A new IMA Briefing spotlights some of the major trends anticipated for the accounting and finance profession this year. The briefing, by Raef Lawson, Ph.D., CMA, CSCA, CPA, IMA vice president of research and professor-in-residence, outlines the follow six trends for 2021 “driven by the upheavals of last year, and what they mean for how we work, how we learn, and how we manage our organizations in the years to come.”

Automation will accelerate: Organizations need, more than ever before, finance staff to look at the bigger picture and keep abreast of a volatile situation. It may take a major event to finally push companies over the edge on technological transformation, but once that line is crossed, there is no going back. Therefore, automation will continue to accelerate in 2021 and beyond. 

Remote working will become the norm for finance teams: As with automation, the technology that enables remote work existed before COVID-19, but for various reasons, was not fully adopted or embraced by senior leaders. With the pandemic forcing organizations’ staff to go remote, that has all changed. Unlike automation, remote work will probably become less prevalent in 2021 as the pandemic recedes and some employees return to offices. But as a long-term trend, and expectations among staff, it is here to stay. 

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting will become more important: The pandemic and the social justice protests of last summer have both broadened the range of pressing ESG issues and sharply heightened investor pressure. The role of finance teams will be to work cross-functionally across the organization to integrate financial with nonfinancial reporting, the subject of an IMA report from last year. 

Finance professionals will be held accountable for Enterprise Risk Management (ERM): Although COVID-19 was the ultimate “black swan” event, the pandemic taught organizations the need and value of having all manner of contingency plans in place. When it comes to ERM, the finance team has the most crucial role to play, having as it does unique insight into supply chains and financials, and being able to estimate the impact of different scenarios. 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) will be more of a competitive differentiator: IMA has always believed that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) are, first and foremost, the morally correct values for companies to pursue. But with enhanced public and investor activism since the social justice protests of 2020, DE&I will in 2021 become not just an ethical imperative but a differentiator in the market as companies disclose information that can make or break their reputations. 

There will be greater demand for upskilling and continuing education for professionals: The five trends mentioned above will spur the growing demand for upskilling. IMA has always advocated lifelong learning as a way for finance and accounting professionals to stay relevant in a changing world. The CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) certification is regularly updated to reflect the ever-changing demand for skills so that CMAs can retain a competitive edge in the job market. Companies, too, need to foster lifelong learning and upskilling for their finance staff if they are to successfully address the challenges of 2021 and beyond – and harness the opportunities. 

To see other IMA Briefing posts, please visit the IMA website.