Features | From Pivot Magazine

Driving the change

Why accountants can no longer rest on tradition 

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group of business people examining business dataIn the era of Big Data, many CPAs, regulators, institutional investors and issuers are testing technologies relating to artificial intelligence, data analytics and forecasting software that could substantially alter the way accounting is done. (Shutterstock photo)

Technological disruption. Competitive pressures. Political uncertainty. We are living in a time of massive, chaotic change, and there’s hardly a business or profession that hasn’t been turned on its head in the last decade.

Accounting is no different, as our members working on the front lines well know. The challenges are complex and fluid. In the era of Big Data, many CPAs, regulators, institutional investors and issuers are testing technologies relating to artificial intelligence, data analytics and forecasting software that could substantially alter the way accounting is done. In the bigger picture, business models are changing, and the way companies create value—and how that value is measured—is undergoing a transformation.

Amid all this, CPA Canada is taking a leadership role in charting the path forward for the profession. That’s why we undertook the Foresight initiative, which you’ll read about in this issue, starting on page 24.

We’re only part way through the effort, but it’s already been illuminating. Last fall, as part of Foresight, we convened a series of roundtables with members, industry leaders and academics. We covered a lot of ground, and three workshops, held in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, stood out. Participants dug into four scenarios describing how the future might unfold, not just for CPAs but for Canadian society more broadly.

CEO and President of CPA Canada, Joy ThomasJoy Thomas, CPA Canada’s president and CEO (Photograph by Matt Barnes)

One theme that clearly emerged was that the explosion of data will create a need for new approaches to data governance and standards, which represent important future opportunities for the profession. As the Foresight Phase One progress report noted, “Participants soon realized that these trends mean that in the future, accountants will need to count more and different things—often things we do not yet know how to count. Presenters and participants alike emphasized that accountants need to be involved in creating the models and processes used to measure and predict value, not just reacting to them.”

In our main feature story on Foresight in this issue, you’ll read about Teresa Fortney, the CFO of Clearwater Seafoods in Halifax, who found that the process prompted her to begin thinking of new ways to measure sustainability, and even innovation, in her business. You’ll also read a story about open banking, a technological revolution that could upend financial services and create huge new opportunities for the profession. And you’ll read an argument from Brian and Laura Friedrich that there will always be a role for professional accountants as the guardians of trust.

I’d like to thank all the participants for their input into Foresight so far, and for all the passionate, spirited discussions that took place during this process—both in person and through our digital engagement.

But we’re not done yet. Our deep dive last fall into various future scenarios set us up for the next phase of the Foresight process: the examination of what role(s) CPAs may find themselves playing in the years to come, and how we get there from here.

It’s essential that our profession plays a leading role in our society’s collective response to rapid, ever-evolving change

We are now well positioned to identify the work streams required to prepare the profession to thrive. One will certainly be around data governance, and we can envision a role for standard setters, regulators and auditors in contributing to that. Another is in value creation—how we identify, create and measure value. We’ll need to develop the right oversight for these work streams and determine which experts to call on.

As part of this next phase, we will also be delving into areas like effective governance for the profession, the importance of fostering a culture of agility and innovation, and updating the skills and competencies required of accountants in the years to come. We’ll need to think of new practice areas that will emerge and how to prepare for them. CPAs already do almost everything—they build companies large and small, they prepare financial statements, they audit, they give advice and guidance. There’s no limit to the opportunities ahead.

This transformation requires leadership, engagement and creativity. Our profession serves as a strategic advisor to all sectors of the economy, so it is essential that we play a leading role in our society’s collective response to rapid, ever-evolving change. We can’t just rest on tradition. We’ve got to drive the changes that are required. Foresight will help assure we stay on the leading edge.