January 31, 2019
I am frequently asked about the future of accounting and what we need to do to adequately prepare. Accounting is a broad career term that spans multiple jobs including public (e.g., audit, taxation, forensic) and business and industry (e.g., financial reporting, analysis, tax, technical, internal audit).
When I began my career 30 years ago, there were differences in the types of skills that were necessary to be successful in these different jobs. However, I think the core attributes that help shape success for any career are the same as when I started in my first job. Having endless curiosity, a change-ready mindset, and a strong drive to continually push yourself to a higher level of understanding and contribution are key for anyone wanting to have a long, fulfilling career.
These core values not only led me to learn a lot about accounting, but they also drove me to develop new knowledge in areas like organic chemistry, programming, SQL, project management, supply chain, taxation, risk management, and capital allocation to name a few. Building knowledge and skills in these areas helped me work closer with my customers to find better ways to solve their problems, create value, and build mutually beneficial relationships.
The Business Athlete
When I think about the accountant of the future, the analogy I use is the athlete who is pretty good at any sport and can generally play any position.
If you have a team of athletes you can generally compete, and often win. Changing technology means many traditional accounting activities will not exist in five years. If traditional activities remain, many will be offshored to low-cost locations. Those in remaining accounting roles will need more than just competent accounting skills. While debits and credits will still matter, problem-solving capabilities, business partnership skills, data analysis skills, system development skills and effective interpersonal skills will grow in importance.
Accountants are in a great position to develop these skillsets and offer innovative new services because of their diverse experience and knowledge. For some these changes will seem unsettling; but for those with the right capabilities and attitudes they bring exciting new opportunities. Businesses are starting to hire business athletes because they are versatile, adapt quickly, can be put on any problem or project, communicate well, and they help the organizations they serve keep winning in a continuously-changing environment. These modernized roles aren’t replacing accountants, but rather they define accountants as the versatile, problem-solving, all-stars in the business world.
A good example of the new business athlete accountant can be found in the work we are doing in audit innovation. The external financial statement audit process hasn’t changed much during my career (despite all the other change going on) so we are using a completely different approach. We are integrating our systems with real-time audit tools, so that 100% of the data will be audited on a real-time basis, using data analytics and AI, to point out anomalies and areas that need further investigation. This will lead to much more effective audits allowing the auditors to spend more time on the right things. Both our company and our auditor are using highly skilled and versatile accountants to integrate the systems, implement the tools, analyze the data, and apply technical accounting knowledge where needed. That, to me, is a good example of a business athlete!
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