Technology and the Profession–A Guide to ICAEW’s Work

April 15, 2019

Published: IFAC

By: David Lyford-Smith

Since the 1990s, ICAEW has had an IT Faculty – a group of technology and accounting experts who are the “Voice of IT for ICAEW”.  The group helps produce guidance and thought leadership relating to the place of technology in the accountancy profession, researches the effects of new technologies, and advises stakeholders both internal and external on how the profession can best shape itself for the future.

This article will introduce some of the IT Faculty’s work – which is all available for free.  The key theme of recent work is the “ABCD” of technologies that ICAEW identifies as those which are top priorities for the accounting profession – namely, artificial intelligence, blockchain, cybersecurity, and data.

The ABCDs of Technology and Accounting

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the culmination of a process that has taken steps from simple automation, to robotic process automation, and forward into cutting-edge technologies such as machine learning, deep learning, and AI.  AI offers new abilities for companies to increase efficiency, automate more processes, and transform how business is done.  But the technology could also threaten some accountants’ roles, or even breach ethical standards if it is not properly designed and implemented.

Blockchain is a new way of keeping records that are accurate and secure – but without the need for a central authority that maintains them.  The distributed ledger system underpins cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, but also has applications in land registry, identity, and more.  Blockchain is a new source of trust in transactions that could challenge accountants’ roles, or could be harnessed to drive efficiencies in the profession.

Cybersecurity is moving up board agendas as high-profile breaches continually make the headlines.  Accountants are not only interested in best practice as businesspeople, but are often stewards of particularly sensitive data and must know how to protect it and themselves.  Others are considering cybersecurity as part of their audits, or how they can advise their clients on the subject.

Data has been described as the ‘oil’ of the modern economy – the resource that drives modern business models.  The stunning increase in the amount and variety of data that is collected and analysed in the modern world leads to greater insights – but also greater threats to the professional and ethical principles of accountants.

 Further work of the IT Faculty

Beyond these key technologies, ICAEW has also produced thought leadership work in various areas related to the accounting profession.  Here are some highlights:

Tax is becoming increasingly digitalised, with administrations seeking both cost savings and transformative abilities to investigate and automate their activities.  Our work in this field focuses on analysing how technology is changing the shape of tax administration in different jurisdictions, and how authorities can learn from one another to achieve the best results. 

Fintech is a growing field which uses modern technology to drive innovation and efficiency-making in the field of financial services.  Several cities around the world have sought to build their reputation as “fintech hubs”, marrying pools of skilled workers with innovation-supporting regulation. 

Ethics lie at the heart of the profession, but advances in the capabilities of technology and shifting business models bring new threats to accountants’ ethical standards.  Rather than just being new places for the same issues to arise, the wealth of data available about individuals and the potential for AI to divine more about them creates entirely new problems to consider.

Spreadsheet risk is important to accountants, as common users of the software but also as trusted business advisors.  The IT Faculty also supports an Excel Community which focuses on improving understanding of best practices in spreadsheet use and tackling the problems of spreadsheet risk, error, and inefficiency.

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