Dennis Whitney, CMA, senior vice president at IMA, opened the conference with a presentation on data analytics. He commented on the future of the management accounting profession. “Credible sources such as the World Economic Forum, The Economist, Deloitte, Forrester Research, and Gartner are predicting up to 70% displacement of the more routine and repetitive finance and accounting job tasks by AI,” he said. “IMA urges CFOs and finance leaders to retool and reskill their workforce and management accountants to develop and sustain new competencies in the areas of data science and strategy.”

Finbarr Sexton, partner tax advisory at Ernst & Young talked about the risks and challenges businesses and accountants and finance professionals will face as the VAT is introduced in the region. Barely four months ahead of the tax’s implementation from January 1, 2018, the session had attendees eagerly asking questions to Sexton.

The conference also had two panel sessions where CFOs and finance leaders from the region’s most prominent businesses such as Saudi Aramco, Mubadala, Saudi Amiantit, Abu Dhabi Polymers Company Ltd (Borouge), First Abu Dhabi Bank, Dubai Airport Freezone Authority, and Al Sulaiman Group discussed the risks and challenges they face as the region deals with the current economic slowdown, increased competition, and emerging technologies.

“The evolution of knowledge is slow compared to the rapid pace of change in technology. Therefore, as finance leaders, we have to be quick and flexible in dealing with technological developments as business enablers and opportunities rather than threats to our current way of doing business,” said Dr. Ammr Kurdi, Group CFO at Amiantit Company based in Saudi Arabia.

Advances in automation and artificial intelligence have some accountants and financial professionals concerned about losing their jobs to machines. However, Loutfi Echhade, a leading financial advisor for family businesses in the MENA region expressed a different view.

“Now more than ever, family businesses in the Middle East which contribute 60% to GDP and employ over 80% of the workforce in the region need to find and keep qualified and competent  finance and accounting professionals to help them manage risks and face the ever-growing challenges of complying with government policies, regulations, and international standards including the introduction of tax in the region,” explained Echhade.

In a light-hearted but professionally relevant response, IMA launched a new integrated advertising and communications campaign for the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) certification program. The campaign emphasizes the strategic value of CMAs in the face of increasing automation while embracing “augmented” intelligence, such as robotics, to create even greater value for organizations.

“Preparing professionals for the future is not just a campaign; it is integral to IMA’s vision and mission. The CMA prepares professionals for these challenges by enabling them to both improve an organization’s performance and create a competitive advantage,” said IMA President and CEO Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE, during the campaign launch in New York City this month. To view the 30-second TV spot, visit: https://youtu.be/qzPSEyYXnAM

Meanwhile, Reem Al Anbari, CFO of Borouge and the only woman in the panel session had a clear message for the young generation of women who aspire to take leadership roles and help shape the region’s economy in the future.

“There is no reason why you cannot become great finance leaders in the future. You have all the advantages our generation did not have. You are ambitious, you are equipped with state-of-the-art education, and you are comfortable with technology,” said Al Anbari, who was named the Woman of the Year at last year’s Oil & Gas Middle East and Refining & Petrochemicals Awards for serving as a role model for young women eager to build their career in the field of finance and accounting.

To date, IMA has more than 14,000 members across the Middle East, Africa, and India, mainly comprised of finance and accounting professionals working in business. These professionals are committed to advancing their careers and further professional development as the industry integrates robotics and automation.

About IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants)
IMA, the association of accountants and financial professionals in business, is one of the largest and most respected associations focused exclusively on advancing the management accounting profession. Globally, IMA supports the profession through research, the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) program, continuing education, networking and advocacy of the highest ethical business practices. IMA has a global network of more than 90,000 members in 140 countries and 300 professional and student chapters. Headquartered in Montvale, N.J., USA, IMA provides localized services through its four global regions: The Americas, Asia/Pacific, Europe and Middle East/India. For more information about IMA, please visit https://imamiddleeast.org/.

SOURCE IMA (Institute of Management Accountants)

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