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Judge Business School: new world for newly qualified accountants

Michael Willis, Director of the Master of Accounting Programme at Judge Business School, recently spoke with the chair of CASSL about the challenges facing today’s newly qualified accountancy professionals.


February 2020

Chilufya Mulenga, chair of CASSL, the London chartered accountants students’ society, spoke to Michael Willis, senior faculty in management practice at Judge Business School, Cambridge, about how young accountants should be preparing for the changes in the profession.

Chilufy Mulenga: What do you think the key changes are in the accounting profession?

Michael Willis: This is difficult to answer, because the profession is changing rapidly. The profession is facing many issues that training will not necessarily cover.

But what is clear is that accountants measure information. So there is a role in climate change reporting, or measuring accountability in social ventures.

Then there is the advance of technology, which is changing everything, and accountants can play a role in educating consumers about the impact of technology.

Technology produces data – accountants will be involved in finding the appropriate analysis.

Audit is facing a crisis of confidence. Accountants need to be able to communicate what the expectation should be. That will not be easy.

Routes into accountancy are changing, but we still have to ask, are young accountants happy, are they fulfilled? Is the profession providing opportunities for them? Is it working to foster the right environment for these young accountants?

CM: How do you think data is likely to change the profession? How do we help accountants to be better at dealing with data?

MW: We have to train accountants to a minimum technical standard, but we can only train so much. There will be the need for critical thinking skills, those that understand analytics, which will lead to an expanded skillset. The question is, how do we address that across the profession?

We need to understand people’s motivation, which will then feed into training.

There will be new workflows and tools. Excel has evolved to be our default data tool, but we are now looking at applications that can work with larger data sets, so accountancy professionals will need to understand coding.

There will be large change management projects, but automation will not be a substitute for human judgment. The human role is as important, it can unify inputs.

CM: Why do you think the profession has had so many scandals in the recent years.

MW: There were the corporate failures, where people asked: ‘Where were the auditors, what has happened?’ Accounting and auditing only really gets noticed when something goes wrong. But what you were hired to do is not what people think you do.

Regulatory risk is so high, there are a lot of proposals: dual audits, a market cap on the number of audits. But fundamentally, what is the problem, how do you fix it? Regulation is reactive and does not address the underlying issues.

These scandals will affect the fight for talent. Firms need to connect their work with purpose, but there also needs to be outlets for innovation and creativity within accounting.

Chilufya Mulenga is the chair of Chartered Accountants Students Society London

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