Transforming the workplace
Alistair Connal and Bradley Delamare – both recognised in the ICAS Top 100 CAs list this year – have fully embraced technology, leaving behind a typical accountancy role. Their CA qualification has, however, provided a strong foundation for their success. Here they share their thoughts on the future of the accountancy profession and what this means for CAs.
Not surprisingly – since he works for Google – Alistair sees a big place for data in the future.
“I think understanding the importance of data, how to manage, interpret and structure data, and how to analyse it, are going to be hugely important within the broad skill set of a CA going forwards,” he says.
“Everybody talks about AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning, which rely on the processing of huge amounts of data. The foundation of that is having clean, structured data in the first place. Something that we have found at Google – given the scale of the company, how fast products are launching and how fast systems are changing – is that we want to automate a process, but actually the bulk of the work is in making sure the dataset is clean and usable. The output of an automation, or the output of some sort of machine learning model, is really only as good as the data that went into it.”
For CAs, this requires understanding where the data is coming from and where it’s going to. Moreover, Alistair believes there will be an increasing need for CAs to be able to talk the language of a data scientist and use database query languages like SQL in order to continue providing value in this data-driven landscape. And with rich data will come the automation of processes that Alistair says will change the way the accountancy profession provides value to clients.
“I think the work will become less manual and there will be more emphasis on the business insights and analytics that we can apply,” he says. “Once you apply machine learning models and AI, I don’t think it’s a complete impossibility to think that in 20 or 30 years you could press a button and the entire month-end close process could be done and be completely automated. That would really be transformative.”
Automation, efficiency and innovation
Bradley agrees that with technology comes increasing automation and, with that, increased efficiencies.
He says: “There are huge opportunities across sectors to adopt new technology to improve processes that currently operate, and the way people operate as well. It’s going to add transparency and it’s going to create greater certainty over numbers, especially in the accounting profession.”
For Bradley, this importantly links to cost savings. “Technology will replace a lot of jobs that people do; this is inevitable. There will also be many opportunities to eliminate and reduce costs, both through the saving of time and people resources.”
And technology also levels the playing field for smaller companies.
“The barriers to entry today to start your own business are really small as technology costs are minimal. It’s very cheap to get a cloud server or to set up a website or buy some kind of software platform – you could be connected from day one. And there is a huge opportunity out there to be a global business from the outset,” says Bradley.
“There’s also readily available funding, whether that’s investors or government grants or incentive schemes. This accelerates the growth of businesses, and of new ideas and technologies.”
Working flexibly, remotely and in new ways
What we know of as the workplace is also likely to evolve further in coming years as technology enables new and innovative ways of working.
“The number of people who work for themselves, or who have multiple jobs, thanks to the gig economy, or who don’t have the traditional nine to five job is continuing to grow. That whole workplace of the future is really transforming the way people think and the way they approach their work, and that’s leading to more people setting up their own businesses and wanting to work for themselves,” Bradley continues.
“If you look at technology over the last 10 years, or the last 20 years, the rate of acceleration in terms of technological development but also adoption has been significant and I think that’s only going to increase as technology continues to develop and people become more technologically savvy.”
Alistair, likewise, sees technology hugely impacting the way people will work in the future, but in a different way: “The world of work is currently dominated by emails and meetings – I think a lot of that can be streamlined by technology. It will become more about how we can effectively work with the technology as an aid.”
What’s not going to change?
Will people be pushed out by technology? If we begin to engage less with one another and more with technology, where does this leave us as human beings, defined by our need, and craving for, social interaction?
Bradley sees a continuing need for CAs to have strong social skills. “What is not going to change with technology is the requirement for building relationships with clients in order to execute business,” he says.
Alistair makes some interesting points about ethics: one of our most human traits, and one of the defining characteristics of a CA.
He says: “In order for an accountant to do their job accurately and effectively, they will continue to need to have access to highly sensitive data such as material or non-public information. In some respects, I don’t see our ethics changing. We should still be acting with integrity, and the protection of business data is the same whether it’s paper invoices and bank statements, or digital.
“Obviously data usage by businesses and technology companies in general is a hugely topical conversation today. But that’s really around the business model of companies. As accountants, and especially as accountants forming part of the Board of Directors or in leadership positions within the company outside of the finance function, such as the CEO, it is our responsibility to take our professional ethics and apply them through the fabric of a company.”
He closes with the reassuring, and definitive, affirmation: “The Code of Ethics applies no matter what you’re doing.”
Bradley Delamare CA is CEO of Tank Stream Labs in Sydney and was shortlisted in the ICAS Top 100 Young CAs Talent category. Under Bradley’s leadership, Tank Stream Labs has become one of the largest hubs in Australia’s technology and start-up sector. Bradley began his career with EY in the UK and moved to Australia nearly 10 years ago. He began working with early stage high-growth businesses with EY in Sydney and then moved on to help build Tank Stream Labs around four years ago.
In my role I do see a lot of innovative businesses. I help them with areas such as strategy, business plans and raising finance. I’ve currently got a team of twelve working for me, so it involves a lot of people management, too. My CA qualification definitely gave me a great foundation to develop the skills and the experiences that have got me to where I am today.
Alistair Connal CA is a Manager, Corporate Strategy and Top Partners with Google in New York. Alistair, who was shortlisted in the ICAS Top 100 Young CAs Technology category, manages Google’s relationship with two external partners. Alistair trained with ICAS in the UK and moved to the US in an auditing role with EY. He started at Google nearly five years ago in the revenue accounting team before transitioning into a partnership and corporate strategy role.
I love working for Google. It’s challenging, definitely, but it’s one of those companies that does certainly provide me with learning opportunities every day. The CA qualification gave me a holistic education that I was able to draw on from the outset of my career. Whether that be the ethics component, business law or tax education – all of these different pieces came together to give me a strong foundation on which to build.
The CA Agenda initiative is focusing on the key issues of Technology, Trust and Talent. If you would like to get involved with the CA Agenda, and help shape the future of the accounting and audit profession, we would like to hear from you. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org