Complex Made Simple

Accountants must unlock benefits of disruptive tech to stay relevant

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) has urged Middle East businesses to explore the challenges and opportunities offered by disruptive technologies in order to reap their benefits. The accountancy and finance body explained that new technologies are increasingly becoming vital as they can boost efficiency and provide more valuable insights to businesses if implemented in the right way. This was the consensus during ICAEW’s seminar about Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Cyber and Data, the ABCD of technology.

ICAEW members and guests gathered at Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) Academy to explore the challenges and opportunities presented by these digital transformations and learn how the accountancy profession is embracing these trends. The event was held in association with ADGM Academy and PwC. Speakers included ICAEW’s IT Faculty Technical Manager David Lyford-Smith and PwC Middle East Digital Trust Director Phil Mennie.

Read: UAE Management Accountant salaries higher than MENA

Speakers agreed that there are many technologies available for businesses to use today and many of them are about doing things more quickly, efficiently and effectively. As boundaries for innovation are pushed, technology will be a game changer for the global economy. A recent report by PwC states that Artificial Intelligence (AI) by itself will potentially contribute US$96 billion to the UAE’s GDP by 2030 – and US$320 billion to the Middle East region as a whole.

“The UAE is a regional leader for technological advances. Abu Dhabi’s Economic Vision 2030 and the UAE’s strategy for AI highlight strategic objectives to analyze, develop and implement technological advances to support more effective and efficient business platforms. ADGM embraces a digital-first and innovative approach to providing a sophisticated, world-leading platform on which to conduct international business. Its highly integrated data protection regulator safeguards data privacy, while its trailblazing initiatives in blockchain and other FinTech platforms are unparalleled regionally. We are delighted to have hosted this seminar at ADGM Academy and look forward to hosting more knowledge-building seminars,” said Hamad Sayah Al Mazrouei, Managing Director of ADGM Academy.

Ericsson Report: $3.3 bn digitalization revenues in UAE by 2026

According to ICAEW, the most transformational technology trends for the accountancy profession are Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Cyber Security and Big Data. They challenge some of the fundamental assumptions underpinning accountancy and the role of the profession and provide tremendous opportunities to deliver more value to businesses.

AI is transforming accountancy – with computers learning complex patterns from lots of data, it’s able to automate less standard tasks, replicate accountants’ intuition and turbo-charge accountants’ judgment.

Speakers agreed that blockchain is a genuinely new area of technology which is probably hitting the peak of its hype cycle at the moment. It’s fundamentally an accounting system that takes a radically different approach to what accountants are doing today. A ledger system that records ownership of assets and transactions – in simple words it’s universal entry bookkeeping.

“Blockchain is just one example of how advances in technology are changing the professional landscape. It has the potential to enhance the accounting profession by reducing the costs of maintaining and reconciling ledgers and providing absolute certainty over the ownership and history of assets. But to become truly an integral part of the financial system, blockchain must be developed, standardized and optimized,” said David Lyford-Smith.

Read: DEWA is first Middle East government body to win ICAEW award

Speakers noted that cybersecurity is a risk that is increasingly existential for many organizations. The risks are constantly changing and boards have a poor understanding of how to deal with them. As new controls around detection, response and resilience arise, firms must embrace an approach that focuses on ‘crown jewels’ and business critical data.

“For too many companies, digital and technology projects provoke a mix of urgency and paralysis. Leaders know they need to move quickly to transform their business around the cloud, big data analytics, blockchain, AI, Internet of Things and Robotic Process Automation. It’s not an easy or quick process,” said Phil Mennie.

“Not everything that can be automated should be automated. And what is automated has to be highly protected and tested. The ethical and trust implications of technology must be explored. We’re in the decade of digital change and only the fit will survive and thrive. And to be digitally fit, you need to be digitally trusted,” he added.

When it comes to the ‘Data’ trend, speakers explained that what is new here is the sheer volume and variety of data (or ‘big data’) organizations have today. Firms will have to embrace codifying new sources of non-financial data, check the integrity and quality of the data, and identify how it could provide value and support decisions.

Read McAfee Labs: Cryptocurrency mining surge continues in Q2

“The world is changing extremely fast. The Middle East region is progressive and quick to adapt to new technologies that can create more efficient, competitive and smarter economies. When we look at the real impact on the accountancy profession, it’s important to bear in mind a few things. Some of these technologies, such as AI and blockchain, are still in very early stages. A lot of cooperation and collaboration will be necessary due to the complexity of the ecosystem and the challenge of managing change quickly,” said Michael Armstrong, FCA and ICAEW Regional Director for the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA). “Businesses shouldn’t wait any longer to adopt new technology, they should explore and invest in tools today in order not to lag behind others.”

Speakers agreed that the role of accountants will change to add more value to businesses, provide more advisory services and spend more time on complex problems. Technology will free accountants from more mundane, repeatable, non-value adding tasks such as record keeping, reconciliations, basic compliance, and reporting work.

ICAEW is a world leading professional membership organization that promotes, develops and supports over 150,000 chartered accountants worldwide