Brave new work: understanding how cutting-edge practices work

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If you want to stand out and land the best jobs in modern accountancy, you’ll need to know how cutting-edge practices operate…

Companies that have adopted new ways of working are desperate for accountants who are willing to adapt and embrace new things. If you can get your head around the way these companies want you to work, you’ll be at a distinct advantage when it comes to landing a job. So here are four crucial ways in which accountancy has changed.

It’s faster paced

Technology allows us all to increase the speed at which we work. In accountancy, technology means you can have access to completely up-to-date financial information in a few clicks.
It means you can compile reports for clients and stakeholders and respond to them on the same day, which is how people increasingly want accountants to work.

“These days, when someone emails in with a question, they expect a reply straight away, whereas in a traditional firm somebody might not go back to them for a while,” says Alex Falcon Huerta, founder of Soaring Falcon Accountancy.
“You need to consider the fact that a client is working on their business, and we’re trusted with their financial information, so we need to respond to them in a timely manner, not a week or two later. It should be an instant thing.”

It’s more collaborative

Technology has made collaboration in the workplace easier, and that’s having a particularly major impact on accountants.

In many organisations across the private, public and non-profit sectors, the finance business partner model is applied; accountants on the team are assigned departments to work closely with.

For example, you might be assigned to work with the sales and marketing teams, or procurement. Your job is to understand those teams’ goals, problems and place within the business, and to provide them with advice and support to help them improve. If you’re working in practice, collaboration with clients is about understanding their goals, problems and opportunities, and working with them to grow their business in the right way. “We work with SMEs, and a lot of them, because of where we’re based, want to work in the morning and go surfing in the afternoon,” says Andrew Sullivan, director of Plymouth-based practice Numbers (UK) Ltd.

“We ask for a set of goals to meet over three to five years. They can be business-based or they can be personal. A lot of people say they want to work fewer hours, pay off their mortgage, make more profit or spend more time with their kids. So we set goals with the client and agree how we’re going to help them achieve them.”

It’s more creative

No, we don’t mean ‘more creative’ as in ‘creative accounting’ – it’s more about problem solving.

With so much contemporaneous data at your fingertips, your financial knowledge can be channelled into helping people overcome difficulties, become more efficient and even achieve their dreams.

“One of our clients came to us and said: ‘I’ve always wanted to own the local pub,’” says Sullivan. “That was a bit of a weird one, but we had to work out how we were going to make sure that the business had got enough profit so that, over a number of years, we could accumulate that profit so he could buy the pub.

He knew the lease on the pub was going to be up in five years, so he wanted to be ready to make an offer to take over the lease.” A lot of this comes down to your ability to read financial data. “If I look at a balance sheet, I can see where the company is currently, and I can make an educated guess about where the company is going to go,” says Amin. “

It’s more sociable

Farnell Clarke has its own pub in the office, The Tax and Pounds. It’s a fun perk for staff, but it actually plays a bigger part in the firm than that. It acts as a cultural signpost for staff and clients that helps to differentiate the firm from competitors. “Part of our culture is directly linked to our brand,” says founder Will Farnell.

The people in an organisation are a huge part of its culture, and accounting and finance teams are starting to get wise to that. “We really base our recruitment decisions on human skills and soft skills,” says Sullivan.

These days, the work you do will involve a lot more socialising with clients or stakeholders than it might have done in the past. That might be an intimidating thought, particularly if you tend to be introverted. But you can actually teach yourself to be more comfortable in social situations, and, if you’re introverted, you may in fact be better placed to socialise effectively – generally, introverted people are better listeners.

All this applies to in-house teams as well – their work increasingly requires them to be chatty, open and sociable, and to listen to people’s problems. And clarity is key. “Your communication should be clear, free of jargon and not patronising,” adds accountant and mentor Anna Goodwin. “I’ve spoken to other accountants and not understood what they’ve meant – and that’s as a qualified accountant myself!”

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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