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Michael Izza on plotting how jobs will evolve

23 March 2020: ICAEW Chief Executive, Michael Izza, writes about what the future of finance might look like, and questions how we can evolve to meet the future needs of the industry.

“We are plotting how jobs will evolve, given that the way we are working today will almost certainly not be fit for purpose in 2030.”

Many of you would consider the last decade to have been, if not the, then one of the most momentous decades for us as a profession. We could argue about those decades when the UK was involved in global conflicts but certainly in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, challenge on some tax practices and a series of more recent corporate collapses, we have seen the profession come under increasingly critical scrutiny. 

At the same time we have faced challenges such as the impact of the technology revolution and the increasing pressure on business to find sustainable answers to world inequality and saving our planet. Between now and 2030, we are going to have to begin the transition to a zero carbon economy. As a profession, we will be embracing huge changes – by 2030 the world of work will look very different.

It is also the decade when the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) have to be delivered. These are the 17 important priorities for the future of mankind that were adopted in 2015 by all UN member states, a call for action for governments to promote prosperity while ensuring that the environment is protected. 

They recognise the essential role business has to play in ending poverty: creating economic growth will ultimately provide the wherewithal to address a range of social needs including education, health, equality and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and working to preserve our planet and its resources.With 10 years left to go before the SDG deadline, I would say that the best report card of any country reads ‘more work to do’.

At ICAEW we are plotting how jobs will evolve over the decade, given that the way we are working today will almost certainly not be fit for purpose in 2030. The theme of this first of our new quarterly magazines is AI, reflecting the fact that slowly but surely the Internet of Things is starting to permeate all facets of our personal and business life. We are going to be overwhelmed by the amount of data available to us. Are we going to be able to make any sense of it or will we become increasingly reliant on AI? 

Back in 2015, in their book, The Future of the Professions, father and son Richard and Daniel Susskind predicted that “increasingly capable machines operating on their own or with non-specialist users will take on many of the tasks that have been the historic preserve of the professions”. They challenged the old assumption that we chartered accountants would always have a role to play, using the exercise of professional judgement – one of the defining characteristics of our profession – as an example of something that could easily be replaced.

At the time, I suggested we should be worried but not to the extent that ‘we behave like rabbits in the headlights’. I haven’t changed my mind. If anything, I feel more positive about the future. But we must not be complacent. Other professions will be looking at this data and working out how to make themselves indispensable. We should be doing the same.

Michael Izza
ICAEW Chief Executive