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Keynote Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Finance and National Development at the ISCA Conference 2023 on 29 November 2023

29 Nov 2023
ISCA President Mr Teo Ser Luck

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


2. It gives me great pleasure to join you for this ISCA Conference 2023.

3. It is really nice to see such a huge turnout. I was talking to Ser Luck earlier – he has exciting plans for you. There are more than 1,000 professional accountants here today, which is the largest turnout over the last 10 years. 

Role of Accountants

4. Accountants are indispensable professionals in the corporate world. In every balance sheet, financial or audit report, accountants are the ones who have to ensure the reliability and veracity of financial information, in order to instil confidence in investors and to help businesses grow. At a broader level, a strong accounting sector contributes to the foundations of economic success, and enhances Singapore’s reputation as a stable, trusted global hub. Our economic success rests, for a large part, in your hands, and it is very important work.

5. The world of business is not static; the landscape is constantly evolving. You will be familiar with these driving forces:

  1. Rising competition and disruption to business operations, in an era of heightened geopolitical contestation.
  2. Rapid advances in digital technologies, which have created economic value, but at the same time, also made business transactions more complex and more susceptible to financial fraud. 
  3. Climate change and sustainability – this is the crisis of our generation. We have seen strengthening resolve to commit to net zero targets, with businesses expected to do more to ensure that their operations are sustainable.
6. With these, the demands and expectations that are placed on accountants in this business climate are bound to evolve. So together, we have to take proactive action to respond to these changes and keep the accounting sector ready and relevant to these new challenges. Let me summarise how we can tackle this. It is really through Trust, Trends and Talent – the three “Ts”. 

Upholding Trust 

7. First, upholding “trust”. Today, business transactions and financial flows are getting increasingly complex. This could result in a higher risk of financial scandals and illicit transactions. In this climate, you not only play the role of accountants – you are also the guardians of trust for the business community. You are our first line of defence against any possible risks of fraud or financial misrepresentation. When there are signs of questionable transactions, activities or financial entries, it is the role of the accountant to bring them to attention.

8. Accountants also play a role in combatting money laundering. You have all heard of the recent billion-dollar money laundering case that has been making headlines in Singapore. We managed to detect suspicious activities and take these money launderers to task, only through the collective efforts of government agencies and industry gatekeepers. 

9. I am heading the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) to review our anti-money laundering regime to further strengthen our existing measures, and introduce new measures where warranted. One key area of the review is how players in the system, like accountants, can help guard against money laundering risks. We will be reaching out to hear your feedback and get your thoughts. 

10. As criminals become increasingly sophisticated, we will need to stay vigilant in identifying unusual transactions, conduct the necessary checks and also ask tough questions to ensure that financial transactions are legitimate. That is not always easy to do, to ask these kind of questions, because your clients’ immediate reaction will be, “You don’t trust me?” or “Are you accusing me of something?” But in your role as gatekeepers, it is a necessary thing to do. We have to figure out together how you can discharge this duty and responsibility, without at the same time alienating the legitimate clients, while being able to identify the ones who are obviously not so legitimate. Ethics and integrity should always be at the forefront of all accountants, to uphold the trust in the profession, and ultimately to preserve Singapore’s hard-earned reputation as a clean and trusted business hub. 

Adapting to Trends 

11. Next, trends. Adapting and translating global “trends” to accountancy work. I touched on some of these trends earlier - 

  1. Take digitalisation, and in particular, artificial intelligence (AI). In the last year, generative AI has been at the forefront of the industry. However, some may view AI as a direct threat to many jobs fulfilled by workers today. Some of you may very well feel this way too about the possibility of AI replacing some of the work that accountants do today.
  2. That general trepidation is fully understandable, whether it is AI or other technologies. However, these developments can also be a boon, and not just a bane. In the accounting profession. AI, if applied well, can be a force multiplier in modern accounting, helping to analyse financial data to identify insights and detect anomalies. This could free up accountants to move into other higher value-adding areas, like business analytics, forensic audits and advisory work, to support your firms in achieving their business goals.
  3. So do consider how to harness AI in your line of work, to multiply your impact on the accounting sector, to give value add so that you can grow more, but also to grow the pie for you and see how we can make this a gamechanger for the accounting industry here in Singapore. 
    1. ISCA has set aside $2 million to fund its Artificial Intelligence for the Accountancy Industry (AI for AI) initiative. This will bring together subject matter experts, to examine the impact of AI and how AI can be leveraged to better the work of the accountancy profession.
  4. For Small- and Medium-sized Accounting Practices who may not be ready to incorporate AI into your business model, you can start off with adopting basic digitalisation tools, such as audit and practice management solutions, to streamline existing work processes.
    1. I do encourage and urge you to tap on ACRA’s Productivity Solutions Grant for the Accountancy Sector, which provides funding support of up to $30,000 to Small- and Medium-sized Accounting Practices for the adoption of digital solutions.
12. Besides digitalisation and AI, there is another trend in which accountants can play a key role in driving and where there are huge opportunities – and that is the sustainability agenda. 

