Certainly, the basic aspects of what it means to be an accountant have remained consistent for hundreds of years. But, while the act of managing a record of credits and debits has remained fixed, accountants have to adjust for changes in trends, accounting software, and rules that govern the world they work in.
As we look over the future of accounting, there are some areas wherein accountants will need to cultivate skills in an effort to remain relevant and competitive in their industry. The key to a long, successful career is not just a matter of honing the hard skills needed to get the job done, but also of working to shape the soft skills that will best complement the technical experience an accountant has.
Becoming a Data Whiz
Accountants have always relied upon data. Looking at sets of information has always provided meaningful insights in terms of the nature of the entities accountants represent. But, technology is making it easier not only to collect more types of data but also to make that data more accessible.
Additionally, technology provides ways for accountants to seamlessly include data into their work.
According to Forbes’ Nick Chandi, “One of the most noticeable changes (artificial intelligence is bringing to AI) is affecting compliance, which is seeing the way data is handled and processed become completely automated. This is enabling accounting pros to get reliable and fast data included in every tax report they generate. Automated data entry is now the rule for those after maximum efficiency.”
Thus, successful accountants in the future will be those who are not only willing to rely on data for better insights but also work to translate it into helpful, actionable pieces of information. And because of the agency provided by automation, accountants will know with confidence that data is correct.
Fostering Communication Skills
An accountant can have all the experience, training, and intuition in the world, but if that accountant lacks the ability to relay that information to others well, they’re not going to be effective in their role. Thus, the way that accountants communicate with others will need to evolve at a rate that fits the current climate.
“Because accounting is an intrinsic part of any business, good communication skills are vital in this area. Important financial tasks such as budget preparation and reporting, bill paying, payroll, and recording income need to be presented properly to management and others to be useful and meaningful,” writes Sheila Shanker for the Small Business Chronicle.
Accountants have to consistently assess whether or not they’re communicating in a way that makes sense within the context of their specific position. The job doesn’t end when accounts are squared away. Instead, effective professionals will ensure their coworkers and clients have an understanding of their financials that allows them to make smart choices.
According to Arizona State University’s assessment of workplace communication, “A workplace can only function with effective communication. Professionals today need to answer: How can I communicate well? Manage conflict? Persuade others?”
For accountants, these questions ring even truer given the fact that if an accountant fails to do these things well, not only will they jeopardize their personal career potential, they’ll also jeopardize the future of the organization as a whole.
Accountants not only need to be able to relate well to their coworkers, but they also need to have an understanding of customer service and communication. Whether an accountant works as a freelancer or as part of a team of other professionals, accountants have to consider their role as the face of their brand.
The customer experience experts at Freshdesk point out, “Customer experience is expected to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020.” Like everybody else, accountants who are invested in participating in a meaningful way with their market will have to pay attention to this reality.
Accountants have to recognize that expanding their technical know-how is not the only thing needed. Instead, they need to work on both professional communication and even the interpersonal skills required to effectively communicate.
Becoming a Cyber Security Ninja
Cybersecurity is an issue that wreaks havoc on every industry under the sun. Major retailers, credit reporting agencies, and even the government have fallen victim to the efforts of cybercriminals.
Accounting is no different. In their overview of cybercrime, the criminal justice professionals at the University of Cincinnati note that half of the data records stolen are financial. In June of this year, Russian hackers were specifically targeting U.S. accounting firms.
Accountants have a responsibility to equip themselves with the knowledge needed to prevent needless cybersecurity risks. Safeguarding information is never something that occurs inadvertently.
Instead, successful security will always include:
- The information must be kept confidential from all except necessary parties
- Precise safeguards must be in place to protect data
- Data must be accessible to clients in a secure way
- Data must be protected from unauthorized changes
- Data must be destroyed properly and with the right permissions
Accountants who are handling information in the digital realm must be aware of the reality that even seemingly minor oversights can be detrimental to the security of their clients the organizations they represent as a whole. Thus, accountants who work to foster keen cybersecurity know-how will be taking the necessary steps to ensure they have an advantage in their field.
Adaptability is a skill that has perhaps never been so vital in accounting. Every industry on the planet is being touched by the digital age, thus there’s a fear among many that technology will replace human expertise.
However, accounting is a field wherein human experience and wisdom matter a great deal; accountants bring those assets to their workplaces — along with their technical skills — on a daily basis.
While organizations across industries are continually adopting more new technology they’re also recognizing the value of humans. Elon Musk recently made headlines for acknowledging that excessive automatization was slowing Tesla down. “Humans are underrated,” he wrote on the issue.
Thus, accountants would do well not to fear the digital frontier but rather to cultivate adaptability in the pursuit of moving the profession forward and equipping themselves to do the best job they can in the current technology-minded marketplace.
For example, the reality that AP automation decreases 80 percent of the workload relating to accounts payable is going to mean that automation and accounting increasingly are paired. Or, the fact that the majority of top executives believe artificial intelligence will give a competitive advantage and boost productivity means accountants need to adapt in an effort to utilize the emerging technology.
“Adaptability is the personality trait that helps determine how you respond to change. High adaptability equals more business success,” wrote Shirley Tan for business.com.
Essentially, accountants who learn to roll with the punches are giving themselves a professional leg up. While one’s aptitude to successfully complete the basic requirements of the job will always be a vital factor, what is also of significance is that accounting professionals consistently strive to evolve to fit current trends and expectations.
Gaining a competitive edge is largely related to one’s willingness to go above and beyond the basics of the job description and in doing so make themselves a priceless asset within an organization.