It’s an interesting time to be an accountant. Troublesome headlines proclaim the demise of many accounting jobs as technology becomes better and better at automating transactional accounting tasks and compliance work. That’s a frightening prospect for accountants whose skills have never evolved past reconciling transactions, entering data into tax returns, or ticking and tying numbers on a spreadsheet. But for most professionals, it’s an opportunity to free up time previously spent on these routine tasks and redirect it towards providing real value to clients.
Some members of our profession are ready to step up to a new role as business analysts and advisors. But others in your firm might need to refine those skills that can’t be replaced by machines. Those skills fall into the following two broad categories:
Of course, proficiency with accounting specific software has long been a prerequisite for most positions within an accounting firm. However, as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation become more prevalent in firms of all sizes, accountants will need to develop the skills that will help them succeed with these emerging technologies.
- Understanding process. Knowing how to set the technology up correctly and monitor it to ensure it is operating effectively.
- Communicating with technologists such as data scientists, big data specialists, and data analysts. Accountants will need to collaborate with technology experts who do not have a background in accounting, auditing or tax to gather the necessary data to deliver intelligence.
- Data analytics. Accountants need to know how to analyze data for business insights, as well as communicate results to clients.
The technically brilliant accountant who can crunch numbers and recall tax codes and audit standards
from memory will see their employment value diminish if they lack vital soft skills that help them solve client problems.
- Emotional intelligence. Being able to understand the client and what they need and motivate them to follow advice.
- Creativity. The ability to look outside the box to identify opportunities.
- Credibility and integrity. Gain clients’ trust so they are willing to provide confidential information and place the financial health of their business in the accountant’s hands.
- Communication. Ability to express information and ideas to clients and colleagues in writing, verbally and through visuals.
- Collaboration. Client service will depend on a cross-functional team of niche experts.
Accountants will still be relied upon to produce accurate financial information and tax returns, but technology will generate the numbers. Accountants will analyze their significance and provide clients with advice for enhancing long term performance.
That’s a shift that will appeal to younger generations who graduate from college and enter the workforce expecting to see innovation and desiring more exciting work than the data entry and routine tasks that have traditionally made up on-the-job training.
Currently, universities and even professional certification programs are not equipped to deliver all of the skills accountants need to be successful in a profession that is being disrupted by technology. Accountants and their firms will need to invest in developing these skills on their own.
Interested in learning more about the skills accountants need for the future and how to acquire them? Download Boomer Consulting, Inc.’s Non-Accounting Skills Every Accountant Needs white paper, by Sandra Wiley and Amanda Wilkie, to start automation-proofing your career today.