What will it take to be a top CPA in 2010?

These days, a number of factors are combining to make Certified Public Accountants more valued in the current marketplace than ever before - with even brighter prospects for the most qualified and skilled professionals in the foreseeable future.

Looking back, the number of accounting majors in major universities fell steadily for more than 10 years following the adoption of increased education requirements for CPA candidates in the late 1980s. Upon implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 - which increased the auditing and financial reporting requirements on public companies - practicing CPAs suddenly found themselves working beyond full capacity while fielding increasingly persistent calls from recruiters.

Now, with Baby Boomers set to begin leaving the workforce in 2008, coupled with a decrease in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-old workers, we are on the verge of entering one of the greatest "candidate markets" of all time - especially as it relates to financial professionals. Consider this: corporations have to hire added CPAs for SOX maintenance and internal audit roles at the same time Big Four firms are projected to increase staffing levels for similar functions by as much as 20 percent!

CPAs who work diligently in the coming years to master the requisite skills and build out complementary new ones will find themselves well positioned to benefit both personally and financially from expanded career options.

Among the prerequisites for every successful finance professional are:

  • Individual integrity
  • Loyalty to the organization and mission
  • Dedication to ongoing professional education

Given the increased civil and criminal penalties facing companies and senior management today, embodying these traits in carrying out everyday tasks is vital.

Having a fully-developed, professionally informed sense of right from wrong, abiding by the core values of the organization, and regularly working to further develop your skills as a counselor and practitioner will begin to set you apart from your peers.

To help CPAs distinguish themselves in the marketplace, Ajilon Finance has outlined the following four areas for CPAs to improve their skills and eventually realize their full value as a professional.

1. HARD SKILLS.

Given the heightened regulatory environment in which we operate, mastery over the hard skills of being a Certified Public Accountant is more important than ever before. While most top CPAs consider these to be the minimal requirements of the job, the core tasks include:

  • Creating efficiencies across all accounting and finance functions
  • Managing budgets, costs, and assets
  • Maintaining accurate records
  • Verifying financial results

These are the areas in which you can immediately add value and build trust internally within your organization. The first responsibility is, of course, to bring reliability and thoroughness to these disciplines. Given the disproportionate attention these functions commanded over the past few years, simply minimizing the amount of time required of senior management to accounting and finance matters will be a welcome relief.

The added ability to prioritize critical functions and deploy the appropriate resources will also determine the level of operational efficiency achieved. Demonstrating the ability to meet all accounting and financial reporting requirements while optimizing department resources will enhance your credibility with senior management and grow your value within the organization.

2. SOFT SKILLS.

Because of the heightened scrutiny from internal and external audiences on accounting and finance functions, the "soft skills" of communication and diplomacy increasingly play a key role in distinguishing the truly high-functioning CPAs. To be a top CPA in today's business environment, you must have more than just great analytical skills. Possessing polished skills in these four areas will be a key differentiator:

  • Teamwork
  • Patience
  • Problem solving
  • Listening

In fact, as you interact more closely with individuals outside the accounting and finance department, these skills will become more important. Since CPAs are sometimes not as close to the subject material, often they require clarification on the significance of certain processes or transactions from the simple to the complex.

3. BE A MENTOR.

Tomorrow's high-functioning CPA should also be a good teacher. According to the study The Supply of Accounting Graduates and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits - 2005 by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, after steady declines in the late 1990s total accounting enrollment increased 19 percent from 2000 to 2004.

This means the next generation of CPAs is entering the profession right now and individuals are in need of proper guidance and support. The overall productivity of this group will be largely determined by how they are trained, motivated, and deployed by today's leaders. If you take on a mentorship role within your organization, you will help position yourself as a top CPA today and into the future.

4. INCREASING YOUR PRESENCE.

Today, CPAs have more constituents than ever before. It's important to understand this and be sure to treat each of these audiences like clients. After all, the increased attention is a good thing if you are capable of producing in the spotlight.

To be recognized as among the best in the profession, both within your organization and the broader marketplace, take time to think about the attributes people should associate with you. Among some of the criteria generally used to recognize the best-of-the-best include:

  • Creates and sustains a culture of leadership
  • Develops strong employees
  • Develops strategic partnerships
  • Creates strategies for company advancement

What other special qualities do you possess and are these evident through your work? What qualities need further development? How would you rate your customer relationship management skills as a professional?

Make a list of your current strengths and areas for improvement in terms of hard skills. Study those around you who excel at the soft skills for lessons you can make use of in working with people and organizations. Finally, catalogue your "clients" and list ways to improve your interactions with them.

Due to a number of factors, the current market demand for well-trained certified public accountants is strong and only promises to get better in the coming years. Accounting and finance professionals who master the core skills, develop new and different ones, and work to distinguish themselves in the marketplace will be poised to enter the upper realm of top CPAs.

Reprinted with permission from Ajilon Finance

 

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