Disruption-hit accounting industry 'must up its game'

Vital to tap global opportunities and expand suite of services, says Chan Chun Sing

The accounting industry must up its game across a range of areas if it hopes to prosper amid the disruption being inflicted by fast-evolving technology, according to Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, yesterday.

Mr Chan told the annual conference of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) that the sector's ability to thrive depends in part on it seizing opportunities in the international market, and providing a more complete suite of services in addition to accounting services.

"There is another set of competencies that the accounting profession has to build... Are we able to have just-in-time packets of information pushed to us in a manner that allows us to stay current?" he asked.

"If we wait for the traditional schools and institutes of higher learning to figure out the latest market demand, it will take a few months to mobilise resources and curate that knowledge, and another few more months to mobilise trainees and students to acquire that knowledge. The entire cycle is likely to be more than one to two years. That is too slow."

Mr Chan, secretary general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), noted that if a major development or incident happens in the accounting profession, "within a few days, can you have the latest and most relevant modules pushed to you to pick up the relevant knowledge, and improve your work processes without having to wait the one- to two-year cycle? Whoever can get the continuing education right, the speed to market right, wins."

Mr Chan believes that "Team Singapore has the brand of trust, the standards and the quality assurance... that will put it in good stead when competing overseas".

The accounting industry can fulfil critical roles when businesses are being disrupted by technology, when the expectations of consumers and businesses change and during periods of economic volatility, ACCA head Reuter Chua said.

He told The Straits Times yesterday: "Accountants provide judgment on how risky a business or a transaction is, or the health of a company's cash flow. The more innovative accountants can help with obtaining alternative sources of funding if they understand how technology can enable peer-to- peer lending. Accounting as a business can also be more competitive by providing ancillary services such as legal services, tax consulting, and advisory services in supply chain management."

"Digital Darwinism" has already laid waste to many Fortune 500 companies, ACCA deputy president Leo Lee noted.

While the bigger accounting firms here are likely able to manage disruption, the smaller ones are facing challenges keeping up.

"The smaller accounting services providers will have to look for relevant technologies... to improve access to real-time information, and provide more timely advice," Mr Chua said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2017, with the headline 'Disruption-hit accounting industry 'must up its game''. Print Edition | Subscribe