Recent Brand Stories
New technology is enabling financial professionals to focus on more creative and strategic roles. Patrick Zhu FCPA (Aust.) remembers his first job as an Executive Trainee at HSBC. The year was 1999, where most assignments were performed manually, and banking was almost exclusively an in-person experience. He recalls the firm's early e-banking services, where customers used modems and phonelines to connect to the internet and access accounts online. Browsing speeds were excruciatingly slow and connectivity was patchy, Zhu remembers. Much has changed since then. New technologies such as optical fibre connectivity have emerged, and the online experience has been transformed from a laborious and time-consuming exercise to one of convenience, with quick internet speeds in most places around the world. While internet banking has thrived over the past two decades, many other technologies have not. Such technologies, he says, simply became irrelevant to users - he reminisces about his two personal digital assistants, or PDAs, which became obsolete with the advent of the smartphone. "Technology exists to make people's lives better," says Zhu. "Technology is first and foremost about people, and how it helps individuals perform tasks quicker and easier." By embracing new technology, he adds, people can concentrate on more creative and strategic tasks. In ignoring it, they risk being left behind. Smart professionals and smart machines Today, Zhu is Managing Director and Country Head of Global Liquidity and Cash Management at HSBC China. Based in Shanghai, he previously held roles in other Chinese cities including Guangzhou and Hong Kong, and worked overseas in Indonesia and the Philippines. Technology, he asserts, underpins the role of bankers and accountants, irrespective of where they are based. Automation, in particular, is transforming their roles. Today, the managing of accounts receivable and accounts payable can be fully automated. Likewise, managing a company's cash positions and liquidity between various entities can be conducted autonomously - all of which might be centralised through a shared service centre; executed in real time; and overseen on a mobile device. No more spreadsheets to fill in. No more cheques to write. No more manual transfers between entities. Where might it all end, many ask. Fortunately, there is still much need for accountants and bankers. "Their role has been elevated from executor to supervisor, strategist and management advisor," says Zhu. Use of disruptive ledger technology, otherwise known as blockchain, to facilitate cross-border payments is a noteworthy development of late. Zhu enthuses how HSBC performed the world's first scalable live trade finance transaction using blockchain, alleviating the need for paper-based documents, and liaising between multiple parties from various countries and continents. Patrick Zhu FCPA (Aust.) Companies are also leveraging artificial intelligence and big data to forecast financial opportunities and challenges before they arise. Monitoring and controlling these highly sophisticated new tools are financial professionals, not scientists, he explains. Accountancy is a meeting between smart professionals and smart machines. Having knowledge of conventional practices, as well as the skills to manage new technologies, is a must for anyone entering the accounting profession today, Zhu says. Impediments to change Adjusting to new ways of working doesn't come easy for some organisations. For many working in new industries, adopting novel business models and instilling practises that meet these new needs is very challenging, Zhu says. Similarly, experienced professionals find it difficult to work with new technologies. It's not that they are unable to understand or manage these, but rather that they are reluctant to adapt. "People are afraid of big changes," Zhu observes. "They fear automation will make them redundant, when often it's an opportunity for them." The solution, he explains, is for management to encourage workers to upskill and embrace new technology - and continuing professional development, or CPD, can help companies and individuals master new technologies through various curricular and industry events. In addition, company management must instil processes that carefully transition the company from one way of working to another. A robust change management plan is essential for these exercises to succeed. Global best practices Key to advancing the accounting industry is alignment among professionals, irrespective of where they reside. CPA Australia plays an important role in realising this, Zhu says. Not only does the association provide an internationally recognised designation, it offers a wide range of curricula that enable members to learn about present-day business issues, including disruptive technologies. Zhu is particularly enthusiastic about networking opportunities: "Being able to connect with other members and learn from their personal experiences is critical to advancing our understanding of global trends, and overcoming common challenges." Residing in China, he gets the opportunity to share insights with overseas members that ordinarily neither party would be able to access. CPAs the world over agree that the role of an accountant is transitioning from mere financial practitioner to trusted, strategic counsellor. The days of simply crunching the numbers and counting the beans, per se, are by-and-large over for accountants. Being an accountant isn't just about crunching the numbers. Equip your team with an understanding of dynamic business issues, including emerging technologies. The CPA Program will improve your organisation's ability to adapt to and anticipate change in the global marketplace. This article was created by BBC StoryWorks, the commercial content division of BBC Global News, on behalf of CPA Australia.
