Shareholder & Consultant Boomer Consulting
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What Do New Accountants Need to Be Successful?

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It's no longer enough for accountants to simply be good at crunching numbers. Future-ready practices, more and more frequently, are hiring talent with a wider array of skills. Jon Hubbard of Boomer Consulting explains what the next generation of accountants will need to be successful.

Aug 3rd 2021
Shareholder & Consultant Boomer Consulting
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Accountants come in all flavors. Some modern accountants have excellent organizational skills, while others work at desks that indicate they’re comfortable with chaos. Some pepper their conversations with IRS statutes or FASB lease standards, while others prefer to take a big-picture view, knowing they can look up the details when needed.

Every personality has its place in an accounting firm, but as technology and automation continue to change business models, the roles of accountants and auditors will change as well. So does the next generation of accountants need to be successful? Most think pieces on the subject focus on skills like communication and data analytics. Those are important, but so are the following three traits.

An Entrepreneurial Spirit

With disruption from technology, accountants must be more entrepreneurial and less focused on compliance to be successful.

Gino Wickman, founder of the Entrepreneurial Operating System, defines an entrepreneur as someone who sees a need or an opportunity and takes the risk to start a business by creating something or improving upon an existing product or service. But for our purposes, an entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t require starting a new business. Instead, it’s about understanding your clients, discovering their problems, and creating new service offerings to solve those problems.

Having an entrepreneurial spirit can be challenging. You must be able to adjust and change course to capitalize on the opportunities presented to you in the market. Every idea won’t pan out, so you need to be willing to take risks, learn from mistakes and fail forward and fast to take advantage of new opportunities.

We like to say, “sell the tickets, then produce the show.” Too often, accountants want to know exactly what service they’re going to offer and put processes in place to deliver it before landing their first client. But the fastest way to succeed in consulting and advisory work is to sell the tickets first, figure out how you’re going to serve your client.

Be a Team Player

When your entire career is focused on tax or audit, it’s possible to be a rugged individualist. You just need to know everything about your specialization. But the future of accounting is in advisory and consulting, which are team sports.

The next generation of accountants will need to work with people who are different from them. This is true from both a diversity perspective — working with people of different races, nationalities, genders, and backgrounds — but also in terms of skillsets.

In an old-school accounting firm, accountants tend to stick with other accountants. As a result, they don’t mesh well with technology, marketing or business development professionals. But to successfully provide advisory and consulting services, you will need to work closely with people from different departments — perhaps even in different organizations — to help your clients.

Being a good team member requires getting uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. You won’t always have the necessary expertise, but you need to know how to collaborate with someone who does in order to meet your clients’ needs.

Relationship-Driven

In the past, some accounting firms didn’t put much effort into marketing and business development. Instead, they relied on referrals to grow their book of business. Many firms continue to rely on word of mouth, but with transactional work being commoditized, it will become more important to build relationships to build your business.

In advisory and consulting, your prospective clients don’t always know what they need. They’re not turning to a colleague to ask, “Do you know of a good tax preparer?” They’re frustrated and stuck, don’t know what they need, and aren’t aware that there’s someone out there who can help.

To get their business, you’ll need to get to know their challenges, understand their industry and company, and help them solve problems. This requires deliberate effort beyond simply discussing the services you currently offer.

Attention to detail and a passion for numbers will always have a place in an accounting firm, but the next generation of accountants needs more than just technical skills to be successful. If you can cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit, collaborate with others, and build relationships, you can show your clients and team members that you have what it takes to be a part of a thriving and future-ready firm.

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