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Keynote Address by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Finance and Education, at the Launch of the Accountancy Industry Digital Plan (IDP) on 22 August 2019 at Stephen Riady Auditorium @NTUC

22 Aug 2019

Accountancy Goes Digital

Mr Chaly Mah, Chairman, Singapore Accountancy Commission

Mr Kon Yin Tong, President, Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants

Ms Jane Lim, Assistant Chief Executive, Infocomm Media Development Authority

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

1. It gives me great pleasure to be here today and I am delighted to see so many in the audience, because it is an indication of interest in this particular area, and that is very promising.

Disruption: Challenges and Opportunities

2. We live in interesting times. Digitalisation and new technologies are new global forces. These trends are blurring traditional sectoral lines. They are changing the way things are being done; and reshaping and redefining existing models of just about everything.

3. You may have read in the news a few days ago that 400-year-old Kodaiji temple in Japan has introduced a robot priest to deliver sermons. Named Mindar, the android was a joint project between the Zen temple and Robotics Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro. Developed at a cost of almost US$1m, it teaches worshippers about compassion and all the dangers of desire, anger, and ego!

4. One may or may not agree with whether robots can or should be priests, but the indisputable fact, vividly illustrated by that example, is that technology is penetrating and changing almost all facets of human life and interaction – even in intangible areas hitherto considered beyond the bounds of technology, such as faith and religion.

5. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that technology and digitalisation are revolutionising the economic landscape and rewriting the blueprint for Services 4.0. 

6. What does this mean for accountants?  Well, two things – accountants will need to rapidly evolve your skills to meet the changing landscape, as the tasks that AI and robots cannot do are shrinking rapidly; accountants will also need to redefine your value-add to businesses.

7. While this may seem challenging, it is also important to understand that the evolving landscape also presents tremendous new opportunities for the profession. So I would strongly encourage accountants to consider how you can use new technologies to reshape the way you provide services to businesses, and to leverage Singapore’s strategic position in fast-growing Asia, as a base, to go regional.

8. I am glad to note that many of our accountants and Accounting Entities (AEs) are already starting to do this. Let me highlight two examples:

a. First, CA Trust. Since 2018, CA Trust has been harnessing opportunities to streamline its business processes through using, amongst other things, Robotic Process Automation or RPA technologies. By using RPA technologies to automate repetitive tasks, like clients’ on-boarding processes and preparation of bank confirmation for audit purposes, staff at CA Trust has reduced the time spent on routine tasks. This frees up more time for staff to focus on productive tasks.

b. Second, Precursor. Precursor has a unique business model of developing solutions for other AEs. Besides helping AEs to digitalise, Precursor has also been using its technologies to enhance its business processes. For instance, by using SmartCursors as its Client Relationship Management tool to on-board new clients, Precursor has been able to track and follow up on leads using analytics. It has thus reduced time spent on churning out internal reports.

9. So I would like to encourage the profession to see the opportunities in change and make technology work for you. This is not a journey you need to make alone. The Government will support you on this.

Launch of Accountancy IDP to Help Accountancy Go Digital

10. On this note, I am happy to announce the launch of the Accountancy Industry Digital Plan (IDP) today. Jointly developed by SAC, IMDA, and ISCA, the Accountancy IDP seeks to help accountancy go digital and stay ahead.

11. The IDP is designed specifically with Small-and-Medium-sized Practices (SMPs) in mind, to help them overcome three road-blocks to adopting technologies: First, the perceived initial high costs of adopting technology; second, the lack of technology and work process integration; and third, the lack of skills needed to use technology effectively.

12. By overcoming these road-blocks, SMPs can be in the driver’s seat of change, harnessing technologies to push boundaries and to capture opportunities.

13. The Accountancy IDP has three aspects: 

a. First, allowing SMPs to use digital solutions to streamline work processes;

b. Second, facilitating interconnectedness between digital solutions, which differentiates SMPs in terms of their service offerings and value-add; and

c. Third, helping SMPs harness technology to innovate business models.

14. A few weeks ago, you would remember that Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Heng spoke about SG Together and working together – how the Government can work with the people, with businesses. The IDP is an illustration of that, because it was developed very much with the SMPs, with the input that was given by businesses, although IMDA and SAC were involved as well. This is just an example of how the Government can work with the industry, with practice, basically to make sure that we expand your opportunities and that we can all move forward together.

15. With that in mind, there are three upcoming initiatives that will further anchor the help for SMPs.

a. First, to promote the adoption of digital solutions, ISCA, with the support of SAC, will establish an SMP Centre in August 2019. The SMP Centre will be a dedicated one-stop source of information for digital solutions, digital training, and funding support relevant to the accountancy sector.

b. Second, to enhance SMPs’ digital knowledge and skills, the Singapore Polytechnic and ISCA will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) today. Under the MOU, Singapore Polytechnic and ISCA will support SMPs in adopting and implementing audit software and RPA into their work processes. Singapore Polytechnic accountancy students will help SMPs implement these technology solutions as part of their final year projects. Singapore Polytechnic and ISCA will also jointly develop customised RPA certification courses for audit professionals.

c. Third, to foster innovation through technology, SAC and the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) will sign a collaborative agreement today. Under the agreement, SAC and SIT will establish an Accounting Technology and Innovation Centre. This Centre will foster experimentation and prototyping of innovation, ideas. You can ask the Chairman of SAC to elaborate on the Centre during the panel discussion later.

16. You can see, therefore, that what we are doing, is we are trying to integrate more closely education and the Institutes of Higher Learning with practice, so that education becomes seamless. It is really part and parcel of our approach of learning for life. The students learn, but the professionals also learn, and they are just learning at different stages of their careers or lives, and they are also learning from each other. That is how education will be like going forward, and that is what we want to do to make sure that the process is interactive and always kept current, and pushing at the boundaries, developments, and technology.

17. People also ask “What about the economic climate?”, and “Will businesses have a bit of a slowdown going ahead?” But that should not be something which is a deterrence for the profession, because even if business slows, use that time to position yourself. When things are very busy, you don’t have time to think about all these business strategies. But if you do have time, and things do slow down, use this, use the IDP, use the initiatives that have been put forward. Work with SAC, work with the Government to see how we can position our accountancy sector to be able to go beyond Singapore and access regional markets, so that your business will grow as and when the economy picks up, if it slows down. So there are plenty of opportunities, please do position yourself to be able to grow.

18. With the Accountancy IDP and the three initiatives that I have mentioned, I am confident that the profession will be well-placed to embark on your digital journey, to transform your businesses and to make technology work for you.

19. I wish you a fruitful conference ahead. 

20. Thank you very much.