Believe it or not, we’re already heading into a new decade. Huge leaps have been made in the accounting industry in the previous decade, including a much greater focus on information technology which we’re seeing reflected in both the education and hiring processes.

It comes as no surprise that this focus will continue in the future, with trends centering mostly on various technologies and innovations within the industry, and how we as professionals can put our best foot forward in the accounting tech arena. To set the stage for the first year of the next decade, let’s take a quick look at the top 6 trends in accounting and auditing in 2020.

1. Hiring the Right Talent

Finding good employees is always a top concern for companies in any industry, especially those who want to stand out, remain relevant, and grow. The data shows us that this will not only be a continuing trend in 2020, but it’s a core objective for firms. According to Accounting Today’s 2020 “Year Ahead” Survey, the number one concern for accounting firms in 2020 is acquiring and retaining good employees. As the accounting industry becomes more diverse and technology-based, firms are looking for employees who can immediately perform and who are up-to-date on current trends in accounting.

Whether you’re a new or existing employee, one of the best ways to set yourself apart and prove you’re ready to step up to the challenge of a top concern is by becoming credentialed with a relevant license or certificate in your chosen field. A few options are Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), or Enrolled Agent (EA). If you’re interested in updating your skillset with a credential, Surgent offers courses to help you pass the exams for all of these designations.

2. Investing in Blockchain

Blockchain is a digital ledger of transactions which can be of any value, financial or otherwise. It’s reputable for its security through three main points: transparency, immutability, and decentralization. These three points create unique challenges and implications for external auditors; accounting firms need to be investing in blockchain research and analysis in order to provide the highest level of service to clients utilizing blockchain technology. Several points accounting firms need to consider are:

  • Knowing how to assess counterparty risk in the blockchain environment to understand data integrity risks.
  • Since data is distributed across all parties of a shared blockchain, parties within that blockchain with a history of data breaches or other data integrity issues increase the risk of data exposure of other companies on the same blockchain.
  • If an external auditor plans to rely on a blockchain throughout the audit process, each blockchain the company under audit is party to would need to be independently tested and understood before the information could be used as part of the external audit.
  • Blockchains allow auditors to obtain more reliable audit evidence because the evidence is verified by external parties and, due to blockchain’s design, is unalterable.
  • Verify that risks associated with the operation or participation in a private blockchain are adequately disclosed in the financial statements.
  • Be prepared for situations in which the auditors of other companies utilizing the same private blockchain reach a different conclusion regarding the internal control design and effectiveness even though the blockchain system is theoretically identical.

3. Diversification in Credentialing

The number of CPA candidates dropped substantially from 2017 to 2018, from almost 95,600 to 85,500, the lowest number in the last ten years. However, according to an Accounting Today article, there was an increase in the number of enrollees in Bachelor’s and Master’s degree accounting programs. Wouldn’t an increase in enrollees correspond to an increase in CPA candidates?

Accounting students have a variety of choices when it comes to credentialing outside of the CPA license. There was a record-high number of candidates for the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) exam in the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Other credentials are becoming more attractive to accounting students who want to specialize in material outside of the CPA Exam or want to go into a field that requires a more diversified skill set. We expect this trend to continue into 2020, with more accounting students vying for CMA, CIA, and CISA credentialing to complement their degrees.

4. Continued Training in Data Analytics

Data analytics has been at the forefront of the accounting field for the last twenty years, and despite that long reign, analytics are going to be one of the top trends in accounting in 2020. The reality is that data analytics are used across a variety of accounting functions, and are constantly evolving and improving to meet the needs of the variety of industries employing them to make decisions.

Accountants working in audit need to know how to work with data analytics across clients, and those in industry need to know how to utilize data analytics within their role to ensure continued growth and innovation. Now is the time for current employees and students to evaluate their data analytics skills and figure out ways to ensure they’re up to date with the latest changes within the field.

5. Employees Familiar with Information Systems

There’s a good chance you took or are taking an Information Systems class as part of your college accounting curriculum, but the data is showing that may not be enough to set you apart when it comes to the real-world applications of information systems within the accounting industry. Having proven technology skills via a degree or certificate is going to be a key consideration for accounting students in 2020.

According to an article in the Journal of Accountancy, the number of non-accounting graduates hired into accounting functions rose 31% in 2018 as the demand for IT skills, particularly in audit, continues to increase. Current employees and students should consider the positive implications of adding information systems skills to their resumes via a certification or license, such as the CISA, or through formal education or training.

6. Knowledge of Automation and AI

Automation and AI are upending the audit function by significantly reducing the time spent on lower risk, higher data areas. Humans won’t physically audit transactional processes nearly as often, but will be more focused on higher-risk, higher skill-level areas of the audit process. Accordingly, accountants need to consider how to ensure automation and AI are doing their job correctly by evaluating the processes taking place at the transactional level, while also coming into the role with the higher skill set necessary to work within the higher risk areas of audit. Auditors also need to evaluate how these technologies will affect decision making at every level of the audit process, taking into account both the benefits and detriments of machine learning.

As these areas develop, it will no longer be necessary for a new staff member to “work their way up” through lower-risk areas to higher risk areas; they’ll need to have the skills necessary to do a more in-depth analysis as soon as they jump into a staff-level role. They also need to be familiar with automation and AI and its role in the audit process in general so they can participate in accurate decisionmaking and help design audit models around current technologies.

2020 is going to be an exciting year for the accounting field. Although once deemed a boring career, accountants are now working with dynamic and experimental technologies, making it a career that offers advancement and fulfillment for those willing to stay on top of current trends. If you’re looking at becoming an accountant or honing your current accounting skills, now may be the perfect time to look into a license that will boost your knowledge, help you grow, and prove to employers you’re ready for 2020.

Check out all of Surgent’s course offerings to help you decide which direction you want your career to take in the next exciting decade.

Megan Bierwirth graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2013 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Accounting and passed the CPA exam within 6 months of graduation. She worked in both public accounting and industry while becoming a CPA and now runs a virtual bookkeeping company focused on preventive, integrative and complementary medicine professionals.