3 qualities modern accountants need

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In a time where the political landscape is shifting in unexpected ways and Making Tax Digital and auto-enrolment are upon us, the role of the accountant is less predictable than ever.

The days of just preparing the accounts and doing an annual tax return are long gone. The modern accountant is adaptable, innovative and people focused. Clients are looking for advisers who can help their businesses navigate an increasingly uncertain financial world with a knowledge of technology and an empathy for their challenges.

AAT has announced the shortlist of its first Professional Member Awards, recognising excellence in the profession. All the candidates embody the qualities of a modern accountant.

Mark Farrar, Chief Executive of AAT and an Awards judge, felt that the willingness of the shortlist to embrace new technology and prepare for a digital future set them apart.

“The enthusiasm of our membership to embrace cloud software and new technology, while delivering the practical financial skills that most businesses need, was heartening.”

1. Technology savvy

The greatest shake-up to the industry is the move to Making Tax Digital. Savvy accountants see the change as an opportunity to provide quality business guidance rather than remain focused on compliance work.

“The rationale behind MTD is sound. We are, after all, living in a digital age. Yes of course we will lose a lot of compliance work but is that the sort of work we really want to do? Would you not prefer to be harnessing the power of the software of tomorrow and making use of the richer data available through apps and third-party software?” says AAT tax policy adviser Brian Palmer.

Mark Rowland, editor of Accounting Technician and an Awards judge agrees. “The Awards shortlist demonstrated a real drive to be more innovative and inventive, not just in the way they delivered their core services, but also in the way that they ran their businesses and as finance professionals. Office design, being able to sell themselves online and taking responsibility for important modernisation projects for their employers were just some of the ways AAT members are leading from the front when it comes to innovation.”

2. Connected

Working with just the numbers, separate from the business or people you are working for, is an outdated approach to accounting. Relationship building is pivotal to the responsibility and success of a modern accountant who strives to influence the decision-makers of a business. To do this, accountants need to understand the personal impact of the financial data and be able to translate and communicate this across all levels of a business.

Accountant Mark Lee and speaker on helping accountants stand out agrees. “More than ever clients are looking for accountants to provide them with peace of mind. Simply completing the compliance paperwork is not enough.”

With the rise of integrated reporting and a growing emphasis on providing a holistic view of a business’s value that includes more than just financial data, accountants need to be comfortable assessing all the elements that drive business success.

“If there’s one consistent message across the shortlist, it’s that accountants need to go above and beyond in order to deliver real value to their clients and employers,” says Mark Rowland.

“They need to understand more than just the numbers. They need to be able to integrate better with the other core teams within the organisation, and need to understand their clients inside and out. The role is becoming much more advisory, and accountants are well placed to help companies deliver change and innovation in a sensible, sustainable way.”

3. Future-gazing

Fast technological changes and the shifting political landscape are just some of the challenges for accountants that have occurred over the past couple of years. The challenges that accountants in 10 years’ time will experience will no doubt be as unpredictable and challenging. Accountants that can weather the storm will be focused on remaining highly skilled and abreast of the changes.

“Whilst we are often the ballast providing the stability, calm and assurance to SMEs and stakeholders; we must equally be innovative and venture our ideas into dimensions outside our comfort zone. We have to start thinking very differently,” says Dawn Clarkson FMAAT of Dawn Clarkson Associates.

Tracy Allison Chief Customer Services Officer at AAT and an Awards judge feels that the commitment members show to keeping up-to-date with their technical ability as well as anticipating future trends in the market was a key asset.

“The ability to adapt to the changing needs of customers is paramount for accountants in today’s world and the candidates really demonstrated that they are responding to their customer’s demands, by developing their skills, whether that is technologically or by offering a multi-channel approach to customer interactions. The need to keep skills and knowledge up to date is so important and the candidates demonstrated that they go out of their way to develop both themselves and those around them. The desire to help and support others in the accountancy field and to give something back in the community was also commendable.

While change is often challenging, for accountants it heralds an opportunity.

See who has been shortlisted for the AAT Professional Member Awards.

Dale Rolfe is AAT's Content Manager.

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