The Year in Review for the Accounting and Finance Profession – And What Lies Ahead

Jeff Thomson, CMA, CSCA, CAE, President and CEO of IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) | 17 December 2021

Accounting and finance professionals have to be strategic business leaders and value-adding partners within their organisation

Jeff Thomson, CMA, CSCA, CAE, President and CEO of IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants)

This past year has seen crucial developments in the management accounting and finance profession that will continue to accelerate as we head into the volatility and uncertainty of 2022. As our profession adapts to technological, social, and economic change, one common thread runs through all the major trends: the need for the management accounting and finance professional in business to be more of a strategic business leader and value-adding partner within their organization.

But in making this shift, what should management accounting and finance professionals be looking out for? What has driven the most change in 2021 and what will shape the way we do our jobs in 2022? Here are the major trends reshaping our field and how our profession should address them.

  • Technology Continues to Transform Our Roles: The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation across industries. A McKinsey survey from earlier this year reported that “COVID has pushed companies over the technology tipping point…[accelerating] the digitization of their customer and supply chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years.”Finance leaders need to ensure that their organizations have strategies for digital transformation, with formulation of specific approaches around automation (e.g., RPA), data analytics, cloud-based computing and blockchain. The challenge here is to invest in and build broader competencies such as strategic planning and advanced data analytics so that our professionals can add more insight and foresight to enable sustainable value creation.
  • Sustainable Business Is No Longer an Option But a Mandate: One of the big announcements to come out of the recent COP26 conference on climate change (26th annual U.N. conference in Glasgow) was that the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) Foundation will be forming an International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) to develop a global baseline of sustainability disclosure by June 2022. This is a major development in global sustainability reporting and disclosure as sustainability standards will be positioned alongside financial standards under the auspices of the IFRS Foundation. This heightened “stature” of ESG and sustainability metrics will require an integrated approach to sustainable business management and generation of enterprise value in a multi-stakeholder world. In short, sustainable business management extends beyond external disclosures to the entire value chain of the organization. 
  • DE&I Is Critical in the Race for Talent: IMA (Institute of Management Accountants), the organization of which I am the president and CEO, published a report earlier this year entitled “Diversifying U.S. Accounting Talent,” about the lack of diversity of race, gender and sexual orientation in our profession and what can be done about it. In the race for talent, exacerbated by COVID-19, organizations are learning that attracting, nurturing, and growing a diverse and inclusive talent pool is the right thing to do – for society, and for better business outcomes in a “VUCA” world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). 
  • Finance Professionals Must Build Trust. This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer, which measures public trust in different types of institutions, found a surprising increase in the level of overall trust in business relative to NGOs, government, and media. For finance professionals in business, building on and sustaining that trust will be important in 2022. This will entail responding to the trends I already discussed, especially on actively making organizations more sustainable and diverse, as well as remaining true to core professional ethics and preventing fraud. As the role of the CFO team and management accounting and finance professional in business expands (e.g., ESG/sustainability, strategy, technology and analytics, supply chain, etc.), there will be additional risks and opportunities to enhance trust, service, and reputation.

With all the disruption of this year, management accounting and finance professionals should maintain a future-focused mindset and work to actively shape and invest in their organizations’ long-term direction while managing risks and uncertainty in the short term. There is an incredible opportunity for our profession to increase its relevance and influence, but with this opportunity comes an obligation to expand and enhance our competencies. I am very confident the profession is up to the challenge.