Closing the digital skills gap in finance and accounting

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A recent global survey by BlackLine Inc. found that 31% of global CFOs did not have enough people with software and technology experience in the finance function. It identifies a significant skills gap that “threatens” M&A’s ability to provide the advice, analysis, planning and due diligence needed to support broader business goals, as only 20% of respondents express confidence in the fact that F&A currently has the right skills.

With a growing need to fill the skills gap within the accountancy profession, some of the UK’s leading accounting firms are taking steps to tackle the problem head-on. In a recent announcement, RSM UK recently launched a digital development program in partnership with BPP University, with the aim of forming a ‘substantial investment’ in data analytics skills to improve digital service delivery for his clients. Likewise, Mazars announced last week the creation of a new T&D Center of Excellence in Newcastle to respond to “talent and energy in the North East” and to “support strong national capacity across the Kingdom. -United”.

But why is there a significant skills gap in the industry? Chris Knowles, chief digital officer at RSM UK, believes the problem is actually broader than the industry and affects the whole of the UK. He says the problem was “accelerated” by demand for digital solutions during the pandemic, but was already seeping into the industry before Covid hit. “I think the way the talent market flows through the education system doesn’t necessarily prepare it for the data and digital skills demands of employers. This is a long-standing challenge in the UK, exacerbated by the significant demand for digital skills due to Covid, ”he said.

He argues that the accounting industry has not been transformed by digitization like other industries have, such as retail, but a change is imminent. “We are still catching up to some extent. We have been guilty, as an industry, of still focusing too much on the technical skills of audit qualification, tax qualification, etc. which are still very relevant and important, but they really need to be complemented by skills. when it comes to data and digital, and that’s definitely what we’re trying to do here.

Likewise, Asam Malik, partner and responsible for technology and digital at Mazars, explains that there is a “real war for talent” and a “huge demand” for technological services, which was not only motivated by people increasingly working from home, but also because “organizations want to automate and go digital”. Malik says: “. The demand for these services will only increase, but it is difficult to find people with the right skills. “

Developing digital, data and analytics skills is becoming increasingly important to the industry in response to customer demands, explains Knowles. “They want to see the automation of the more routine work that we used to do around compliance, and they want it to be made more efficient. There is also the opportunity for us to help our clients go digital, and they are increasingly looking to their professional services advisor for that.

In addition, with the direction of travel around continuous audits and Digital Making Tax (MTD), Knowles describes “a real need for our profession to develop digital, data and analysis skills” because MTD has “put a load important “on accounting and tax firms. advisers to ensure they have the right skills and tools to analyze and process tax data “down to the transaction level”.

According to BlackLine research, 36% of respondents note that it is difficult to find candidates with both tech and M&A skills, and 30% of CFOs cite acquiring new talent as their greatest commercial concern for the next five years. BlackLine says this concern is “probably driven by a skills shortage within F&A”.

By creating regional centers of excellence, Malik says that Mazars “hopes to tap into the great resources that we have in the northeast who want to live locally and who don’t have to relocate to the south to advance their careers,” ultimately increasing accessibility to the talent market.

Meanwhile, as part of RSM’s new program, the company is trying to create a “significant improvement” in digital and data skills across the enterprise, starting with data literacy training for everything. RSM UK staff, including the CEO, up to graduates. and school leavers. Knowles shares that service-specific data literacy includes audit tax, transaction services, and the development and deployment of data visualization standards “to ensure consistency” for clients and consistency across the organization. company itself.

Additionally, RSM has implemented a number of advanced data, analytics and machine learning training courses with a series of learning programs introduced in many areas of the business, as well as a optional postgraduate degree in advanced data, data and analytics. Knowles says RSM appeals to people who do not yet have a relevant degree and introduces them to concepts such as agile software delivery, basic programming, information security, as well as data and technology. ‘to analyse.

Meanwhile, Mazars’ new T&D center is expected to train and develop its staff, and collaborate and partner with local tech companies and universities. “We hope this will provide our customers with better service, but also develop and support the technology sector in the region,” said Malik. By harnessing these skills, “customers can expect to see technology services more suited to each local market. They will also get consultants who really understand the local market that they can build long term relationships with and that they can access quickly ”. Malik adds that Mazars “expects the center to raise the profile of the skills we have in our business not only in technology, but in all of the services we provide.”

But with all of this in mind, you might be wondering ‘what is the current state of tech and digital skills in the industry as a whole? As Knowles explains, the accounting industry was “a little behind” other industries until fairly recently, in terms of technology and investment in digital skills. Knowles attributes the delay in part to risk aversion: “We used to be an island industry, but now there’s a lot more skill exchange with other industries, and we’re definitely benefiting from that. Going beyond this introversion is extremely important for our profession, and recognizing that digital skills that are important to other industries are equally relevant to us, ”he says.

Looking to the future, Knowles foresees a trend to provide more and more professional services online, with increasing demands to work with larger data sets. He says there is a need for companies to present their financial results interactively online, “so not only send reports attached to an email in PDF format or as a flat file, but actually present dashboards. interactive and detailed. And I think that’s where our industry is going and that’s definitely where we’re going as a company ”.

He adds: “We have to make sure that we are not too afraid of risk. We have to experiment, and we have to try things when it comes to digital innovation. We need to be more careful, maybe to risk management because of the industry we operate in, but unless we do, we are going to be subject to increasing threats from competition from the software industry, for example . But more importantly, we simply will not meet the growing needs of customers.


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