Image on the cover of the report of a woman alone on a beach on a cloudy day.

Satisfaction in work is a fundamental building block of a happy and successful life. For accountancy and finance professionals, digital tools offer new possibilities for meaningful work that will outlast the economic challenges posed by the global pandemic. There are many philosophical interpretations of what ‘meaningful’ signifies in the work context. In simple terms, it refers to a deeper connection with one’s work that goes beyond just ‘getting the job done’.

ACCA and EY conducted a global survey of 4,281 respondents and carried out 53 interviews between April and May 2020 in researching the report ‘Meaningful work for the digital professional’. They benchmarked against a group of survey respondents termed, ‘Leaders’ who scored highly across a range of categories including the use and adoption of technology in the workplace.

To identify what constitutes meaningful work for the digital professional, it’s important to examine how professionals engage with technology, rather than just focusing on what it does. And to ask ourselves: to what end is the technology being used? This is essential for creating purpose-led work that makes a difference. 

The arrival of desktop computers in the 1980s, for example, did not remove the need for professional accountants. In fact, a scan of ACCA’s own membership (Figure I1) shows that, over the years, membership has steadily increased as a range of technologies have arrived. To be clear, the current wave of technologies such as AI, robotics and blockchain do represent significant shifts. But they also represent the potential to significantly augment the effectiveness of accountants. The profession can continue to play a critical role if, as before, it engages proactively with these developments and adapts to an evolving environment.

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Figure 1

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Finance professionals need to engage with technology as an opportunity post Covid-19 as the scope for driving up digital adoption increases. New ways of working, which have been implemented swiftly in response to the global pandemic, will accelerate a move towards digitisation and promote careers that are intellectually stretching and driven by a renewed sense of purpose. The report highlights several examples of job roles for accountants looking to build careers with a digital focus.

Overall, there was a lot of room for driving up digital adoption: globally, adoption was highest for community technologies (55%) such as social media, messaging; the next highest being ‘Next-generation’ computing (eg Cloud, Serverless, Edge) at 36% and data technologies (eg big data, analytics, visualisation) at 30%. On adoption, leaders outperformed the sample to the greatest extent on data technologies. Over the coming decade, the expectation is for engagement across all these technologies to approach 90%.

Figure 1.2 Current digital adoption: Leaders versus overall sample

These leaders worked at organisations that outperformed in adjusting their delivery model during the pandemic with 95% saying their organisations were well prepared for using technology against a global average of 74%, and a 62%–82% spread across world regions.

Perhaps surprisingly, the report also discovered that less experienced professionals (who might be expected to be more digitally savvy) found the transition to remote working due to Covid-19 more difficult than experienced employees. This may reflect factors like a lack of appropriate workspaces where they live, or a greater need for guidance in their work.

The roadmap for the digital professional starts with continual scanning of the digital landscape that goes beyond understanding how an individual technology works. This provides a basis for understanding one’s purpose, and for reflecting deeply on why one wants to work in roles with a high component of digital skills: why working with technology reflects one’s interests and values.

Once there is clarity on this, the next step is to assess strategic fit with the organisation and to plot a direction of travel that supports learning and development. This involves looking beyond immediate deliverables and understanding how the work fits into the overall picture, for example, the value created for stakeholders and career paths that map to the agenda of those stakeholders.

The preceding steps provide the appropriate context for achieving optimum outcomes in the role itself, ie with a proper understanding of the key responsibilities and ways of working for that role. Focusing directly on this step, ie just ‘getting the job done’ may produce results in the short term but is unlikely to provide an enriching and meaningful work experience in the long term.

Furthermore, digital professionals must also consider factors in their peripheral vision. beyond digital aspects. The roadmap should be able to withstand unexpected shocks to the system, such as COVID-19, or more well-established trends that are playing out over time, such as a move towards non-linear career paths.

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