The Changing Roles of Accountants Today
The roles of accountants around the world have been changing over the past decades, and these professionals are slowly learning to embrace the increased responsibilities that their career demands.
Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), in cooperation with the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, carried out a research called Accounting trends in a borderless world to evaluate the trends facing the profession, comparing east and west, and the challenges facing accountants globally. CIMA also conducted a survey to delve deeper into the roles undertaken by a broader range of financial professionals, which were categorised as follows:
- Accounting operations: transaction processing, accounts payable and receivable, and internal financial reports
- External reporting: statutory reporting, corporate finance, treasury and financial risk, and regulation, including internal audits, compliance with regulatory requirements, and taxes
- Management accounting: preparing and interpreting management accounting information, such as forecasting, budgeting, costing and reporting on variances, as well as cash flow management
- Management support: identifying and analysing strategic options, decision support, designing and tracking key personnel indicators, benchmarking, strategic management accounting, and business risk management
- Management information systems: developing, implementing and maintaininginformation systems
- Other: staff management, training, administration, and other miscellaneous activities.
To determine what accountants are doing, want to be doing, and should be doing, CIMA analysed the responses of over 5,000 senior finance and senior non-finance professionals. It believes that the impact of the global economic crisis contributed to this shift as there is a need for corporations to bring more professionals who understand risk and finance into high-level strategic conversations.
In Exhibit 1, the responses show how these professionals split their time fulfilling a variety of roles. Management accounting and Accounting operations make up for almost half the time spent by respondents on the job, with 22% and 20%, respectively. Management support follows closely at 18%. We can also observe here the difference on how financial professionals in the east and west spend their working hours.
In Exhibit 2, we can see that financial professionals in the west spend most of their time on roles that add more value compared to those in the east. Different starting positions and different cultural and structural background may be factors to this divide. However, both groups believe they should be spending their time in management support roles and away from routine accounting operations in order to promote career progression (Exhibit 3).
Meanwhile, respondents in the west were especially eager to shift to greater management support responsibilities, perhaps because they are already performing more value-added duties in general. Respondents in the east, on the other hand, feel they spend too little time on management accounting activities while those in the west feel they spend too much. Both respondents agree that they spend too much time on accounting operations and too little on management support, but those in the west saw a shift to management support more vital to the future than those in the east, where a move towards management accounting was more demanding.
Generally, respondents from east and west agree on how they should divide their working hours and how they would prefer to allot their time. Exhibit 4 shows how both groups would like to reduce some of their external reporting duties; however, Exhibit 5 indicates that neither of them thinks that would help their career.
CIMA has a mutual recognition agreement with CPA Australia, and a strategic alliance with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Australia. The results of their research have proven that there remains significant pressure for financial professionals to add more value to their firm. Those who embrace their expanding roles will be more desirable, and those who settle for traditional skills will be left behind.
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