Senior Director of Partner Development and Strategy Sage North America
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How Accounting Leaders Can Make Their Practices Future-Ready

Accounting leaders should ready for a future where soft skills are more important than numbers

Sep 10th 2019
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Winter is coming, and so is 2020. As all professions look toward the next 10 years with eyes on innovation and improvement; accounting is no different.

The accounting profession’s focus on number-crunching and spreadsheets are still very much prevalent, but as the profession expands and continues to evolve beyond number crunching to embrace wider skillsets, services, and knowledge – the practices that are going to be successful will be ready to lean into these changes and adapt.

Here’s how leaders can ensure success for another 10 years:

1. Accountants Are Ready to Broaden Their Horizons – Let Them!

The “Practice of Now 2019” report, which surveyed 3,000 accountants from six countries, depicts a very different profession than the stereotypical ideas of accounting today. In fact, today’s accountants are ready for careers that allow them to dive into areas requiring more soft skills.

There is no getting around it: Accounting has been numbers-based. Most accountants (71 percent) see themselves as number-crunchers, according to the report. Normal enough, right?

However, 77 percent of professionals feel “very confident” or “confident” in offering more general business management advice. The most frequently reported reasons that respondents had for feeling like they were siloed into number-crunching roles were a.) internal resistance to change, and b.) the lack of tools and technologies that allow people to focus their development on soft skills and consulting practices.

Leadership teams need to take note of these changing sentiments. Not only does increasing offerings present tremendous business opportunity, but allowing team members to flex other professional muscles will be a key in retaining top talent.

2. Next Gen Talent Requires Next Gen Education

Such necessary transformations in accounting won’t take place unless the new talent (accounting’s future!) are prepared to meet evolved challenges with strong and relevant skillsets. 62 percent of accountants surveyed did not believe current education programs will be enough to ready upcoming talent, due to the lack of emphasis these programs place on soft skills.

When firms bury their heads in the sand, continuing their reliance on legacy methods and materials, not only will ambitious talent who desire to be with a firm on the cutting edge look elsewhere, but prospects looking to diversify offerings and skillsets within their respective organizations will do the same.

3. Embrace the Opportunities That Specialization Brings

For many firms, being a jack of all trades simply works. Practices will find that having working expertise regarding a wide range of industries and areas comes with numerous benefits.

Mastering and specializing in a specific area may close doors to opportunities in other areas. But, importantly, it opens doors to deepen and multiply opportunities within that one particular space. In fact, 49 percent of US-based CPAs expect their firms to become industry-specialized within the next five years.

Specialization fosters an environment in which accountants can deepen their expertise and grow professionally. In addition, it offers those firms enhanced revenue streams.

When choosing specialization, they can adopt technology and processes that enable them to capture a niche and cater to it with tact and laser focus. When those they serve feel confident that their accounting firm is just as in tune with their industry as they are, firms can evolve from teams brought in just to crunch numbers into deeply-engrained professional advisors. Fostering this trust can help strengthen them through the next decade.

4. Prioritize Strong Culture as Much as Strong Skills

There is more to culture than dress code and fun office events. Firms that last will commit to culture on a lever deeper than perks.

Moving forward, firms must prioritize diversity of thought and inclusion. On so many levels, these initiatives will be the tell-tale sign of a company’s health.

Only 30 percent of accounting firms are currently taking measures to diversify their workforce. Not only will office dynamics suffer without the interpersonal enrichment that diversity of thought brings, but firms will be missing out on the insights that come when people of all backgrounds are brought together to collaborate.

Accounting has work to do in this arena. Currently only 28 percent of firms have diversity and inclusion policies. Firms should prioritize these in order to harness all of the benefits that diverse thinking has to offer.

Another 10

As emerging technologies, business trends and employee expectations dramatically shift year-to-year, accounting is still a profession requiring great tact, attention-to-detail and business acumen. As a new decade approaches, it’s time to look back at how much has changed in the industry and how much innovation has occurred.

However, now is not the time to settle, but to forge ahead. The profession has great potential to develop into an even greater force for innovation and progression for business. With the right priorities and initiatives to help all accountants become the best they can be, who knows where the next 10 years will take us?

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