Assistant Professor Lehman College
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Millennial Accountant
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How Firms Can Develop a Path to Leadership for Millennials

Dec 6th 2016
Assistant Professor Lehman College
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Much has been, and is being, written about millennials and the effect that this generation is having on society, cultural norms, the workforce, and workplace norms. A common theme that links together these wide-ranging topics and areas includes the following: While millennials seek leadership roles and responsibilities, they are often seen to be lacking the necessary competencies to do so.

Particularly in the accounting profession, with several of the largest global firms actively seeking to hire millennials in droves, the effect of this age group on the accounting field and business management will inevitably be profound.

In order to effectively become the leaders the profession needs, however, requires a broader and more comprehensive view of both business and the role of accountants in the business management process. To put it bluntly, for millennials working in the accounting profession to develop into well-rounded leaders, they must integrate strategy and higher-level thinking into how they approach their careers and business.

That said, this is not a discussion of strategy in a theoretical or high-level sense. While helpful and necessary for managing a business, these higher-level concepts can be applied later in a career arc. Millennial professionals require tangible and action-oriented connections between existing quantitative skills and strategic thinking.

Two Areas of Focus for Millennial Accountants
Specifically, there are two areas where millennial accountants can leverage strategic thinking and existing quantitative skills:

  • Identifying potential areas for business expansion.
  • Outlining the required associated financing.

Drilling down, the emerging interest in sustainability, good governance, and increased engagement with customers and employees represent broader areas of potential for customers, including the growing millennial consumer bracket. This might be even more pertinent for accountants employed with startups, small organizations, or midsized practices seeking to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

While these segments are clearly not groundbreaking or new to management professionals, the increased integration of technology makes implementation possible on a more rapid basis. Millennials, including millennial accountants, are among the best-educated and most tech-savvy generation in the workplace, and this carries over to how strategic initiatives can be implemented. Having strategic concepts and ideas, obviously, is a good first step, but implementing and communicating these concepts is essential.

Leveraging social media, the viral potential of new ideas and concepts, and the connected nature of business are links that can be communicated by millennial accountants to management and external stakeholders. Approaching strategy, specifically new opportunities for business development, from this perspective and integrating technology into the dissemination of these new areas provide a vector through which millennials can assume a greater leadership role.

By bringing to the forefront ways in which – either from an attestation perspective or from a business development perspective – organizations can expand service and product offerings, requests for greater autonomy will likely be taken more seriously. Additionally, by outlining specific steps by which the organization can inform customers and stakeholders about these new opportunities in growing areas, the strategic focus has been turned into action-oriented steps that can be achieved.

These processes will clearly be iterative in nature and require multiple attempts to successfully complete, but the reality facing organizations will not change, and potential millennial leaders have the mindset, and grasp of current trends, to assist.

Every strategic initiative and new idea requires funding and support from the organization, and just because an initiative focuses on sustainability or an improved online customer experience (so-called soft areas) does not reduce the need for funding and resources. Providing ideas and business plans for increased penetration into new market areas is only a part of the way toward strategic execution and organizational growth, but accountants have knowledge of financing options for these ideas.

Accountants, be they CPAs or CMAs, have extensive knowledge of financial statements, financial reporting, sources of funding to organizations, and the implications of obtaining financing from a variety of sources. The traditional sources of funding – debt and equity markets – each have associated costs. Issuance costs, placement fees, brokerage requirements, and trading restrictions once these funds have been obtained clearly fall within the realm of accounting competency.

Especially for smaller organizations, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, and other nontraditional sources of financing provide sources of capital that were unavailable even a decade or so ago.

Again, leveraging the millennial mindset and awareness of these options provides an opportunity to suggest additional options to management or the entrepreneurs seeking to bootstrap their enterprise. Frankly, pointing out an option to management that might better suit their financing needs, in and of itself, might very well be enough to initiate a conversation about assuming higher-level responsibilities.

A Roadmap for Millennial Accountants
At the end of the day, there is an inherent contradiction between the accounting profession and a more strategic and creative mindset – creative or innovative accounting is not a phrase many people would like to hear. That said, there are opportunities for early career accounting professionals to assume a more leadership and strategic planning-focused role within their organizations.

Whether employed by public accounting firms or working in industry, every organization and profession seeks to assume higher-level tasks, develop new opportunities, and successfully implement these ideas. Merging the existing competencies in quantitative areas with a situational awareness of emerging trends constructs a roadmap that millennial accountants can follow.

Leadership, strategy, and being a part of the decision-making process will not come easy, but the tools are there for millennial accountants wishing to use them.

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