3 Skills CPAs Can Sharpen Over the Summer

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Dr. Sean Stein Smith
Assistant Professor
Lehman College
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The summer season, which unofficially kicked off recently, is usually a quiet time of year for CPAs and accounting professionals. Following the adrenaline rush of tax season, filing tax extensions, and wrapping up any audit issues you may have encountered, the prospect of a lighter workload is a welcomed prospect indeed.

That said, it is important to keep in mind that the business environment for all CPAs continues to change at an incredibly rapid rate. Just a few years ago, organizations and topics such as Uber, Airbnb, Slack, and data analytics were barely whispers in the ears of the market, as opposed to the dull roar that dominates virtually every conversation, conference, and analyst call today.

Obviously, managing current clients, obtaining new business, and figuring out ways to deliver expanded services take top priority at all times, but this slightly slower time of year provides an additional opportunity.

While it might be tempting to take it easy over the summer, catch up on your favorite shows with binge-watching sessions, and enjoy the wonderful weather outside, it also represents an opportunity to set yourself up for future success.

The ideas, topics, and skills that individual CPAs focus on will clearly vary depending on which aspect of the accounting profession you are employed in. Regardless of the specific industry, or the personal preference of the accounting professional in question, there are some fundamental changes that continue to influence the direction of the profession. Not only are these megatrends influencing current trends and directions, but they appear to be only growing more important.

Other articles and analyses might recommend different specifics, but as a CPA with experience in the for-profit sector, nonprofit sector, and academia, I have seen these areas as important in multiple environments:

1. Analytics for accountants. By this point, I am sure that you have heard all that you would ever like to hear about analytics and big data, but the reality is these trends will completely shake up the accounting profession as it is currently constituted.

The good news is that, as accountants, we do not have to instantly morph into data scientists capable of writing complex algorithms overnight. Just like those individuals would not be able to make heads or tails of a balance sheet, we do not have to achieve complete mastery of data science instantaneously.

That said, there are massive open online courses, continuing professional education courses, and numerous other opportunities for CPAs and other accounting professionals to improve data analytics skills – some of which are free.

2. Communication. On the flip side of data analytics, but equally important for CPAs seeking to achieve more senior- and leadership-oriented roles at organizations, is the ability to effectively communicate. Especially in a business environment increasingly dominated by quantitative information that is updated in real time, the importance of effective communication is difficult to overstate.

Eliminating unnecessary jargon, keeping emails concise, using bullet points to emphasize importance, and making sure to highlight takeaway action steps are simple items that can dramatically improve the quality of business writing. Depending on the role currently held, organization in question, and industry in which a professional works, different mediums of communication will be more important when it comes to improvement, but the core concepts remain unchanged.

3. Broaden experience. Accountants – as CPAs, CMAs, or with other related accounting designations – are, fairly or not, usually typecast as only having functional expertise in areas such as audit, tax, and financial reporting. Whether or not this is true for all accountants is not as important as the efforts and activities that can be taken to help broaden your experience during what is otherwise a slower period.

You already know what you are interested in outside of the office, so all that remains is a little bit of legwork to see if organizations in these areas are looking for volunteers. Getting involved and engaged with different types of organizations and individuals, especially if you are doing more than preparing the books, can differentiate you from the competition and add some extra fulfillment to your summer.

Summertime is usually the time of year that everyone looks forward to, but accountants are amongst the happiest people to catch up on some rest and relaxation following what is almost always a frenetic tax season. In addition to catching some sunshine, spending some more time with friends and family, and taking some time for yourself, this summer might also be an opportunity to learn some new skills and brush up on others. Doing so will definitely involve some work, effort, and elbow grease on your part, but it has the potential to pay dividends for years to come.

The above suggestions are the recommendations of one accountant, and I am sure we all have pet projects and skills we would like to know more about and get better at. So, take this summer to get some relaxation – and to also make yourself a better professional.

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