  1. As the green momentum picks up, there will be increasing demand for accountants to provide assurance on sustainability disclosures and help companies to mitigate climate-related risks.
  2. Accountants are already well-versed in reviewing finances of companies; so there is a natural progression to build new capabilities and expand your stewardship role to include sustainability issues.
  3. To support accountants in capturing these growth opportunities, ISCA is introducing new certifications, including the Sustainability Professional Certification that is co-funded by ACRA, to equip accountants with all necessary skills in sustainability reporting.
Expanding Talent Sources

13. Lastly, expanding “talent” sources. Building a sustainable talent pipeline is key to ensure that the accountancy profession continues to thrive, especially in a tight labour market where individuals have many competing career options. In particular, firms should examine their employee value proposition, to ensure that they are still attractive to young people, which is key to building a sustainable and healthy talent pipeline.

14. Many of you know about the Accountancy Workforce Review Committee (AWRC), that is co-chaired by former Singapore Accountancy Commission Chairman Mr Chaly Mah and 2nd Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance Ms Lai Wei Lin. The Committee brings together key industry players and members of academia to develop strategies to ensure that we have a strong and healthy pipeline of accountancy professionals. 

15. Today, I am pleased to share that as part of the AWRC’s work, we will make enhancements to the Singapore Chartered Accountant Qualification, or SCAQ, to make it more streamlined and inclusive of different types of talent. 

  1. We will make the SCAQ more accessible to local polytechnic graduates.
    1. Today, only polytechnic graduates in Accountancy are able to undertake the SCAQ, and they can only do so by pursuing an Advanced Diploma in Accountancy, after their basic diploma.
    2. We will make three important changes starting from 2024.
    3. First, we will no longer require polytechnic graduates to pursue the Advanced Diploma in order to enrol in the SCAQ. They can do so directly. This will give them the flexibility to determine the pace of learning, and accelerating the completion of modules, where possible. For those who prefer structured learning, they can continue to pursue the Advanced Diploma or enrol in courses provided by Registered Learning Organisations.
    4. Second, polytechnic accountancy graduates will be exempted from the Principles of Financial Reporting module if they had completed the equivalent module during their studies.
    5. Third, we will open the SCAQ pathway to non-Accountancy polytechnic graduates as well. This means that local polytechnic graduates from other fields such as Business Management, or even Engineering, who are interested in pursuing accountancy as a profession, will be able to enrol in the SCAQ.
  2. We will also make it easier for candidates to fulfil the practical experience requirements of the SCAQ.
    1. Today, candidates – whether degree or diploma-trained – are required to complete at least 3 years of relevant practical experience, before they can attain the SCAQ. This is in line with international norms of other international accountancy qualifications.
    2. We recognise that candidates may have completed accounting-related jobs and internships before embarking on the SCAQ. Therefore, we recognise up to 12 months of a candidate’s prior experience, and allow it to be counted towards the 3-year requirement.
    3. Going forward, we will now recognise up to 18 months of their prior practical experience. This will benefit individuals who have considerable practical experience before embarking on SCAQ, and enable them to be able to attain their SCAQ more quickly.
More details of the AWRC’s recommendations will be shared in due course. 


16. Ultimately, taking action on the recommendations will require the collective effort of all our stakeholders – accountants, accounting firms, businesses, professional bodies and the Government – to work together to drive the transformation of the accountancy sector.

17. I encourage all accountants and accounting firms to take the lead and play your part in transforming the accountancy profession. You are in the best position to drive transformation and make real change, be it in the adoption of digital tools or sustainable practices. 

18. On this note, I would like to commend the collaborative efforts by the industry and announce the launch of the Professional Accountancy Hub

  1. Congratulations to ISCA for bringing together 13 other accountancy professional bodies and business organisations to set up the Professional Accountancy Hub!
  2. The Hub will bring together resources, expertise and networks to plan and develop joint initiatives to facilitate knowledge sharing and growth to strengthen the professional growth of the sector.
  3. I look forward to the collaborations ahead, to support accountants in staying ahead of the curve, be it technological or other regulatory developments.

19. In conclusion, there are many exciting opportunities ahead for your profession. While there will also be challenges, I am confident that we can overcome them with collective efforts from all of us. 

20. Let us continue to nurture and build our accountants and make Singapore as a reliable and trusted business and financial hub.

21. I wish you all a fruitful conference. Thank you.