A look at the next 100 years of management accounting

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Happy International Management Accounting Day! Today, we celebrate the work of all finance and accounting professionals working in business. They are the unsung heroes who provide the financial expertise to help management formulate and implement organizational strategy.

This year’s International Management Accounting Day carries extra weight because it is such a pivotal time in the profession’s history. Technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotic process automation are finding their way into our day-to-day activities and making all management accountants (re)consider their path forward. Many wonder whether they will be replaced by a machine or if the profession will evolve symbiotically with technology.

I firmly believe it will be the latter: Management accountants will be (and are already being) tapped to explore and implement these technologies and are elevating their skills to be able to provide better, faster and more accurate analysis and recommendations.

In this way, management accountants should think of AI as “augmented intelligence,” helping support their technical accounting depth and business operations breadth. These systems will be able to solve an increasingly diverse set of challenges facing businesses today and in the future. This new kind of AI offers opportunities for accountants to outsource routine tasks to technology while they focus on higher-level analysis, making themselves more valuable to their organizations.

Staying ahead of the profession

Since we are experts at taking historical and current data and using them to make forecasts, we as management accountants are ideally suited to make projections about the future of our profession.

For the last 100 years, the Institute of Management Accountants has been focused exclusively on advancing the management accounting profession, and recently, it updated and expanded its Management Accounting Competency Framework to cover the many directions the profession might take in the future. The framework is an analysis of competencies management accountants need now and in the future. With technology redefining the role of the management accountant, the management accounting profession and the business landscape at an unprecedented speed, the IMA updated the framework earlier this year to keep pace with these changes.

This group of six domains of core knowledge, skills and abilities outline capabilities that management accountants need to remain relevant in the digital age and perform their current and future roles effectively:

  • Strategy, planning and performance. This domain’s eight competencies guide professionals in leading strategic planning performance, assessing the current state of the business and planning for the future.
  • Reporting and control. This domain’s seven competencies give professionals the tools to measure and report their organization’s performance in compliance with relevant standards and obligations.
  • Technology and analytics. This domain’s four competencies show how data can work to enhance a company’s analytics and how technology can move the organization forward.
  • Business acumen and operations. This domain’s four competencies display how professionals can work cross-functionally across the business to transform operations throughout the organization.
  • Leadership. This domain’s seven competencies help professionals become leaders and build and guide their teams to reach their personal and organizational goals.
  • Professional ethics and values. This new domain and its three competencies ask individuals to demonstrate their professional values, ethical behaviors and legal compliance for their careers and their businesses to be ethical and sustainable.

Building an ethical future

In an era when scandals are more public than ever, it is important for management accountants to take the lead in building a future with more transparency and trust. Beyond individuals and groups being involved in scandals, AI can also pose ethical issues. While one would think AI is immune to prejudice, there are many instances where software acts with bias. Management accountants need to be aware of these biases and work to prevent them from making their way into organizations’ internal controls. Ethics can often be a “gray area” in business, further complicating the issue. What one organization considers acceptable, another may feel is unethical.

To help build a stronger, more uniform understanding of ethics in business, management accountants can turn to certifications as both an education and enforcement tool. Associations that exist as independent organizations outside of corporate interests can use their certifications to teach industry-wide ethical behavior, rather than what one business considers right or wrong.

For instance, in 2020, the IMA will update the CMA exam, and one of the big changes will be the additional weight being placed upon the ethics section of the exam, which now includes content on business ethics and sustainability and social responsibility.

The next 100 years

On this International Management Accounting Day, it is clear the profession is moving at a pace and direction no one could have imagined 100 years ago. To see where the profession is headed over the next century, it is important to look at current industry trends — especially AI — and make hypotheses about their path. I see management accounting becoming more strategic as AI takes over more of the “number crunching” jobs and refocuses the worker on using AI to make deeper financial analysis, planning and decision making.

While it’s impossible to truly tell what’s in store over the next century for the profession, I believe it will continue to be a rich and rewarding career path for the next 100 years and beyond.

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