Whether you're hiring new talent, making your next career move, or just want to ensure your firm succeeds over the next few years, it's crucial to ensure you and your team have the right skill set to survive the new age of accounting.
Director of Accounting Curriculum
Becker Professional Education
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It’s no question that the accounting profession is changing, and with this, modern accountants must continuously evolve their skill sets. Accountants, once known for their focus on numbers, are now looked to for more strategic skills as greater focus is placed on technology and critical thinking. Along these lines, the CPA Exam is changing to reflect the most current needs in business, as seen through changes coming this summer in addition to the wider CPA Evolution initiative by the American Institute of Public Certified Accountants (AICPA) and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), which seeks to update the exam for test-takers beginning in 2024.
These changes will not only impact future CPAs, but also the current generation of accountants and their organizations as they keep pace with the current landscape. As skills with technology, critical thinking, and less-technical yet important business communication skills take center stage, employers have an obligation to upskill their staff — and there are a multitude of ways they can do so.
Cultivating a Digital Mindset
Modern accountants are expected to utilize new technologies that streamline and improve processes in order to enable better decision-making. While they don’t need to become technologists, it’s imperative that they cultivate a digital mindset and become proficient with the technologies that intersect with accounting, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA). These two technologies in particular are helping to offload and automate once mundane, routine tasks so that accountants can place their energy in value-adding tasks. For example, technology is playing a larger role in financial reporting to alleviate the burden of tedious, time-consuming work and place a larger focus on data analysis and visualization. Many companies are embracing this digital shift and must ensure that their staff, whether seasoned or entry-level, obtain the necessary skills to properly implement and utilize these tools to keep current.
Automation and other technologies were once seen as a looming threat to replace accounting and finance jobs — but this is no longer the case; we now largely see technology as an opportunity to add value in the decision-making process by gleaning meaningful business insights through data analysis. The upcoming CPA Exam changes place increased emphasis on critical thinking as modern accountants are expected to not only produce financial information but also synthesize it. Technology allows accountants to see the bigger picture, for example, by using data analytics to enhance decision-making. This is a trend seen at all levels of the profession, as even fresh accounting graduates are tasked with projects that require higher levels of strategic thinking.
Business communication, while not a technical skill, is just as necessary to succeed as other in-demand accounting competencies. Communication skills are not easily taught, but rather refined over time. These are the skills that ultimately ensure a staff member is ready for a promotion as they migrate into management or leadership roles within the organization. Maintaining effective business communication skills is crucial not only for interactions with colleagues and clients, but for establishing oneself as a leader and to build an executive presence. These skills are always in demand, especially as those in senior-level roles are expected to go beyond traditional accounting tasks and become experts in sales and networking. While this is an area that is not often explicitly taught, it must not go overlooked when considering topics for professional development.
How Employers Can Stay Ahead
There are a variety of ways in which employers can keep pace with and upskill in technology, critical thinking, and business communication. As hybrid work models becomes a mainstay across the profession, employers and their learning partners can use technology to host workshops and courses in these subject areas for both remote and on-site employees. These courses and workshops may also help to fulfill continuing professional education (CPE) requirements for credentialed accountants. When developing training programs, it is important to work with a trusted provider that understands your organization’s needs, has a track record of student success, and follows new trends and requirements in the profession. For staff members still seeking certification, organizational support goes a long way for both the individual and establishing credibility for the firm — whether through supporting their study efforts or putting budget behind their pursuit of the credential.
According to LinkedIn’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report, more than half of learning and development professionals surveyed indicated that upskilling and reskilling is their top priority this year. However, in order to achieve this, accounting and finance leaders with deep industry knowledge and training professionals alike must share the responsibility of training their wider staff. Organizations that fail to keep pace with current skills are at risk of their staff and their businesses falling behind, and preventing this starts with supporting each individual employee in their professional development. Accountants have long served as meaningful business partners, and by addressing the most in-demand skills required in the current business landscape, accounting and finance professionals will continue to remain indispensable to their organizations.