The Institute of Management Accountants is aiming to help businesses find more accounting talent in 2024, as demand for young people to succeed retiring accountants continues to grow, and organizations look for ways to incorporate artificial intelligence and sustainability into their operations.
The IMA released a
“We know that university enrollment is down, and we know that the challenge has been widespread,” said IMA president and CEO Mike DePrisco. “It’s really perplexed a lot of leaders within the profession. It’s also led to a lot of innovative initiatives aimed at reversing that trend.”
The IMA hopes to find ways to bring more young people into the accounting profession without requiring them to spend heavily for a traditional accounting education.
“One of the things that we’re really focused on is removing barriers that could exclude individuals from seeking entry into the profession,” said DePrisco. “We’re trying to think more innovatively about ways to invite individuals into what we know to be a dynamic and rewarding career choice.”
The IMA is also planning to focus this year on finding ways to enhance the value it provides to its members.
“Those individuals that come to IMA primarily because they want to connect with individuals who are working in similar positions and may have knowledge and expertise that if they don’t have, so they want to connect with people, they come to us looking for specific knowledge, for upskilling, for example, in the area of data analytics or AI, or in a particular technical area in finance, like a FP&A, whatever the case may be, IMA is there to help support them. We’re going to continue to really listen to understand what our members want, and then provide the types of resources, content, knowledge, courses and certifications that really address those needs. That’s something that we’re going to be continuing to do throughout the year and really ensure that we stay member focused and member centric as a professional association.”
Generative artificial intelligence technology like ChatGPT and Bard have also been attracting more use at companies, but accountants are worried about how reliable Gen AI technology can be and if it can be trusted as a way to fill the gaps in the talent pipeline.
“While there are some people who believe that AI could potentially turn people away from the accounting profession because perhaps there’s a misconception that jobs in the field will all become automated, I think the evidence points to the contrary,” said DePrisco. “The evidence points to AI augmenting accountants by automating low-level, routine tasks, helping to enhance their productivity, but more importantly allowing accounting professionals to focus on creating value in other ways.”
He believes AI will give accounting professionals more opportunity to interpret data and to discuss the finances and performance of an organization through data.
“It allows accountants and finance professionals to really dig into some of the scenarios around risk and to think more strategically about risk and risk mitigation,” said DePrisco. “It gives accountants space to focus on more strategic aspects of the organization, and how the work that accounting and finance professionals do contributes to the organization’s pursuit of their strategic objectives and goals.”
He sees AI as an overall plus for the accounting profession. “I don’t think the technology is something to be afraid of or shy away from,” said DePrisco. “To the contrary, I think those professionals that lean into understanding the technology and how they can best utilize it stand the most to gain out of the technology. As more and more people get comfortable with generative AI, and how it can be leveraged, we’re going to see it continue to grow exponentially in the workplace.”
Change of attitude
Such initiatives may help with recruiting and retention into the accounting profession, but what’s needed is a change of attitude within the profession itself.
“Certainly, many industries lose talent because of seasoned workers retiring, and in the case of accounting and finance there lacks a healthy pipeline of new people entering the profession,” said DePrisco. “Even for those that enter this profession, based on our research, the youngest workers, aged 18 to 38, reported the highest percentage of those likely to leave the profession within 24 months. And the reasons why they’re leaving really boil down to job satisfaction, dissatisfaction with the work that they’re doing or with their co-workers. Maybe they’re disengaged. Maybe they feel like they don’t have the opportunity to have work-life balance. Maybe the compensation isn’t at a level that maybe some of their peers are earning. It’s a real challenge. University enrollment is declining. Students are questioning the cost of higher education, and whether that cost and return on investment in some cases are worth it. These are all things that are converging at the same time and creating some real challenges.”
Companies will need to focus more on retaining the accountants they have if they hope to maintain and build the accounting pipeline.
“It requires those organizations that hire accounting and finance people to really double down on retention and move away from this churn and burn mentality that I think has plagued the profession for many years, and instead ensure that we’re doing the right things to attract people, to compensate them at a fair rate, to give them the benefits that will allow them to have work-life balance, to give them opportunities that will allow them to grow professionally, to learn new skills, to work on projects that allow them to leverage data, leverage technology, to learn the skills that are most important today, and to get the recognition when they do a good job and to get the recognition that they oftentimes need to keep them keep them motivated,” said DePrisco.
The accounting profession also needs to change the perception of what a career can look like.
“Another idea that’s gaining a lot of traction as it relates to solving for the talent pipeline is there’s a recognition of the need to broaden the narrative of an accounting career, what it is, what it’s not, how it’s changed over the years, and the value and purpose that a career in accounting can provide to an individual,” said DePrisco. “Young people have a perception of what an accountant is based on what they learn from perhaps their parents, their grandparents, and so forth. This profession has changed so much. It’s a dynamic profession. It allows individuals to really be in the hub of how businesses perform, how business gets done, and how individuals can help organizations achieve their most important initiatives. We need good accounting and finance professionals in every industry, in every sector. For an individual that aspires to work in the entertainment business, or for gaming companies, or for financial investment banking firms, or retail, and fashion, or merchandising, or whatever the case may be, all of those industries require accounting and finance professionals. There are some really unique opportunities for individuals. And it requires those that are leaders in the field to expand and broaden that narrative of what accounting is, and the career opportunities that exist.”
Sustainability and climate change are a growing interest for many young people who are concerned about climate change, and it’s one area where accountants are playing a greater role. The
“We know a lot more this year as a result of the work of the ISSB and the release of their standards, S1 and S2,” said DePrisco. “That’s really helped move the needle in terms of educating and informing organizations about what the standards mean and how they can be applied in organizations to help the capital markets make better informed decisions about organizations’ approach to climate change, and how they’re mitigating those impacts. But I think we’ve also seen a significant increase in organizations getting real serious about sustainability in the sense that many more are forming specific committees focused on ESG and sustainability.”
He noted that in the past five years, the number of organizations that have established dedicated committees on ESG doubled from 30% in 2018 to 60% in 2021, and the IMA has carried out a substantial amount of research on sustainability reporting.
“We offer a certificate in sustainability business practices,” said DePrisco. “We stood up a community of practice on the topic of sustainability where anyone can join in and share knowledge about the topic, ask questions of experts, and contribute to building the body of knowledge around this very important topic. As this field continues to evolve, the profession will need to continue to watch for new regulations and be in a position where we can adapt and evolve our practices accordingly because there are many different regulations and standards that need to be navigated, depending on where in the world you operate a business. It’s critically important that organizations are investing in making sure they’re gathering the required information, and they have people within their organizations who can help ensure that the organization’s being steered in the right direction as it relates to ESG.”
The IMA now offers a certificate in the sustainability area. “We introduced this past year in 2023 our
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