5 June 2018

ACCA forecasts market demand for professional business and advisory services in ASEAN and China

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the largest global professional accounting body in the world, has launched a new report on future demand for professional business and advisory services, supported by the Singapore Accountancy Commission.

Source: ACCA Global website. Cover for the Market demand for Professional Business and Advisory Services report.
Source: ACCA Global website. Cover for
the Market demand for Professional
Business and Advisory Services
Professional services provided to corporates, including small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), increasingly include services relating to data science, analytics, and artificial intelligence, ACCA said in the report. As an external aid to corporates, they can act as a powerful catalyst to develop and expand the digital economy and transform Southeast Asia into a smart region.

The report examines market demand for specific professional business and advisory services in Singapore, the ASEAN region, and China over the next three years, based on corporate budgets.

It also states where businesses are leveraging on external advice and aims to help consultancies (including accounting entities) review and tune their service offerings and business models to maximise growth and revenue in coming years.

According to the report, the IT solution business as a service line; including IT advisory as a service category, were among the top three most demanded professional services by corporates in the next three years.

In her keynote address, Idranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Law, Finance and Education, noted that the report had identified shifts towards:

- Smart software and systems automating mundane manual work like bookkeeping and expense processing.

- Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) fundamentally changing the way complex and multifaceted accounting work is conducted.

"There were mixed feelings, I think, when we first learnt about new technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics. We felt that these technologies would change the way we live, work and play. We also realised that these technologies would destroy jobs," she said.

"But today, we have started to adapt. Today, we are starting to leverage on these technologies to improve our business processes.

"In the accountancy sector, robotic process automation has been used to automate repetitive processes. For example, businesses in retail, e-commerce and hospitality have adopted Xero, an online accounting software that automates manual processes. With Xero, retailers find that they can better manage their businesses such as tracking inventory and costs.

"With technology, professional accountants in business have moved up the value chain, from score keepers and, I dare say, bean-counters, to strategic business leaders. Similarly, in the legal sector, new technologies like lawyer-bots have also automated low value-added work for lawyers."

Minister Rajah also said that the technologies are currently incapable of building relationships, of replacing all systems, or of replacing all staff. "And when it comes to the human intricacies of the work that both the accountancy and the legal profession do, these technologies cannot do it all," she said.

Adaptivity, collaboration and trust will be key for the future. "As we transit into the digital world, these qualities remain relevant, in fact, not just relevant but essential, and will form the foundation for the accountancy and legal professions to effectively harness digital connections," she said.

The report was launched at the 2018 ACCA annual conference, themed Professional Accountants - The Future: ASEAN Digital Perspectives.

Helen Brand, OBE, Chief Executive for ACCA, presented at the conference on Shaping the global accountancy profession across three dimensions: digital, social and ethical. She said, “What this generation recognises is that they have a great opportunity to influence their organisations and lead the way with technology. This could be in terms of improving business processes, driving better knowledge collaboration, influencing employment models and the working at home agenda, virtual working or shaping future learning interventions. They may even be able to help with reverse mentoring of older colleagues with technology in the organisation.”

Leong Soo Yee, Director of ACCA, ASEAN & ANZ said, “ASEAN and the digital economy have great importance and impact in the region across multiple dimensions. This is further compounded with the scale and speed of activity in the digital economyg sector.”

ACCA, NTUC, AI Singapore further pledged to help accelerate capability development in the finance and accounting functions of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and for small and medium-sized professional services firms in finance and accounting (SMPs) on the sidelines of the ACCA Annual Conference 2018 in Singapore. The partnership will provide training, workshops and solutions in the three areas of talent development, digitisation and internationalisation, under the ACC(X)ELERATE programme.

Insights were drawn from various studies in designing the programme, including ACCA’s Professional accountants – the future: Generation Next, global research that highlight the skills finance and accounting professionals need to enhance their employability. ACCA’s Market Demand for Professional Business and Advisory Services was also a reference. This research revealed a growing demand for non-regulated professional services ranging from IT solutions advisory to risk advisory and process improvements.

Other references included NTUC’s Future Jobs, Skills and Training (FJST) Forum 2018 report, which highlighted the key enablers of success for companies to transform and stay relevant in a changing world of work, and a NTUC roundtable discussion with chief financial officers, 76% of which had indicated technology as the key driver of change for jobs and skills in the accountancy sector. Of the remainder, 20% felt that the change came from changes to business models and the remaining 4% felt that it was due to globalisation.

ACCA will engage SMBs and SMPs to take the lead in leveraging technology to transform their businesses and take active steps to develop their workforce’s skillsets. To enrich accountants and finance professionals’ digital skills and knowledge, it will also provide training and workshops focused on technology education that enhances productivity and facilitates internationalisation, including cloud technology. Tapping on NTUC’s suite of progression and placement programmes, workers will also be guided through this transformative process, enabling and ensuring that they stay competent to take on the jobs of tomorrow.

The programme draws on the digital expertise of AI Singapore and will work with technology solution partners that operate in the cloud and small business space, to accelerate the digital awareness and transformation in the finance function. ACCA and AI Singapore will also explore robotic process automation (RPA) as a potential industry solution and an AI talent recruitment programme for accounting and audit firms.

Reuter Chua, Country Head, ACCA Singapore, said, “ACCA’s global insights present the future of the profession and what global business leaders need from their finance functions to guide the direction of our programme."

Patrick Tay, Assistant Secretary-General, NTUC shared, “As highlighted in various studies including the one done by NTUC’s FJST, our finance and accountancy professionals will increasingly need to incorporate technology into their daily work as businesses and business operations transform."

"We urge employers in this sector, especially our SMEs, to leverage the program to develop their talents, digitalise their businesses and work with NTUC on the continued progression of their workforce. Collective action on the part of all stakeholders is a key driver to enable deep, sustained and meaningful change, and we look forward to partnering our industry partners, our employers and our workers to transform the sector for the future economy,” he added.

More details on the ACC(X)ELERATOR programme will be released end of the year.


Download the Market demand for Professional Business and Advisory Services report