How Accountants Can Survive the Data ‘Avalanche’

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All accountants may not get the “big picture” yet, but the data revolution has laid data management and governance right at their feet. These key developments are the ticket to their future and they are better-suited to incorporating the changes than they may think.

That’s the key message in a recent report, The Data Revolution, by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).

“Both as professionals and as individuals, finance and accounting professionals have no choice but to embrace new realities, master new terminology and skills, and understand trends related to the modern data landscape,” Faye Chua, head of business insights at the ACCA, said in a prepared statement.

The data revolution we are all in the midst of is pushing data management and data governance into the front lines. And for data governance, “finance professionals will play a part in helping to support projects that lead businesses toward maturity in their use of data,” said Raef Lawson, PhD, CMA, CPA, vice president of research and policy at the IMA.

According to the report, accountants are well-suited for this role because of the following reasons:

  • They have the depth of industry knowledge and a good understanding of the overarching strategy and end-to-end operation of the business.
  • The very nature of their work means they’re good at collecting, processing, and benchmarking data.
  • They are good at data analysis.
  • Data management requires management of risks and watching the bottom line, which accountants do well.

But to survive the data “avalanche,” as the report calls it, accountants and other finance professionals must keep data issues in mind. Here are nine that the report cites:

  1. There will be increasing demand for “data stewards,” who can discuss and support the value of data.
  2. New roles are emerging that will determine the future of accounting. They are a hybrid of finance, technology, and information, such as the chief financial technology officer or chief financial information officer.
  3. Collaboration between finance and IT remains key. Flexibility and innovation will drive that and help find solutions pertinent to specific scenarios.
  4. Accountants must stay aware of a variety of technologies and trends, and acquire new skills that now are considered necessary.
  5. Compliance includes data-retention issues, and the growth of digital data processing will bring changes in how data handling is regulated.
  6. Separate reports on sustainability and corporate social responsibility will move to integrated reporting, and the underlying data will change to require a more holistic view. “Finance professionals are well-placed to execute the required control over underlying data quality,” the report states.
  7. The privacy and security of data also is changing, and new privacy regulations are more complicated and sometimes conflict. That opens the door to data governance for accountants.
  8. Cybersecurity concerns are bringing digital data insurance to the marketplace, “yet another aspect for compliance-orientated finance professionals to consider,” the report states.
  9. Thoughts of free cloud storage are proving to be incorrect. Accountants should monitor those costs to ensure that data-related activities are profitable.

“When it comes to embracing technical innovation, finance professionals often tend to err on the side of caution,” Fergus Wong, FCCA, tax director of national tax policy services for PricewaterhouseCoopers, said in the report. “And yet the very nature of the profession is changing before our very eyes. Taking part in the data revolution is an excellent opportunity for accountants to make a real difference.”

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