Every accountant, young or old, is pondering what technology and most importantly automation will do to their careers. Some fantasize (or worry) about a world where automation takes over important accounting functions or perhaps even replaces us altogether, while others remain more skeptical. But as businesses look to automate their accounts receivables or expense reports, it becomes clear that young accountants cannot count on doing the same old thing that their predecessors did.
Century Business Solutions points out that automation will take up mind-numbing tasks and “freeing you to move into a more advisory role to provide deeper and more valuable insights to your clients.” But in order to do that, young accountants must develop new skills. Here are some of the most important to thrive in this new technological era.
A computer can automate accounts, but a skilled human will still be needed to explain to laymen what the computer did and what the numbers on the ledger mean. Accountants cannot be an advisor if they have no ability to communicate with clients, figure out what they want, and propose a business solution. Accountants will thus have to develop both solid oral and written communication skills.
Unfortunately, there is no quick tip that can turn you into a literary genius. Writing is a skill like any other which has to be developed over time, and so you should begin practicing as soon as possible. Read accounting and business websites, as Lifehacker points out that reading is absolutely critical toward becoming a good writer. Set up a blog. Do not think that you have to write about Important Things like accounting or politics. Feel free to write about TV shows, sports, or your hobbies. As long as you are regularly writing and practicing, you will know what works best for you.
The above section should have made it clear, but accountants will be increasingly asked not to just be bookkeepers, but to be financial advisors and strategists as well. A skilled accountant will be able to offer advice to practically any client. But the best accountants will focus on a particular industry, understand the unique accounting challenges which that industry faces, and come up with a solution.
A great example is healthcare, an industry which will continue to grow in future decades. PwC released a report titled “Top health industry issues of 2018” which discusses issues such as tax reform, the Internet of Things, and paying attention to social factors such as income and education to improve care.
Offering expertise and advice like a CPA tutor is something which machines cannot so easily replicate, and accountants need to find their niche as machines do more mundane work. Combine these two trends, accountants should pick an industry and learn everything they can be reading and developing relationships.
I suspect you may be thinking that empathy is not a skill. But empathy very much is a skill, and is a way for future accountants to easily distinguish themselves from their peers.
Empathy means understanding what other people are thinking, and from there understanding how you can truly help them. An accountant without empathy will drop bad news on a client like they are reporting the weather, while an accountant with empathy will look to soften the impact and discuss how they can work together to make things better.
By understanding and valuing other perspectives, an empathic accountant can discover new ways of doing things, find different ways to help clients, and be a better team player and negotiator. No one can develop empathy for every single human in the world. But by being more inquisitive and curious about our friends, then colleagues, and then strangers, you can be more empathic and a better communicator and person.
To most people, “creative accounting” means dodgy accountants using unethical tricks to conceal the truth or rip off consumers. But creativity simply means looking at things from a different perspective and coming up with new solutions to rising problems. New technology will create new problems, and the great accountants will be those who can find new solutions.
Certainly some people are inherently more creative than others, but creativity can be developed. Ask others, especially those outside your specialization, for different perspectives and understand that there are no stupid questions. And if your mind is burnt out trying to find an original solution, take a step back and relax.
Note that all of these skills synergize. An accountant who has found a specialty can use his creative juices to come up with a cost-effective solution, while empathy ensures that the solution is ethical. Then the accountant communicates the solution to his clients. Technology will change what we do as we transition from number crunchers to creative advisors. But the enterprising, forward-thinking accountant who finds a niche will continue to stay relevant in the future.
Gary Eastwood is a CPA licensed senior accountant from Seattle, Washington. He received his CPA license from the Washington State Board of Accountancy in 2001 before relocating to Onawa, Iowa in 2008. Over more than 15 years of accounting experience, Gary has worked with multinational health service providers and independent CPA firms. He has a proven ability in dealing with business clients from a variety of backgrounds as well as leading companies to greater efficiency and profitability. He is familiar with both US GAAP and China GAAP.