The accountant's essential role in fintech
Older accountants are at risk of being left behind if they do not embrace fintech.

FINTECH is set to be the latest career frontier for accountants, as organisations and individuals turn to the profession to build trust in cutting-edge technology and applications.

The fact that 50 per cent of accountants are considering a move into financial technology shows that the profession is willing to seize these new opportunities, but there is a risk that older generations could miss out if they believe they do not have the necessary skills to play a role in the sector.

A new ACCA/CA ANZ report,'Fintech state of play: opportunities for finance professionals', reveals the breadth of opportunities available in fintech, which can cover areas as diverse as insurtech, wealthtech and regtech alongside online banking, payment systems and gateways, cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens.

Array of concerns

However, the report shows an array of concerns from around the world as new technologies are rapidly adopted. Eight out of 10 respondents surveyed for the report said they were worried about cybersecurity; a similar number believed regulation should be better aligned between countries.

This provides an obvious route into the sector. "Professional accountants will play a vital role in the maturing of fintech," says Patrick Saidu Conteh, FCCA, the regional lead in Sub-Saharan Africa for the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance.

"As the scale and significance of the sector increase, there is a need for robust financial management and reliable, independent assurance of information to drive trust in the ecosystem. These are still relatively early stages, and the opportunity is there for the accountancy and finance community to be part of shaping events."

Trust driver

The survey shows that it is younger generations that are more likely to trust the products offered by fintech companies. While 41 per cent of those in the 18-35 age bracket say they trust fintech products over traditional financial products, only 20 per cent of those aged over 55 have a similar trust.

Age also plays a factor in whether individuals see career opportunities in fintech. While 50 per cent agree there are opportunities, age is seen as the second most important influence over this view (24 per cent), with region being the most important (44 per cent).

However, all generations could be well placed to explore opportunities in the fintech sector as their experience could prove key. Ainslie van Onselen, CA ANZ's chief executive, agrees. She sees 'tremendous opportunities' ahead for accountancy and finance professionals in fintech — particularly in driving trust through assurance and clarity of financial information with emerging norms in corporate reporting. "It's an unfolding landscape to be explored," she says.

"I am constantly amazed by the potential for fintech to transform the economy and the delivery models for financial services that cross our radar," says Thin Chambers, CFO of Innovate Finance in the UK. "I believe the innovation is just getting started and professional accountants have a lot to offer to this ecosystem."

Nimble and open

"I have worked both at a fintech and in a large financial services organisation, and I can see the benefits of both sides," says Dariusz Gafka, FCCA, chair of Santander Consumer Bank in Poland. "Fintech culture has brought a certain nimble and open approach, which I think can complement the highly structured approach typically needed within a large banking organisation."

But irrespective of sector, culture and mindset could be more important for those wanting to get onboard the fintech train. "A CFO in a fintech is likely to be very hands on, as business grows and changes at a very fast pace," warns Ewa Woroszył, FCCA, CFO of Blue Media in Poland.

"This requires being open minded and outcome focused. It is not mandatory to come from financial services, as there is a lot of new information to absorb no matter what the background — the ability to learn is more important."

Want a job in fintech?

Here are 10 roles and the most valued skills:

• CFO: understanding how to link the numbers and strategy into a compelling story for investors; ability to build a finance team and set professional norms in the absence of mature processes and procedures

• Financial controller: understanding accounting and taxation in new areas such as crypto assets; strategic planning and decision support; ability to work nimbly while meeting regulatory reporting deadlines

• Auditor: ability to operate in a digital-first (or digital-only) environment; clarity on business model; ability to look in from outside when assessing going concern risks

• Transformation lead: ability to bridge between IT and finance; ability to embrace change; having a problem-solving approach

• Digital accountant: interest in technology developments pertinent to accountancy; an intentional approach to leveraging them for service improvement

• Regulatory expert: industry, product and business-model knowledge; ability to connect these with what regulations require; ethical mindset anchored in compliance in spirit and letter, and in the interests of driving long-term value

• Tax adviser: ability to manage risk without stifling business innovation; commercially focused mindset anchored in compliance

• Fintech strategist: ability to build a compelling business case to monetise fintech systems; clarity on how it creates competitive advantage; ability to manage relationships, deal with pushback and solve problems creatively

• Entrepreneur: passion for organisational mission; strategic, big-picture view of customers' needs; a view of the technology, people and processes for dealing with them

• Senior manager: passion for organisational mission; deep understanding of end-to-end operations and how they link to creating value for stakeholders.

Author: Philip Smith, journalist. Source: ACCA Accounting and business magazine

by Philip Smith

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