The world is changing. Technological advances have forced companies to embrace digitisation in more ways than ever. For the accounting and audit industry, these advances are inching closer to fully automating its processes, and many believe that this will render human input obsolete by the end of the new decade. Bonnie Tham, Head of People and Culture at BDO in Malaysia, also a Chartered Accountant by profession, clarifies that just because digital and Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolutions may soon enable companies to become more efficient in using data and information, it doesn’t necessarily mean it would replace all the human minds that used to process and analyse them before.
“People seem to think that audit work can be replaced by robots”, she notes. This has discouraged many young talents from pursuing a future career in accounting or audit in Malaysia. The Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA) expressed concerns about the level of students’ interest in pursuing Professional Accountancy Qualifications. In a Committee to Strengthen the Accountancy Profession (CSAP) published in December 2014, MIA revealed that only 41 percent of surveyed students were keen to pursue professional accountancy qualifications while 54 percent of the students indicated lower interests.
“Sure, robots can do routine-based tasks like data entry and calculations faster and more accurate. But once the reports are generated, someone needs to interpret the results, formulate feasible solutions and recommendations and communicate to stakeholders in an effective manner,” Bonnie says. “That part still requires human beings because clients would not want to be talking to robots. Hence, accountants and auditors will remain relevant in a highly digitised society, because people’s unparalleled critical thinking, creativity and EQ will still be needed to significantly increase the quality of service and delivery of higher value outcomes to clients, thus improve the customer/client experience,” she notes.
Bonnie also cites her engagement with institutions of higher learning, revealing that intakes for accountancy degrees in colleges and universities in the recent years are gradually dropping.
“This is where we need to educate the people. We want students and graduates to understand that an auditor’s job is transforming as we speak… and that technology is here to help deliver part of the work such as data processing and analytics, thereby freeing up more time for an auditor to look into pattern recognition and problem solving. Auditors will be moving towards acquiring higher level advisory skill sets, assuming the roles of business advisers,” she says.
According to Bonnie, who has been leading people agendas and overseeing support functions in BDO Malaysia for the last seven years, digitalisation is not something new in BDO. The firm has taken the necessary measures to adapt and prepare its people to embrace the impact of this technological change. “We aim to lead through innovation and to be the advisers of the future and for this to happen, there needs to be constant innovation, both internally and externally,” she states.
With the right mindset, our aspiration is to master innovation in the delivery of our services
BDO auditors are all trained and equipped to use its bespoke BDO Audit Process Tool (APT), a primary audit execution software which has been around for about a decade and currently in its enhanced version, APT Next Gen, which BDO in Malaysia was one of the pioneering firms. With the emergence of Big Data, audit analytics are also performed by the Data Analytics Advisory team to complement the overall audit findings to cover value-added areas such as significant drivers to business performance, key business risks or red flags to fraudulent activities; by extracting large amount of client data and analysing the data with dedicated audit analytics software.
BDO’s digitalisation transformation journey does not stop at the quality of the service it delivers. In driving innovation and growth mindset within BDO, the firm is continuously building its learning and development programmes to equip their people with the relevant technical, business and digital skills to thrive in today’s rapidly evolving world. These programmes are delivered through classroom training, blended learning as well as via BDO’s online learning management system which are accessible on the go and on all mobile devices.
“Our vision is to be the adviser of choice in the future. Our people needs to be able to embrace technology and work collaboratively with clients, designing bespoke solutions. With the right mindset, our aspiration is to master innovation in the delivery of our services. For example, our Risk Advisory team has built the BDO EthicsLine, which is an online whistleblowing portal that can be easily integrated into our clients’ ethics and compliance mechanisms. Such innovation came in on a timely manner with the increased focus on transparency, ethical behaviour and anti-corruption due to the recent amendments in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Act 2018,” she adds.
The >1000-strong professional services firm providing Audit & Assurance, Advisory, Tax and Business Services & Outsourcing may not be the first accounting firm to embrace technology in a big way, but BDO does have a concise plan in place to achieve its vision to be the next-generation auditors.
BDO has been around in Malaysia for over 50 years and they are on track to future-proofing their businesses as well as talents to embrace the technology disruptions that are underway.