Modern accountants must add digital skills

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 As he takes over the helm at accountancy and business advisory firm BDO, new Managing Partner Paul Eagland reflects on the need for accountants to become more digitally savvy embracing the opportunity to be fully rounded business advisers

Stereotypes have a habit of sticking in the public consciousness long after they’ve outlived any useful connection to reality.

One of my favourite books is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. In one section it describes someone as being an introvert, having a passion for order and detail and preferring to work alone. It then asks whether that person is more likely to be a librarian or a farmer.

Predictably, in the absence of more precise information, the readers opt for the ‘fast thinking’ answer and choose librarian. But by applying some slow thinking you realise there are many more farmers in America than librarians and therefore the individual – regardless of his or her personality – is ‘more likely’ to be a farmer. Yet the stereotype can often govern our thinking.

It’s the same for accountancy. If you ask a family member or close friend to describe an accountant they will inevitably refer back to the image of the Monty Python ‘bean counter’.

The truth of accountancy today couldn’t be more different.

Changing accounting landscape

As I take over as the new manager partner of BDO I have been reflecting a lot about the changes facing the accountancy profession and how the old stereotypes don’t stand up to scrutiny.

When I look back just five years, the pace of change has been incredible.

Rapid developments in technology and regulation, the growth of populist politics and an uncertain relationship with the EU mean that many of the boundaries that once governed the way organisations do business are changing or disappearing altogether.

At the same time public trust in business generally is low. Global high-profile scandals have left many people feeling alienated from – and frustrated with - business and other institutions. Globalisation has seen many winners but many losers too. If, as some have said, the vote for Brexit was the first rebellion of a developed country against globalisation then I doubt it will be the last.

So given this backdrop of accelerating change, accountants need to ask themselves about the skills they should foster and how the profession can thrive in the future.

Traditionally I would have said that IQ and emotional intelligence or emotional quotient (EQ) were vital to a successful career in accountancy.  A high IQ is needed to solve clients’ difficult technical challenges. Tax, audit and advisory are intellectually rigorous disciplines and logic is essential.

EQ is equally as important, however. Business is based on relationships which flourish with honest and transparent communication. Clients come with all sorts of motivations and approaches and it’s therefore vital that advisers are adept at handling all personalities to delve down to get to the nub of an issue. That level of understanding requires enormous emotional intelligence and people skills.

Digital intelligence

And I would now add a third requirement: DQ or digital quotient.

Digital has created new markets and is challenging traditionally successful organisations. The accountancy world is no different.

We must all be prepared for the new opportunities that are being created and the new skills that are being demanded by clients. The accounting profession is at a tipping point. We need to innovate and remain relevant in the 21st century. Increased competition through regulatory changes and globalisation must make us press the accelerator on innovation and foster DQ.

The impact of new technology will have a positive impact on the profession if we are bold enough to seize the opportunities that it presents. Using a combination of IQ, EQ and DQ will move accountants on from just being ‘numbers people’.

By embracing all that digital offers we will be taking a leap away from the clichéd stereotype and becoming fully rounded business advisers.

 

About Paul Eagland

Paul Eagland

Paul is BDO’s Managing Partner. He was elected into this role, starting his four-year term in October 2016. Paul and his Leadership Team are responsible for the overall strategic direction of the firm.

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12th Oct 2016 00:18

I think the impact of social media has resulted in people looking at others as people rather than how they earn their crust. Thankfully, the bean counter perception is now outdated.

Accountants are not qualified to be business advisors. Most of us do not have business advisory experience to be in a position to advise.

Our training is that of accountants advising on tax, cash flow and, other business back room functions and NOT as front row business advisers.

Audit and wider exposure to business does not make accountants business advisors. For instance, a large number of us know very little about marketing, increasing the market share and how to address competitive threats. We are in our comfort zone when talking about cash flows and cost control.

Even ACCA has accepted that accountants are not business advisors by appointing a CEO who is not an accountant.

Thanks for the link to the book. I will get it.

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13th Oct 2016 22:57

I think you need to realise that there are many "one man bands", farmers who know their business inside out and many other small business people who just get on with their lives, don't live in London or the South and don't require or want "advice" on how to deal with day to day matters! Why is being digital a must sorry?

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to evo36nre
02nd Nov 2016 12:16

Good comment. The only thing about digital being a 'must' is that we may soon have no choice in the matter.

And if clients can't cope with that, then others will have to pick up the slack. It doesn't mean the requirement won't go away.

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