Original Research

The role of management accounting in human capital management: Lessons from the services sector

Cornelis T. van der Lugt
South African Journal of Business Management | Vol 55, No 1 | a4223 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajbm.v55i1.4223 | © 2024 Cornelis T. van der Lugt | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 August 2023 | Published: 29 February 2024

About the author(s)

Cornelis T. van der Lugt, Stellenbosch Business School, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa


Purpose: The article examines the role of management accounting in managing human capital, a key intangible asset for services sectors. Considering new expectations regarding the role of management accountants and human resource professionals, the article explores the ability of the disciplines to collaborate in becoming more strategic.

Design/methodology/approach: The article considers literature on the evolution of the two disciplines, including archetype views on the role of management accountants, and presents case study analysis of a German information technology firm and a Dutch bank. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with senior managers from both the companies.

Findings/results: From the interviews, it appeared that management accountants play the role of business partner but stop short of acting as comprehensive integrator of human capital information. While both companies have innovated in measuring and valuing human capital, human resources and finance analytics teams tend to work on their own and accountants remain ad hoc advisors.

Practical implications: Efforts to refine the business case and value human capital fail to fully mainstream, as collaboration across departments remain loose. Innovations in soft management controls leave an impression of loose coupling between subsystems rather than comprehensively planned and integrated soft management control systems.

Originality/value: The study defines complementarity between two disciplines, both seeking to account for and manage intangible assets more effectively. It concludes with lessons for researchers and practitioners on the development action-to-value pathways, improving non-financial metrics and purposefully shaping soft control systems.


management accounting; human capital; strategic human resource management; intangible assets; management control systems

JEL Codes

M10: General; M12: Personnel Management • Executives; Executive Compensation; M41: Accounting

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth


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