The future of talent in the accountancy profession
When we speak of talent in business, we think of different skills people have which allow them to successfully achieve their goals in a company. Through our experience and constant interaction with different employers in the current market, we see a clear shift in the skills that were required in the past to the skills that will be required in the future.
Company requirements are changing, especially for the accountancy profession. We are seeing a transition in company requirement from skills that are more technical in nature to what we call “the human touch”. We observe that, today, focusing on the technical accounting skills only, is simply not enough for someone to succeed in an accounting career. While technical knowledge is essential and someone who does not like to crunch some numbers is unlikely to make it in this field, technical expertise on its own might not allow an accountant to advance and achieve the career they were expecting.
With advances in technology, the accounting profession is also going through many changes as some duties are being taken over by automated systems while others are being enhanced through technology. With this going on, it is of utmost importance for the accountancy profession to develop the right soft skills that cannot be automated or replicated by a machine. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation should not be seen as a threat, but as an opportunity to make us more efficient. We should use this to our advantage and identify where the human touch is essential for a role to be performed successfully. Before, accountants had to take care of the coding, data entry and repetitive tasks related to accounting in order to be able to analyse data, but today, technology is allowing accountants to focus on more value-added services. This means that enhancing the soft skills is now more important than ever before.
Due to changing regulations, a big chunk of the accountants’ time is being spent on compliance work. This is leaving little time for them to give advice, which, is ultimately what benefits clients the most. In a study on accounting firms in Australia, conducted by a global research company, IPSOS, it was found that 62% of accountants’ time was spent working on compliance and only 38% of the time was focused on giving advice. Compliance should not inhibit or take over the relationship accountants create with clients. Accountants need to embrace developments in technology as a resource that will assist in the compliance and data analysis aspect of accountancy. This will leave time and space for more strategic development, decision-making and building lasting relationships. Human intelligence will be very difficult to be replaced by a machine and, although automation has surely eliminated certain roles in this field, other, more meaningful, positions have been created in the process; enhancing the profession for accountants who have the right skillset in place.
Developing the right soft skills for this profession to succeed is essential. Soft skills essential for the future of talent in the accountancy profession do not focus only on attention to detail and organisational skills, which were the most sought-after skills up till recent years. Together with these important criteria we need to see more of the following:
Communication – The accountant is no longer that person who sits behind a computer working with numbers. Being good with numbers is crucial, but more important than that, is the ability to interpret these numbers, provide insight to others and communicate the figures in a way that is understandable to different members of the company who are not necessarily numbers-savvy.
Communication also involves being confident enough to chair a meeting and present the results to senior management while giving meaningful advice which will affect the future of the business.
Creativity – The accountancy profession cannot rely on routine. With the impact of political, economic, socio-cultural, environmental and other external influences, keeping up-to-date with changes taking place around us is important. The accountant needs to be creative in developing fresh ideas and finding new strategies to resolve unique issues.
Adaptability – With accounting evolving in such a fast-paced way, accountants need to be able to adapt and show flexibility in their approach to succeed in their profession. This means adapting to changing environments, using new software and creating new reporting strategies, amongst others.
Adaptability is also shown in the way accountants are able to listen to others and understand the needs and concerns of the clients, be it internal or external.
Leadership – Apart from leading teams, accountants need to lead companies forward. As leaders, accountants need to be accountable for their actions and have clearly set goals. They need to be able to lead high-performance teams as well as mentor and coach other members and provide them with the help they need to improve on their weaknesses.
Decision Making – Accounting provides insight that enables management teams to take important decisions for the future of a business. Being able to guide companies in the right direction is key in accounting. Due to the sensitivity of this role, being forthright when giving advice is also essential.
When looking at accountants who managed to succeed in this field, we see people who, apart from possessing these soft skills, also demonstrate a general understanding of other functions within the organisation. This includes a good grasp of operations, marketing, communications and human resources within the company. Accountants and accounting managers will generally be dealing with people coming from different backgrounds and working within different departments. It is, therefore, crucial for them to be able to relate and gain the trust and respect of these individuals.
Talent is further developed through ongoing training. Through our interaction with various companies we meet professional accountants who can take a leap in their career by developing and sharpening their soft skills. The need to keep on learning in this continuously changing profession is essential. Digital technologies are evolving, and accountants need to be able to provide insight, not only on the numbers themselves, but more importantly on what these numbers mean to the company and the implications they bring. Keeping up to date with both the technical changes as well as developing the soft skills further keeps accountants up to scratch with this evolving market. Accountants who are ready to invest in developing themselves will have a competitive advantage in the future working environment.