Organizations must exert trust as employees increasingly seek remote working opportunities. Steve Jobs once said, "Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have faith in people." Arguably, the Apple co-founder's words are more relevant to today's business leaders than they were when he made them a quarter of a century ago. Back then, in 1994, remote workers made up near-zero of the global workforce. Today, it is extended to about 40 percent of all roles, says Strategy Analytics, with half of the world's workforce likely to become mobile by 2028. While technology has played an important part in facilitating mobile working, the desire for more flexible work arrangements is driving today's agenda. A recent study by Mercer says that 51 percent of workers want more flexible employment terms and that 71 percent of high performers attribute their achievements to flexible working. "Having a job that's continuously on the move, working from home, or logging in while overseas - mobile working is a broad discipline that's becoming critical to the successes of companies," says Max Loh FCPA (Aust.), ASEAN and Singapore Managing Partner at EY. "Employers, large and small, must acknowledge the preferences of today's workforce, and provide flexible arrangements that are win-win for both parties." The millennial opportunity By embracing mobile working, organisations can significantly broaden their talent pool. Not only will they attract talent that favours more flexible terms within their locality, but they can also extend their reach to workers located overseas, bolstering diversity and inclusivity. Research by Cloverpop shows that inclusive teams make decisions twice as fast with 50 percent fewer meetings and that decisions made and executed by diverse teams deliver 60 percent better results. Mobile working is particularly favoured by millennials, who by 2025 will represent 75 percent of the global workforce, according to EY. For accountants currently entering the profession, expectations are vastly different from those preceding them. For Gen X and Baby Boomers, flexible working, if allowed, extends to flexible working hours and working from home, at most. Millennials, however, crave much more. According to Mercer, they desire short-term assignments over those more than a year in duration; they prefer to travel rather than stay in one place, and they also favour experiences over rewards. An added benefit is that the technologies needed to enable mobile working are inexpensive and easy to operate. Many of the tools used today, such as text, voice or video chat, and other business collaboration technologies, are either free of charge or are packaged with additional software. Combined with ubiquitous interconnectivity 24/7, accountancy has moved from a profession requiring office attendance during standard working hours, Monday to Friday, to one that can be performed anywhere in the world, and at any time. To help make this transition as smooth as possible, individuals can capitalize on the growing number of continuing professional development (CPD) programs that support remote working. Barriers to adoption Trust is the number one impediment to mobile working, Loh says. Executives are commonly concerned that mobile workers are not engaged in company activities - or worse, they are working for rival entities. Research by Mercer highlights that only half of senior leaders currently support flexible working. Such angst, explains Loh, stems from the fact that most organizations focus on inputs, such as hours worked or status updates, rather than targeting measurable outcomes such as key performance indicators, qualitative and quantitative results, deadlines, client satisfaction, and meeting stakeholder expectations. By focusing on outcomes, organizations will not only have a clearer idea of how individuals are performing, but they will also be able to set goals and objectives that meet the needs of both organizations and mobile workers and encourage greater buy-in from management. A further concern is a negative impact remote working might have on teamwork and collaboration. "Working remotely doesn't mean working alone," Loh clarifies. "Through technology and a commitment to collaboration, remote teams are able to co-create new ideas, which can rival those developed under one roof." Embracing change Flexible working presents the opportunity to rethink how organizations are structured. Traditionally, organizations have been divided by function, such as finance, HR, sales and marketing, and so forth. For some organizations, however, structuring around competencies, tasks or projects might be more productive. Organizations must also ensure they are forward-looking. "Millennials want to work for an entity that is progressive and has a sense of purpose, supports their personal development, and invests in the best technologies," Loh says. In keeping its members at the forefront of the accounting profession, CPA Australia presents thought-leadership on a range of topics, including workplace best practices. The association provides an international designation and a wide variety of learning programs that prepare members to work remotely and globally. "Mobile working will continue to accelerate in the future," says Loh. "Organisations that openly welcome it will reap its many rewards." Working from anywhere can work for your team At CPA Australia, we know the importance of balancing work, life, and study. The CPA Program offers your team the flexibility they need. Your employees can choose to study anytime, anywhere in the world, and with the level of support, they need to succeed. This article was created by BBC StoryWorks, the BBC's global commercial content division, on behalf of CPA Australia.