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Monday, 02 March 2020

In a novel and energising event, six accounting firms from the public and private sector outlined their ideas on the future of accounting to a packed auditorium of Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting (PGDA) students.

Representatives from six leading accounting firms had six minutes each to share their views with the final-year students.

The PGDA 6x6, jointly organised by UCT’s Careers Service and the College of Accounting, was held at the New Lecture Theatre at the University of Cape Town on 20 February 2020.

In his six-minute slot on ‘Digitization within the professional services industry’ Sebenzile David Macula, Digital Trust Partner at PwC, said organisations would have to be ‘fast and agile’ in the future. He raised the essential eight emerging technologies that will lead to significant changes in the professional services environment: Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Blockchain, drones, the Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics, Virtual Reality and 3D Printing.

He said it was vital to digitally up-skill the workforce of the future and encouraged students to move into the future with confidence.

“We need your optimism, for South Africa, as well as for the profession, so that you can take this profession to new heights.”

Joline Allison, Audit Partner for EY, said the audit profession would need to keep up with the Fourth Industrial Revolution which ‘blurred the boundaries of the physical, digital and biological worlds’.

Speaking on ‘The auditor of the future’ Allison said automated audit tools should be seen in a positive light as they would help to make the industry better and more efficient.

She said the auditor of the future would also need to pay more attention to changes in society and that the industry would need to win back the confidence of stakeholders. She issued a challenge to the young prospective auditors.

“Our responsibility is to report irregularities. Is it enough that we do this every year, every interim? Is it enough for us to become the watchdog or should we become the bloodhound?”

In the hot seat for his six-minute speech on ‘Ethical Dilemmas of Future Technologies’, Brad Barnes, Campus Manager for Deloitte, said self-regulation would be increasingly important in a profession in which change was happening so rapidly.  

“Regulators are not going to be able to keep up with the speed at which technologies are coming in and being utilised. It will come down to self-regulation.  As leaders in business, society and community, self-regulation is going to come from us.”

He acknowledged some reticence about technologies but said robotics would enable people to do their jobs better. “It will give us time to mentor and develop people in the institution.”

Speaking about ‘Remaining Relevant’, Murray Raisbeck, Partner at KPMG, said the nature of the profession was changing, together with society’s expectations.

“Accountants have been accused of being very self-serving and self-interested. That doesn't cut it with the public anymore. There’s a massive wave of anti-elitism and populism throughout the world. The cool thing now is to be the most helpful person in the room.”

He said it was important to understand broader issues such as inequality and climate change.

“We have to do more than line our own pockets, and if we don't, then people will make us lose our licence to operate.”

He called on students to be always open to learning new things.  

“You have to have a human in the loop with AI. It is going to create new opportunities and new jobs, but we need to embed a learning culture. You need to be continuously open to learning. You need to learn how to learn.”

Laurence Aadnesgaard, Assistant Manager for the Auditor General of South Africa, spoke about ‘Carving out your future’ and offered some valuable life tips to the final-year students.

“Tip number 1 is to break up with your cellphone,” he said. “Your addiction to your phone is making you less effective, lowering your productivity, making you consume more and produce less.”

He advised students to sharpen up on other skills, particularly coding.  Thirdly, he encouraged students to ‘get better at the small things’.

“How many of us shake hands with someone and then immediately forget their name? There’s no sweeter sound to someone than the sound of their name.

“Life is so much easier when people like you and want to work for you and want to work with you.”

Imtiaaz Hashim and Fayaz Mohamed, Partners at BDO, honed in on ‘Mentoring future leadership’ and encouraged students to link up with mentors.

Mohamed said they had both realised the benefits of being mentored and being mentees. Having someone in your corner had the potential to help you achieve your dreams.

“Technology is going to revolutionise our businesses, but you still need people,” said Hashim.

They raised the deep value of having a good coach and illustrated this with the example of the winning Springbok Rugby Team, which proudly lifted the Rugby World Cup trophy in late 2019.  The partners said coaching, mentoring and sponsor roles were intertwined. They could offer career guidance, advocacy and access, expertise, feedback on development, social support and career guidance, while ‘winning behaviours’ could make all the difference.

Nawaal Boolay, Head: Employee Relations for UCT’s Careers Service, based at UCT’s Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED) was delighted with the event.  She said the six firms had shown real commitment, with some of the representatives flying in from Johannesburg to interact with the students.

“When you look at the dedication of the firms today, it’s a true testament that they are here to support your learning journey,” Boolay told the final-year students.

Head of UCT’s College of Accounting, Associate Professor Goolam Modack, said it was the first time that the department had co-hosted such an event.  He thanked Career Services and the firms ‘who signed up and put themselves in the hot seat’ during their six-minute slots and responses to questions from students.

Modack foresees an exciting future for young graduates. He said it was very encouraging to see that there were more options in the modern audit industry offered increasing opportunities. He said a broader range of audit firms and banks now recruited students, with choices extending from auditing to advisory and analytics. 

Story By : Kim Cloete