CPA Canada FORESIGHT: a possible future?

CPA Canada has recently been engaged in an initiative it terms “FORESIGHT”

Here’s some of the accompanying narrative:

  • Are You Ready to Imagine a Possible Future?
  • CPA Canada introduces FORESIGHT, an initiative that brings CPAs and the broader business community together to discuss the industry’s most relevant issues, like obsolescence by automation, predicting future skillsets and more.
  • CPA Canada FORESIGHT builds on CPA Canada’s Drivers of Change: Navigating the Future work to help organizations better understand and respond to global trends, including economic, environmental, technological, geopolitical, and societal shifts.
  • CPA Canada FORESIGHT is an innovative and inclusive dialogue that combines in-person roundtables with an open digital conversation…
  • CPA Canada FORESIGHT will enable key stakeholders to work together to construct alternative scenarios for the future of the accounting profession. Scenario construction, combined with effective dialogue, is a proven methodology for challenging assumptions about what the future holds, exploring uncertainties, reframing risks and opportunities, developing and stress-testing strategies, and finding common ground.

The digital conversation piece of the initiative is organized around a series of questions or challenges: 31 of them at the time of writing. The first was “What do you see as the most significant challenges facing the profession in the next 10 years?”; the most recent as I write is “What does the business community – our employers, our clients, our investors or other stakeholders – need from us as CPAs?” My unscientific survey suggests that the earlier, broader questions provoked the most active response; later more specific challenges often haven’t had much take-up. Still, according to an article in Canadian Accountant, there have been more than 1,200 contributors to date (inevitably, some of these aren’t so helpful – for instance “I HAVE NO IDEA IN THIS TOPIC REGARDING” or “Beck colour,” perhaps implying that the answers are all to be found in Colors, the 2017 album by the artist of that name). Other contributors participated in an earlier series of roundtables. The conversations are bunched into the following four “quadrants”:

  • Slow and Steady – “A world where strong institutions guide decisions based on careful analysis: conservative, prudent, consensus-driven, standards-based.”
  • Phoenix Rising – “A world where calamity inspires global cooperation and technology is harnessed for the common good: equitable, integrated, regulated, redistributive.”
  • Tech Titans – “A world where ‘wild west’ innovation thrives with few regulatory impediments: dynamic, competitive, un-equal.”
  • My Way – “A world where communities turn inward to protect local interests: protectionist, fragmented, community-focused.”

Leaving aside that a couple of those titles may evoke bad Bruce Willis movies, the quadrants appear to sufficiently map out the landscape’s prevailing uncertainties and tensions. Standard setters and regulators essentially proceed, I suppose, on the basis of a “slow and steady” scenario, despite dutiful acknowledgments of changing times and disruptive forces (as one commentator succinctly put it “’slow and steady’ may be interpreted as nothing ever gets done”): it’s astonishing how many times I’ve had to point out on this blog how some initiative or other fails to adequately take into account evolving technologies, user mentalities and so on. This of course doesn’t stop the phoenixes from rising or the tech titans from doing whatever verb best applies to tech titans – it just widens the long-existing “no one reads the financial statements anyway”- type fracture in the landscape between theory and practice, between the overseers fighting the last war and the practitioners already in the midst of the next one.

In another Canadian Accountant article, a CPA Canada representative noted: “there are four global flows: people, trade, financial and data. We’ve got governance around the flow of people through immigration policy. We’ve got governance in the flow of trade through trade agreements and the World Trade Organization. And we’ve got governance around the flow of financials through the banking regulations.” The suggestion is that data lacks a comparable governance structure, and that this holds an opportunity for the accounting profession. Perhaps true, but if one considers the strife and controversy and perceived grievances attaching to at least two of those existing structures (immigration and trade), it may not be an opportunity that will be easily claimed and monetized.

On one of the “My Way” strands, someone suggested that: “We are seeing a degradation of our democratic systems empowered by apathy and algorithms that are providing us with information the systems we use think we want to know instead of objective and well-rounded research. Leadership is extremely important. So is where that leadership comes from (us).” Of course, that’s not CPA Canada’s problem to fix entirely, but I agree that a horrific gulf exists between the strands of progressive intelligence discernible in individuals and entities and the wretched collective state of governing structures. I quoted CPA Canada above as citing the search for common ground, and of course that’s laudable, but common ground too often means a liberal consensus that in practice gets persistently undermined by populist carelessness. The real test of the FORESIGHT initiative will be in what happens when the conversation ends, and in how much earth it’s willing to scorch…

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author

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