Accountants unravel misconceptions about the accounting professionby
Numbers don’t lie but myths do. Misconceptions about accounting and auditing are driving young talent away, causing recruitment challenges and adding to the skills shortage.
Research from FreeAgent has identified that there are barriers deterring potential accountants from entering the profession.
40% of participants felt that negative stereotypes associated with accountants and the accounting profession was the main barrier preventing them from pursuing an accounting career.
Similarly, a study by EDHEC’s NewGen Talent Centre showed a large discrepancy between the perception and reality of careers in accounting. Students with no knowledge of accounting held negative stereotypes and misconceptions about the profession.
Some of these myths identified were:
- work in auditing/accounting is tedious and stressful, it is filled with egoists & out of touch with societal trends and environmental goals
- work in auditing/accounting is for 'number crunchers' and people who enjoy working alone in front of a computer screen
- what real impact does audit and accounting have? It’s just numbers.
What do accountants think?
Despite these negative perceptions, EDHEC’s study found that “93% of young professionals who actually work in the industry say they would recommend it to a friend or family member”. But what does the Any Answer community think about the accounting profession and these myths?
Most members did agree that their jobs were stressful and sometimes tedious. AWEB reader WinterDragon said: “The January rush and constant chasing of my own tail is stressful - not to mention constantly being fielded with questions by clients that I am not qualified to answer.”
They added, “The profession certainly has its fair share of egotists that look down their nose at us poor sods that aren't chartered.”
Despite the agreement that accounting comes with its fair share of pressures and hard work, there was a collective disagreement over the idea that the profession doesn't have any impact.
“Seriously, are there people out there who think that? Yeah, tell you what, let's fly to the moon, we don't need to bother with the numbers. We've estimated the tax deduction from your wages. At the end of the day, it's just a number, after all,” AccountingWEB member Adam.arca wrote.
Overall, most of the community shared their enjoyment of working in accounting. “I get to do something special, and I don't know anybody else my age that gets such a unique job with so much variety,” WinterDragon said.
This sentiment was echoed by AdamJones82: “I like this type of work, no hassle, easy to rattle off and here's my invoice thank you very much.”
Where do these myths come from?
Geneviève Houriet Segard, assistant director of the EDHEC NewGen Talent Centre, shared her insights into why there is such a difference in perceptions.
“The audit and accounting industry has evolved in recent years, and the changes that it has undergone are not well-known to recent graduates and young job seekers,” Segard said.
She added, “The industry's current challenge is educating the public about the new opportunities that audit and accounting offer. For example, working with cutting-edge digital tools and projects that impact society and the environment.”
Emily Coltman, chief accountant at FreeAgent also offered another important perspective. “Historically, the accountancy profession hasn’t always had the best reputation for gender diversity and is dominated by male counterparts. For young people approaching accountancy today, this might hinder willingness to enter the profession - even though the reality is very different.”
How is the profession responding?
Segard spoke about the steps being taken to push the narrative away from negative stereotypes, shedding light on the positive aspects of an accounting career. “These include work driven by a ‘collective purpose’ and workplaces filled with people of diverse educational backgrounds, not just accounting or finance,” she said.
Coltman shared how they are utilising the current shift the profession is seeing towards virtual finance services to encourage young professionals.
“This strategic shift is incredibly empowering: not just for the small business owner who’s being taught to manage their day-to-day admin more effectively, but also for the accountant who gets to delve deeper into their client’s data, talk to them on a human level, become a trusted adviser and really help them run their business,” Coltman said.
She continued to mention that the developments of technology in the profession as a result of this shift are another desirable factor.
“We’re not diving into massive, Victorian-style, leather-bound ledgers any more - instead you can collaborate with your clients through technology and keep in touch while you’re on the move,” said Coltman.
What still needs to be done?
With the continued skills shortage, Manuelle Malot, the director of careers at the EDHEC NewGen Talent Centre, highlighted that a lot of work still needs to be done in terms of recruitment.
“For example, if an auditing firm wants to recruit engineers, they may need to rethink starting wages because engineering students have a lot of options when it comes to first jobs out of university,” Malot said.
She concluded: “They will need to do a better job of selling the profession to young people who are looking to be challenged, to have access to training and mentoring, and to have opportunities to work with interesting people and on projects with real-world impact. The industry offers these opportunities but needs to communicate them to its target audiences better.”