Playing the Generation Game

The following article written by Bruce Claassen was published by the ICAEW within their “London Accountant Opinion" section in July 2017 (click here to go to their website).


"Generation X and Generation Y can learn from each other and help refine what it means to be an accountant, says LSCA Business Board member Bruce Claassen."

Generation X by age, my career to date has been spent within an environment characterised by new technologies, changing social landscapes and prolonged periods of economic uncertainty. Up until a few years ago this pace of change felt fairly ‘normal’, but recently it feels like everything’s been put into hyper drive.

The volume of literature analysing these changes to our profession is expanding rapidly, too. Of particular interest was a paper published in 2013 by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne titled “The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?” which predicted that accountants and auditors have a 0.94 probability of being replaced by computers within circa 20 years. Another recent article that I read added colour to how today’s young professionals (cue Generation Y) are responding and got me thinking more about where I'm headed myself.

Without wanting to generalise, today’s newly qualified accountant has grown up alongside the birth of social media platforms, 24/7 communication and an explosion in data-rich mobile devices. Their predisposition to change and thirst for real-time information is second to none.

Thinking about my career to date in parallel to how I lead and recruit for my teams today has helped me to refine what being an accountant means, so long as we’re all willing to broaden and update our skill set. As an X'er I need to educate myself in new technologies and adapt my ways of working accordingly, and younger Y'ers recruits need to actively seek out mentors and leverage the expertise and softer skills of their more experienced managers.

Traits of today’s successful finance professional include the ability to build trusted relationships and add insight that is not evident from raw data or technical rule books. It’s not enough to just be a “good accountant”.

Employers and training organisations need to understand the evolving motivating factors of employees of all ages and recruit, train and retain staff accordingly. It’s now 2017 and, with accountants being 20% closer to the computerisation deadline, our ability to modernise and develop ourselves the next generation is critical. How new entrants to our profession navigate through the next 20 years will likely be quite different to my first 20 years, as will how I think about my next 20!