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What skills will clients most want from their accountant in the future?

11th Jul 2023
Brought to you by
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Xledger is a leading provider of next-generation cloud-based finance software. 

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The business world is changing and, in turn, so is the role of accountants and finance professionals. 

What skills will clients most want from their accountant in the future?
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Given technological innovations in data, automation and AI, as well as shifts in the way SMEs engage with their services, finance professionals need to develop a new set of skills to meet their clients’ needs.

We’ve identified three key factors that are crucial to the profession going forward: data analysis, digital expertise and soft skills. 

Data: advising clients through effective analysis 

The technological advancements of the last few decades and the wider availability of digital storage have led to an ever-increasing volume of data in existence. An estimated 64.2 zettabytes of data was created, captured, copied, and consumed globally in 2020, predicted to rise to 181 zettabytes by 2025. ( A zettabyte is equal to a trillion gigabytes, or a billion terabytes.)

That’s an enormous amount of information with the potential to assist in decision-making across a wide variety of industries: but the challenge is how to effectively process and use such large quantities of data. With the rise of ‘big data’, new analysis techniques and software have developed out of the need to understand datasets that can’t be processed through traditional methods.

And while SMEs’ financial data might not represent the same vast quantities as larger organisations, it’s still a significant and growing amount of information that needs detailed analysis to sift out the important details and draw out insights on business performance. Having access to those insights is crucial to SMEs’ growth.

This ability to bring details out of the data will be particularly important in the near future, as businesses contend with continued economic pressures and uncertainty. SMEs need to be able to understand the information in their business, and use it to plan their next course of action. 

By asking the right questions, and applying statistical methods to interpret the data, accountants and finance professionals can help those businesses make sense of the numbers and take their next steps.

In fact, our own research suggests that 48% of accountants and in-house professionals think data analysis will be the most sought-after skill of future finance professionals.(If you would like to receive our full research insights when they are released please click here.)

Digital: understanding technologies

To be able to process large amounts of data, finance professionals need digital as well as analytical skills, as programming knowledge and specialist software know-how becomes more relevant to this area of work.

Our research also shows us that accountants and finance professionals are aware of a digital skills gap in their sector: more than half (51%) think this is due to having multi-generational teams, and 45% say it’s because of a lack of training.

The chances are that this gap is also keenly felt by the businesses they serve. As digital skills become increasingly critical to modern business practices, and new technologies like AI are integrated into their operations, SMEs will look to finance professionals for an understanding of that technology. 

From advising clients on the best digital tools to support their business to using advanced analytics to draw out key insights, the accountant of the future will need to leverage digital tools to offer the best possible advice.

Soft skills: communicating the narrative 

Tied in closely with the need for technical and digital knowledge is a third essential skill for advising the clients of the future: communication and relationship-building. 

Just as in-house finance professionals need to bridge the gap between data analytics and the wider business, accountants need to clearly communicate the story the data tells to their clients and explain the actions they could take going forward. What’s more, they need to do so in an empathetic, understanding way, establishing a working relationship that will withstand the test of time. Their client needs to be able to trust their decision-making and information – and that trust can be built through both accurate real-time data and relationship-building.

With access to data from across their client base, accountants can bring the added benefit of a broader overview of their client’s sector, and more insights than an in-house professional could offer.

To really stand out, accounting firms need to offer an excellent standard of service, making their clients feel looked after and supported. Again, this is especially important during challenging economic times – often, clients will look to their accountant as a sounding board and a voice of reason when making tough decisions.

Bringing in staff to offer this level of service can be difficult, however. Our research showed around a quarter (24%) of accountants believe the shortage of talent with appropriate soft skills will be their biggest hiring challenge over the next five years.

To enable a great service, your team needs the time and space to nurture their relationships with clients. They also need easy access to detailed, accurate information. 

If you would like to receive our full research insights when they are released please click here

Xledger offers both of these benefits, with powerful automation and in-depth insights through our specialist accounting software. Contact Phil Chalmers on [email protected] or request a demo to find out more.