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.
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 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.