If he had known that accounting would become as deeply and inextricably technology based as it has, the young Chris Badenhorst wouldn’t have had to agonise quite so much over his field of study. In the end he chose accounting but, of course, in the 21st century accounting is no longer just accounting. Rapid technology development has ensured that he now gets to live his passion for both disciplines
In conversation with Chris Badenhorst CA(SA), Managed Services Lead, Sonum Africa
What made you choose a career in accounting?
I almost didn’t! I was torn between accounting and IT. I know this will seem very odd to younger CAs because the two are now inseparable, but when I was choosing what to study it was either one or the other. I guess accounting won in the end because I saw it as a good foundation for business rather than an end in itself. I’ve always agreed with the adage that ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’ and with my accountant’s hat on, I see this every day in business. That said, I must admit that I am one of those people who love numbers, and I especially love what technology enables us to do with them.
Isn’t technology ultimately going to make accountants redundant?
Automation has long been taking over the routine and repetitive aspects of bookkeeping – things like data entry – but this is good news because it means that we humans can focus on the more interesting and stimulating aspects of the job. The more we can simplify and standardise processes, the more effective we can make the workforce.
At the highest level, there is so much more to accounting than number crunching. We have to interpret the numbers to serve the performance of the enterprise. To do that we have to understand the market, the business imperatives, the challenges and the opportunities facing the company.
It’s interesting to look at the skills that will be required in 2025. According to the World Economic Forum, these include innovation, creativity, originality, initiative, leadership and social influence. These skills are as far from robotic processing as it’s possible to be. And we all know that accountants have to be persuasive and good at negotiation. Technology can’t do that.
How different is accounting now than when you started in the profession?
The pressures on company boards and senior executives are very different from what they used to be. Technology enables us to connect finance and IT within the context of the business. Numbers are analysed so they can more directly inform business decisions and answer specific questions about strategic direction. The impact on stakeholders has to be considered at every turn. The speed at which business managers need to make decisions and analyse information is such that they are expected to have the answers to every question right at their fingertips. We give them the tools do their jobs more effectively.
So technology is all about information and speed?
Yes, but not only. Insight may be the greatest gift technology gives to business. It’s now possible to understand every bit of data you have about your customers and put that understanding to work in every aspect of your business to improve all round performance. Technology gives numbers power, and that, in turn, gives accountants power.
What do you see as the next big adjustment accountants will have to make?
In a competitive environment there is no place for the old to-do list mentality among the accounting fraternity. Often if you ask accountants how they’re doing the answer is likely to be ‘I’m very busy’. The reason for this is because they haven’t yet started to trust technology to help them with their ever-growing list of tasks and demands.
Technology is no longer an add-on. We live in a digital world and technology is increasingly inherent in business. There are so many ways in which it can help us manage the demands on our time. It is thanks to technology that the role of the accountant becomes more meaningful at the sharp end of the business where the key decisions are made. It doesn’t just make us better accountants, but also more professional workers who have time and capacity to look past the numbers and add real value to decisions around corporate performance management − from business planning and analytics to optimisation.
How far will digitalisation go?
I think it’s impossible to predict that. What I do know is that it’s not just finance that is digitalising. It’s happening in all departments because it’s becoming a lot easier to integrate and analyse data across the entire business. It’s no longer just financial analysis that is automated; predictive analytics and flexible business plans, which companies should be able to generate quickly, are increasingly becoming the norm in other disciplines too.
If you had to make the choice again, would you still choose accounting?
Definitely! While I love the role that accounting can play in enterprise performance and the difference that can be made by doing it well, in its purest form, I have a passion for financial systems and accounting. But accounting has also given me the foundation on which to apply the brilliance of technology and I really do feel I have the best of both worlds.