The accountant of the future – what key qualities do you need?

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What are the key skills and assets an accountant needs to thrive and grow in our rapidly changing industry?

Four of the keynote speakers at this year’s AAT Annual Conference share their insights.

Shane Lukas is a consultant who helps practices become more successful and enjoyable to run. He’s speaking on the key theme of practice development and growth, helping members launch and run their own businesses.

Practice development and growth

  • Ask great questions. Get away from the office – go and talk to your clients and listen to what they have to say. What is it about your client’s work that they enjoy most – and least? How can you best help them? You don’t have to have all the answers straightaway, but learn how to ask the right questions.
  • Develop leadership skills and good people skills in general. Build a culture within the practice where the team are passionate about what’s on offer. What’s your mission? What’s the vision for your practice? If you think like this from the beginning, you’ll succeed. Don’t see your role as just about earning an income. Know what your values are, identify what’s unique about you and know what you want to achieve. Get that right from the beginning, and you’ll attract the kind of clients who will be best for you – and you’ll attract the right people to recruit as well.
  • Have a growth model. You may well start as a one-person-band – and that’s fine – but know that the priorities change as you develop. Have plans for where you want to be in three and five years’ time. Position yourself appropriately in the marketplace and promote yourself as much as you can – get on social media, and design your website to ensure your vision, values, purpose and personality all shine through. Otherwise, you are just another accountant. Show how you can help your clients’ businesses grow – don’t just say what you do, say how it will change things.

Accounting in business

At Finance Training Academy, Andi Lonnen is Founder and CEO – Chief Energising Officer, as she calls it! She’s speaking on accounting in businessskills and development for people working for an employer.

  • Connect with people – both in the organisation, and clients too. So many accountants (myself included in early days) simply produce numbers and reports, not connecting them to the organisation and with no connection with employees and what it means to them. To do this, develop effective communication skills – no more financial jargon, techno-lingo or throwing a ton of numbers at people. Simple, clear communication is the way forward.
  • Be forward thinking. Look for the opportunities, be proactive, delight your customers (clients or in-house managers), look at various scenarios using different assumptions and add some real value. Never stop learning – keep yourself up to date, read, learn new skills, meet new people, network and enrich your thinking. This can only enhance your career.
  • Know how to add value. You’ll be standing head and shoulders above everyone else if you do! If you’re in management, lead by example and encourage your team to do the same. Walk the floor, job shadow, connect the dots between what happens in the rest of the organisation. Listen to what your non-financial colleagues talk about; that will give you clues on how you can help them better. Tailor your reports and communication to what really matters to them.

Technology and innovation

Brian Palmer is Tax Policy Adviser at AAT. He’s speaking on technology and innovation – how it’s helping accountants progress from compliance work to a business adviser function.

  • Be a good listener. Really hear what your clients are saying. They are the people doing the work, they have a unique insight into their industry and it’s highly likely they’ll spot gaps in the market that others haven’t seen. So, listen to them and respect what they’re saying – even if it might initially seem surprising or you have to think laterally to keep up with them.
  • Be open-minded and adaptable. Let’s take AI as an example. Yes, it could make certain jobs redundant in time – reconciliations and some bookkeeping functions. But, for those who can adapt, it creates opportunities to operate in a much more interesting space. It gives you the chance to become a consultant – you can advise clients in real time, which is a huge leap forward. In the past, looking at the figures six months after year-end means it’s far too late for clients to do anything about it – but now they can.
  • Meet customer needs. Clients shouldn’t have to fit into the accountant’s mould – don’t force them into your systems and processes. Design a system that is bespoke to the client and create a good customer experience for them. There’s much more value to be created from helping clients flexibly – you can interpret figures and help to make adjustments that will feed through to help them increase profits and reduce costs.

Technical updates

Karen Thomson is Payroll Director at ArmstrongWatson. At this year’s conference she’ll be providing essential technical updates in areas such as tax, payroll, financial accounting and reporting.

  • Stay up to date. Accounting is an industry that changes so rapidly. For example, for accountants offering payroll services you need to know the intricacies of GDPR. There’s a lot of scaremongering doing the rounds when looking at GDPR – but it’s crucial that accountancy practices look at what data is held, know why you are holding it and question whether you still need to hold it. If a client leaves, for example, don’t hold onto the payroll data. Give the former client the file, and then delete. It saves having to write to employees to say you are holding onto the data just in case!
  • Have a digital strategy to move clients from paper to secure data portals and e-payslips. Use systems that can go the extra mile for reporting purposes and nominal ledgers.
  • Know what legislation is coming up. For example, from 2019 BEIS is going to require employers to show hours and rates of pay on payslips where employees’ pay has varied as a result of the time worked. This itemised pay statement is the kind of thing that clients may not like, but which you as an accountant need to be aware of.

This year’s AAT Annual Conference takes place on 7-8 June at the De Vere Beaumont Estate, Old Windsor. The four contributors to this article are all speaking – plus there’s a wealth of workshops giving advice and guidance and unrivalled networking opportunities.

Mark Blayney Stuart is Business Journalist of the Year, Wales Media Awards 2017 and Former Head of Research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

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