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How is technology transforming finance in Africa?

34% of SMEs surveyed in a research project undertaken by Xero South Africa think that they won’t need an accountant in 10 years’ time. They believe that automation is making them more self-sufficient.

Similarly, research conducted by the Association showed that technology (like automation), considered a ‘disrupter’, is transforming how management accountants do their work. In fact, more organisations have begun using technology like cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and robotics to improve the efficiency of their finance function. 

So, is this really bad news or a great opportunity for the profession?

These technologies have the potential to augment the capabilities of accountants, enabling them to work faster and more efficiently. The result is that many activities like reporting, data analysis, and other routine activities can be easily automated. In addition, other technologies like blockchain, cloud, and visualisation enable finance teams to store, process and share real-time data easily. 

The automation of repetitive tasks frees up time for accountant and finance professionals to focus on value creating activities. The collaboration between people and machines is fundamentally changing the nature of work.

But are these benefits impacting business in Africa?

For now, the full potential of technology isn’t yet exploited in many businesses in Africa, with many accounting disciplines still being performed manually. 

However, there are examples of businesses offering new technology products that greatly enhance how finance works.

For example, Standard Bank announced plans to use blockchain solutions to share data when processing international corporate payments. Once properly implemented, it will increase the straight through processing of international trades and accelerate foreign exchange payments. 

In another example, a globally renowned company ran an AI programme to produce financial reporting and forecasting, which was previously done manually. The programme was a success, with AI performing the work of two employees over two days. In the absence of such technology, the same work was taking 800 employees a month to complete. To top that, the employees were able to use their free time to take part in decision making by providing business insights and foresights, thereby establishing themselves as business partners that deliver real business intelligence. 

So, what does this mean for management accountants?

While it might be tempting to predict that the finance function will be taken over by robots, that doesn’t seem likely. Rather, technology will create new ways to simplify processes, free up management accountants’ time and focus on creating value for their organisation.

According to Deloitte, the finance function of the future will be responsible for:

  • Providing business insights
  • Providing real time reporting
  • Providing a self-service model for customers

  • In addition, less time balancing books means more time for engaging with stakeholders and customers. Now employers will look for employees who are customer oriented, flexible and able to collaborate with teams across the business. Management accountants, who are comfortable with integrating technology with their day-to-day activities, collaborating with various stakeholders and developing their digital skills, will now set the standard for the finance function. 

    As the changes brought on by the fourth industrial revolution become the norm, these are the skills that businesses will value in the next decade. This will also require finance professionals to adopt an agile mindset that enables them to ‘learn, unlearn and relearn’ throughout their careers. CIMA is here to help you do just that.

    Technology will continue to disrupt the world of business and finance at an increasingly faster pace, yet this will be a time of opportunity to develop new roles and apply new skills for those who embrace a digital mindset.