Evolution of the modern day accountant

Evolution of the modern day accountant

You have all read about or felt the change coming in our industry. Changes in procedures with HMRC (MTD,RTI submission, electronic filing of returns etc) and also changes with the tools we as accountants and bookkeepers use in order to do our jobs.

The modern day accountant is different, we’re now starting to promote advisory services and looking beyond just year end accounts and tax returns. The modern day accountant is eager to learn skills beyond accounting. They’re attending conferences such as QB Connect, Xerocon and Sage Summit which do not even mention the words debits & credits but are happy (and in some cases very excited) to see all the new features coming in their accounting software.

 The modern day accountant isn’t fussed about purchasing a shop front on a high street on a long lease but they do give a shit about their website and how they rank on google

Some firms who want a physical presence are instead hiring single rooms/offices in shared work spaces like WeWorks where you have instant access to 100’s of businesses all welcoming help and guidance (weird how there are always a bunch of coffee shops near built up office spaces.....)

I’m going to attempt to discuss the skills matrix of the modern day accountant vs the skills which were valued most traditionally in new hires.

The skill set of the modern day accountant

I have asked many of you reading this blog what you feel are the key skills for an accountant in 2017, through your feedback and my research the top 5 skills you value most in an accountant/bookkeeper are-

  • Understands technology

  • Data entry skills

  • Adaptability (to different clients in different industries)

  • Communication (being able to advise and speak confidently with clients)

  • Technical knowledge / Specialism (Being a CTA for e.g, or an expert in estate planning)

I then allocated points out of 5 against each of these skills and made some comparisons between accountants you hire today and how they rank in each of these areas vs the accountants you hired around 10yrs+ ago and are still in practice.

As you can see there is a difference between the two. Let me try explain-

  • Understands tech –The expectation from accountants now is that any new hire should be confident with using tech, not just accounting software but also be able to explore apps such as money transfer, Invoice financing, point of sale systems and even ‘people counter’ devices which can benefit their clients immensely.

  • Data entry skills – At Deloitte and my family’s firm, most if not all our clients are using OCR expense apps to manage purchases. When mistakes occur, we fix the anomalies. Over 90% of our clients have a bank feed via their accounting software. I would argue this once ‘must have’ skill whilst still important isn’t as much of a priority as it once was. Knowing your debits and credits are assumed but through technology, the art of ‘data entry’ is being automated and made simpler.

  • Adaptability – How often have you as an accountant treated your clients in the exact same way? You may ask the same questions during your initial meeting around their turnover and no.employees etc, It may be nice to be consistent, its time saving after all. The problem is our clients businesses are evolving. They’re using iZettle and VEND to take payments in their coffee shops and asking customers to leave reviews on Yelp for e.g. The modern day accountant needs to flex, understand and serve each client differently

  • Communication – Our industry has typically have been very reactive with client communication. We call them when there is an issue or when we need something from them. The accountant of today needs to be confident in their communication, they need to be able to provide sound business advice based on the data they’re seeing and communicate this effectively and naturally to a client (without using terminology your clients wont understand).

  • Technical knowledge and specialism – In my opinion, having a specialist hired in your firm is no longer a must have as it once was. In the world of google and freely available content from accounting bodies, it’s very possible to understand key legislation changes such as Auto-enrollment or FRS102 changes. The traditional firm prioritized hiring the accountant who had a wealth of experience in a particular area, the modern firm is happy to outsource parts of their services to get to the same outcome.

How large firms hire and the skill set in their teams

Smaller firms may not have the luxury of hiring specific people in each category so they must focus on up-skilling their existing workforce to ensure they’re capable of managing the realms of accounting, technology and communication with clients.

With many of the larger firms, you will start to see a mix of the type of people they’re hiring. I recently joined Deloitte and dedicate some of my time to the Propel by Deloitte team where I try help solve the problems our colleagues and clients face with their day to day duties whilst innovating through automation to control the cost of delivery of our services.

We also have technologists and on-boarding specialists in the team, their roles are to find, test and implement key pieces of technology which can help automate a workflow to using apps which provide forecasting to clients. The on-boarding team need to have great communication skills and be adaptable for each client as they train clients in various industries on how to get the most out of their business.

A firm I admire, Liveca http://www.liveca.ca/our-team/ have a similar approach in the way they hire. They have tech director, an on-boarding specialist and trainers in house amongst the accountants and bookkeepers. Hemingway Bailey in the UK focus their efforts on hiring trainee management accountants who are comfortable communicating proactively with clients whilst utilizing applications which make their clients lives easier, they also won the 'firm of the future' award in the UK.

Final Thoughts

I'm not saying that technical knowledge is no longer needed in the modern accountant, thats just silly. What I am saying is that your clients expectations will start to expand beyond technical advice and you need to get the right peeps in place to meet these expectations.

These expectations will change the way our clients consume their services, we're moving to a 'consume instantly' mindset from the way we as people order our taxis to food and this mindset is already disrupting banking (remember 4 days clearing for cheques and bank branches?) and it WILL impact our industry too. It’s our decision to either meet these expectations or not.

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