic and societal impact of COVID-19.

Managing well-being—both mental and physical—is also key for CPAs, says Dharamsi. And webinars like Coping with stress during COVID-19 teaches members techniques to balance their mental health during this difficult time.

“While it’s always important to focus on our well-being, it’s especially necessary given the pace and complexity of change we’re experiencing,” she says. “Our well-being is critical for innovation and living life to the fullest.”


For more information on conferences, courses webinars and more, visit CPA Canada’s hub for career and professional development. And if you’re interested in the issues impacting the future of accounting and business, tune into the Foresight: Re-imagining the profession webinar.

Also, stay up-to-date with developments related to COVID-19, including emerging business issues and financial literacy resources.


Here are some of the featured programs to help CPAs lead the changes in their organization
Public Sector Conference
When: Oct. 19-21
What: Up to 20 CPD hours
This three-day virtual event, themed “Managing shifting realities,” will equip professionals in the public sector with future-focused finance skills to be ready for what comes next in government and beyond. 

Practice management considerations in times of crisis

When: On-demand event
What: 1.5 CPD hours per podcast
The Success Podcast Series encompasses four on-demand podcasts, exploring a wide range of topics to help navigate a new environment. Industry leaders take listeners through the timely considerations firms should be familiar with in times of crises, including remote work and insurance coverage considerations.

Professional skepticism: The golden key to an auditor’s success
When: On-demand event
What: 5 CPD hours
This online course uses interactive case studies, theory and real-life perspectives from fellow CPAs. A pivotal part of the course focuses on understanding professional skepticism in the context of change and new technologies, which is ideal for those CPAs guiding their organization or client through uncertain times.

Financial structuring: Senior debt
When: Sept. 9, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. EST
What: 3 CPD hours
With so many companies going through a period of transition, this class is perfect for the CPA who wants to understand more about financing with debt versus equity. The session is led by certified financial analyst John Jazwinski who has more than 20 years’ experience advising executives and boards on corporate and transaction matters.

Optimizing cash and lender dealings in the current crisis
When: On-demand event
What: 1 CPD hour
This hour-long webinar will help guide CFOs, financial executives and business owners through the current crisis. Topics will cover preserving capital, debt restructuring and actions that ensure long-term business continuity.