My good friend and ACCA vice president, Ronnie Patton, was talking about the early days of technology in accounting at the ACCA Ireland AGM.
He recalled how the old boys in his office laughed when young Ronnie talked about the first stirrings of change in the profession. These were the days when the ballpoint pen and the adding machine were the far frontiers of tech. ‘Ah, you’ll never computerise the ledger,’ one of them told him.
Then, one day, the same old boy called him over and said: ‘Ronnie, will you look at this? If you type in a figure in this column, it changes all the other figures and adds them all up. Isn’t that grand?’ That was the first spreadsheet, so yes, we did computerise the ledger after all.
There are so many exciting, expanding sectors that need talented professional accountants
Explosion in opportunity
I remembered Ronnie’s story when we published our new report – jointly with our colleagues from CA ANZ, Fintech state-of-play: opportunities for finance professionals. It shows how far we have come in a couple of generations and describes the explosion in opportunity it represents for accountants.
The report is thorough and comprehensive – yet it can give only a flavour of the enormous scope fintech opens up for us. There are so many exciting, expanding sectors that need talented, knowledgeable, dedicated professional accountants to make them viable: online or neobanks, payment systems, payment gateways/application programming interfaces, investment banking back-end infrastructure, insurtech, wealthtech and regtech.
The report also covers more cutting-edge areas such as central bank digital currencies, cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens.
We can’t delegate our professional responsibility to technology and assume that it is flawless
As you’d expect from ACCA, and consistent with our dedication to promote the profession's public good, the report explains that accountants are crucial for the healthy growth of fintech. That’s because we are devoted to the highest ethical standards, and push for the human element to be at the heart of all activity.
Regardless of the extent to which processes can be informed by big data and driven by automation and artificial intelligence, human oversight is critical, and that is the role of professional accountants.
The human touch
I will also say that fintech is more reliable than the first systems we worked with. But it isn’t infallible, and we can’t delegate our professional responsibility to technology and assume that it is flawless. Yes, it’s digital tech, but it’s created by humans. Humans make mistakes, and it takes the intuition and experience of other humans to sniff them out and correct them. It’s why ACCA’s strategy in this area is called ‘Digital first’; it isn’t ‘Digital only’.
The world still needs professional accountants to bring that human touch, the ethical outlook, the intuition born of our experience and training, to the day-to-day operation and the long-term strategy of business. And it always will.