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Keynote Address By Permanent Secretary (Finance) Mrs Tan Ching Yee At The ISCA PAIB Conference On 28 September 2018

28 Sep 2018

Riding the wind of change on technological disruption

Mr Kon Ying Tong, President of ISCA

Ms Yvonne Chan, Vice President of ISCA

Ms Rachel Grimes, President, International Federation of Accountants (IFAC)

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

1.     Good morning. I am happy to join you today at the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountant (ISCA)’s PAIB Conference.

Winds of change

2.     When I was a student at university, several of my friends were making plans to work towards becoming chartered accountants.At that relatively tender age, I had no idea that the professional training of an accountant could be over and above his undergraduate education.

3.     Neither did I draw the link between an accountant and her contributions to good corporate governance, a sound investment environment, and a strong economy.But I know better now.

4.     The economic environment is changing fast.In his Budget speech earlier this year, the Minister for Finance cited three winds of change that will impact Singapore in the coming years:

a. First, the shift of economic weight towards Asia;
b. Second, technological disruption; and
c. Third, the ageing population in Singapore.

5.     Professional accountants in business face these winds of change head-on, and should be part of your companies’ plans to turn them into waves of opportunities.

Accountants as partners in business innovation

6.     In recent years, various high-profile reports have sounded alarm bells for the future of many jobs, including those thought to be insulated from disruption.

a. In 2013, Frey and Osborne shocked policy-makers worldwide with a study that suggested that up to 47% of jobs in the United States were at high risk of computerisation. In particular, there was a supposedly 94% probability that computers could replace accountants and auditors.

b. In 2016, a McKinsey report indicated that technology would impact different work tasks differently. In particular, work tasks that are at high risk of automation are those where 70% of the time is spent on data processing whereas tasks that involve soft skills are less susceptible to automation.

c. This year, a OECD report on “Automation, Skills Use and Training”also cited that “..the skills that AI and robots cannot do are shrinking rapidly”. The same report found that about one in two jobs are vulnerable to automation.

7.     While such headlines serve as a timely reminder for many of us, how we take charge of our future will determine if we end up like the victims of the headlines or blaze a different path.

8.     The key to our accountants being partner in innovation lies in your specific role “PAIB”.It is not about accounting rules or checking for compliance against a list.It is embedding your educational and professional training into the business of business.This requires the blending of quantitative skills, understanding the intent of accounting standards, business acumen, and practice in advocacy and persuasion.All of these are highly complex cognitive, emotional and social abilities.I know universities and companies are pouring billions into AI, but it will be quite some time before a robot is able to acquire these complex capabilities, and use them to deal with new situations and fresh challenges.In short, accountants are partners in innovation for each of your respective businesses and industries. And above all else, accountants are anchored in your professional ethics and values.

9.     In my own industry, which is Government, our Accountant-General’s Department (AGD) has been harnessing the possibilities of digitalisation to make fellow accountants work more smartly and contribute to transformation in the public sector.

a. AGD has created a platform called FI@Gov for financial analytics since 2016. FI@Gov provides government agencies the means to create easily understandable dashboards and visuals for financial analyses.What is even more gratifying is that more CEOs of statutory boards and Permanent Secretaries of Ministries now look at these dashboards to monitor the financial health of their agencies, and identify opportunities for improvement.

b. Another initiative is the Vendor@Gov application, a secured one-stop portal for Government vendors to submit e-invoices, obtain information about payment status and update their particulars.This way, businesses (big but especially small ones) get paid more promptly and can spend their time developing their businesses instead of chasing the Government for payment.

10.    The Accountant-General will be involved in a panel discussion later this afternoon. You can ask him to elaborate on the Government’s digitalisation efforts and experience.

Accountants as partners in professional development

11.    Accountants need not try pushing boundaries alone. You can and should do so as part of a community.

12.    At an earlier ISCA conference this year, Minister Indranee Rajah spoke about the Accountancy Sector Roadmap. This roadmap sets out the direction and goal for where Singapore’s accountancy sector – a hub for the region to access the best accounting expertise in the region. Keep in mind this vision as you embark on your journey of change.

13.    The Singapore Accountancy Commission (SAC), SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore have put in place two measures to help:

a. First, the Skills Framework for Accountancy sets out 25 job roles in the accountancy sector. Accountants can use this framework to find out the skills needed for these roles.

b. Second, Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) to provide professionals an opportunity to embark on new career paths. To date, the PCPs in Internal Audit and Financial Forensic have been launched.

14.    ISCA has also rolled out various initiatives for its members:

a. An example is the ISCA PAIB Framework, which Ms Yvonne Chan mentioned during her earlier address today.

b. ISCA also publishes various articles on hot accountancy topics, such as Cybersecurity Risk Considerations in a Financial Statements Audit.

15.    These various measures from professional bodies act as sign-posts to help professional accountants in your evolution journey. These sign-posts, in themselves, are not sufficient to lead you to the destination. To get there, you will have to continue to upskill and reskill.

16.    This brings me back to where I started earlier.Preparing someone to be an accountant.Many of my friends became accountants after completing their degree programmes.Their employers then had to “break them in” by teaching them other skills needed to function as competent accountants.

17.    After canvassing views and feedback widely, Singapore launched the Singapore Chartered Accountants Qualification programme or SCAQ as a mark of quality for Singapore accountants in 2013.Besides serving as a first professional qualification for accountants, SCAQ provides a pathway for individuals with non-accountancy background to join the accountancy sector.

18.    To date, Singapore has signed three reciprocal membership agreements or RMAs with internationally recognised accountancy professional bodies.These RMAs open up opportunities for our chartered accountants when they wish to offer their services overseas.RMAs also attest to the quality of SCAQ.

19.    I hope that more employers and businesses see the value in having Singapore chartered accountants in your companies.

20.    I know that ISCA and SAC are constantly seeking to improve SCAQ and we welcome your feedback to better address the needs of professional accountants and the industries which they serve in.


21.    Whatever the winds of change, human ingenuity will find ways to turn them into a gale force for good.So while we read more reports of technological disruptions, let us remember that if we use our professional training well and deploy our human capabilities, we will always remain relevant.

22.    I wish all of you a very fruitful conference.For our participants from overseas, I hope you take time to enjoy our sights and sounds, food and drinks, places and spaces.

Thank you.