New research has revealed what the accounting workplace will look like in the future, and what you will need to be part of it.
Developing extra skills above and beyond your studies is a smart move that will make you more valuable to employers
In the fast-changing working environment of an accounting technician, continuous professional development is vital. While your accounting qualification will set you on the right track, additional skills in the areas of communication, data analysis, and advisory-based services will also be extremely important as you seek to further your career.
The work will change and tasks will be replaced. But computers will not do away with the need for financial understanding. Knowledge of basic accounting and bookkeeping will remain the number one skill.
Automation and a new approach
A finance manager for Boots UK told researchers: “As more suppliers sign up to electronic invoicing, and the core systems become more established and uniform within companies, there should be a need for fewer junior ledger staff. A number of roles will become redundant, but some new roles will be created.”
Also on the positive side, the machines that will be doing some of the work you do now will provide additional tools that enable you to do more with the rest of your skills. “It won’t be the case that there will no longer be accounting technicians,” says Jonathan Millet, CEO of Block3, a blockchain technology company. “You are the last line of defence, and you can use this technology as a mechanic would. So, you are there to tweak it and to iterate and improve on where it’s allocated.”
It’s worth bearing in mind that the emphasis you put on each skill area should depend on where you are based. UK respondents placed higher importance on communication skills compared with those outside the UK (65% vs 37%). Outside of the UK, the emphasis is on analysis, with 60% of overseas accountants dubbing it “extremely important”,
versus 51% in the UK.
Understanding accounting techniques has no value if accounting technicians are unable to communicate that understanding. That’s why effective communication skills are the most essential thing that accounting technicians need to learn, insists Mark Lee, an accountant, and futurist for the sector. “Whether you’re working in practice or finance, you need to be able to communicate knowledge, information, and numbers to your clients,” he explains.
Khaled Ghalayini, a global business development executive at banking software company Temenos, agrees. “A set of soft skills, such as adaptability and excellent human interaction, coupled with technical knowledge including key data analytics form the necessary combination of skills for the success of accounting technicians in the future.”
Practice makes permanent
Computers will be able to do a lot more than they can at the moment, and the speed at which they’re developing is ever-increasing, Mark adds. “However, there are some things that they won’t be able to do. The sooner you can upskill yourself in order to future-proof your career, the better,” he says. “People who can drive a car make it look really easy, but in reality, it takes time to learn. That’s the same with communication – it looks easy, but it isn’t. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make permanent.”
To improve your communication skills, try:
- Communicating for Professional Success – an online short course run by writer, lecturer and consultant, Anna Faherty.
- Certificate in Presentation and Public Speaking Skills – a short course run by the London School of Business and Finance.
- Making Monthly Reports Worth Reading – an online short course run by Ross Maynard, fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.
Data analytics is essential – as is context, says Alastair Barlow, co-founder of Flinder, an accounting practice that has modelled itself as a modern finance function. “With the pace of change at the moment, accountants will need some transformation skills,” he states. “There will be a need for accountants to introduce new technology, with the skills that come with that – change management, data integration, and so on.
System implementations should appear on your CV somewhere. Mid-level accountants will also need to have an understanding of commercial sensibilities and business needs because ultimately, finance must be closer to the rest of the business.”
If accountants develop a skill set in data, says Alastair, they will become significantly more attractive to employers. “You want to be able to understand that data and be able to have better conversations with the business about the business, not about finance,” he adds.
A reliable source of knowledge
David Elms, customer experience director and co-founder at StatementReader, undertook extracurricular database and data analysis projects to explore and develop his interest in data analysis. He very quickly became the ‘go-to’ Excel expert within his team, which gave him the edge during appraisals and promotion opportunities at work.
“I became a reliable source of data analytics knowledge, and I was seen as a significant asset to the firm,” David explains. “In fact, my previous company started introducing me to senior stakeholders when they needed data advice.”
To improve your data analysis skills, try:
- Data Science for Executives – a five-day intensive course run by the London School of Economics and Political Science.
- Analysing Statistics with Excel – a one-day seminar run by the BPP Professional Education Group.
- Data Analysis for Accountants: Power BI – an online short-course run by Paula Guilfoyle, Excel and Power BI specialist and accountant.
Increasing numbers of accountancy firms are moving towards advisory-based services in response to client demand and the commoditisation of compliance functions. Research from Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting last year revealed this so-called “advisory evolution” is also driven by clients needing help to navigate their business through uncertain times.
Dean Shepherd, lead product manager for compliance at Wolters Kluwer, says the current climate presents a real opportunity. As uncertainty is a genuine problem, a good adviser can help clients future-proof their businesses. At the same time, clients now expect proactive, real-time advice and insight.
“Clients want more than just numbers,” says Lynne Walker, head of business advisory at Johnston Carmichael. “Do they want to know the numbers? No, they want to know the reasons behind the numbers and what they can do about it.”
Accounting businesses that fail to embrace advisory could face a “dramatic fall in revenue”, warns Steve Freeman, head of motor at MHA MacIntyre Hudson. With compliance increasingly replaced by automation and AI, firms will have a “race to the bottom” in terms of value. “Firms who don’t embrace advisory will just become dinosaurs.”
Within a few years, clients will need less help with everything that accountants have typically done in the past, says accounting futurist Mark Lee. “AAT advisers have to understand that what the client really wants is advice on how to grow their business and manage their finances,” he says.
“AAT members are better placed to be those advisers than chartered accountants are, perhaps because of the difference in syllabus, but also because AAT marketing attracts a particular type of accountant. I think they’re more likely to adapt faster than chartered accountants.”
To improve your advisory skills, try:
- How to Win New Business and Develop Relationships – a one-day course run by the BPP Professional Education Group.
- Improving Business Profits – a short online course run by John Taylor, a specialist author and lecturer.
- Commercial Skills for Finance – a one-day course run by the
- BPP Professional Education Group
- 5 ways to thrive in times of crisis
- Start exploring the AAT Learning Portal today
- How to keep what you’ve learned and carry on
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