Firms have been able to outsource and even automate an increasing number of accounting-related activities over the past decade. When I completed my training contract in 2010, the workload for the newly qualified accountant consisted mainly of these activities. Today, if a candidate wants to enter and prosper in the larger industry firms, they must bring more to the table. So, what does it take for a young Chartered Accountant to stand out today?
1. Technical knowledge
Technical knowledge has been, and will always be, the cornerstone for an accountant. Understanding the standards, how to apply them, and how changes will affect how a company reports will always be needed.
2. Problem-solving, critical, and strategic thinking
When an accountant can use reason and logic to solve complex problems that positively impact the future of the organisation, they show the ability to think long-term and outside the vacuum of their immediate role.
The common requirement of the future-proofed accountant is sustainable value creation for the business. The larger firms are moving at such a fast pace that if an accountant performs no more today than the same tasks they performed 12 months ago, that accountant is going backwards. A future-proofed accountant needs to move forward consistently. To do that, they need to create value.
3. Systems thinking
As we rely on increasingly advanced tools for processing and reporting information, it is not sufficient for an accountant to simply understand which buttons to press. Instead, accountants must understand how these systems work. What are the benefits now, and what are the current limitations? How can these systems be used or enhanced to drive greater efficiency, higher standards of compliance or more useful business insights?
4. Influencing and communication skills
It’s refreshing to see more leadership teams ditch the notion of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” to justify their course of action. Instead, successful leadership teams seek ideas from all levels. Suppose a good idea is brought forward by a junior accountant who hasn’t been there long enough to get swept up in ‘group-think’. In that case, the ability of that accountant to confidently voice the idea and influence upwards could be the reason the idea is adopted. And happily, the junior accountant may also be rewarded or promoted in time.
Adam Leahy is Co-Founder of The Finance Tech Forum and Senior Finance Manager
at Microsoft Ireland.
You can read this article and others in Career Guide 2021/2022.