Skills audit: The future of accountancy

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As a new generation prepares to enter the profession, Alex Miller takes a look at the career paths ahead of them, and the skills new accountants are going to need.

The days of an accountant being paid to number-crunch are, thanks to technology and process developments, a thing of the past.

The overwhelming message coming from the business community is that accountants now and in the future need to be strategic business partners. If they are to add value to organisations and develop a successful career, they need to share insight and guide strategic decision-making, rather than simply analyse and report on data.

Surveys conducted across the industry generally throw up a common theme - a growing expectation that accountants will fill relatively complex roles.

The roles and the skills th...

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25th Sep 2012 07:46

Generation change

My take is that it will take a generation (or two) because most existing firms seem desperate to resist change, trying desperately to hang on to compliance as the basis for a practice strategy.

When the professions promote Value Pricing in ethics then perhaps mindsets will change. 


The Crunchers Franchise

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25th Sep 2012 10:23

At 63 years old

I find this article a little disheartening. I was trained as an Accountant (in the 60's) not a number cruncher. To me if Accountants haven't got these skills then they shouldn't be in practice. So really the only new skills Accountants need are how to deal with politicians who haven't got a clue how to get out of a mess they helped to create.

What the "new kids on the block" need to do is to get into HMRC and reverse the compliance, penalty, rigidity regime and get back to flexibility and common sense 

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26th Sep 2012 23:16

Easy with hindsight

John - although 70s rather than 60s, I don't believe things changed that much and I too was trained to be an accountant but, in those days "accountancy", certainly for my early years, revolved around compliance, days on end reconciling banks & control accounts, generating ETBs, finding differences and filling out loads of forms.  

It wasn't till I'd got 9 years under my belt, having seen a good variety of businesses, that I felt experienced enough to go out on my own.  Then, as the years have gone by, compliance has dissolved (and I've got bored with it) and (30 years later) I now feel fully fledged as a general advisor.

With regard to Alex's article, whilst it makes a valid point, I can remember being told very much the same thing by an auditing lecturer in the mid-80s when he predicted the demise of compliance though the use of IT and de-regulation and therefore how important it was for us to "skill-away" from numbers towards management consultancy.

I would also make the observation that I have been living though a "rapidly changing commercial environment" for 40 years and, from what I read, this has actually been the case for 180 years.

So, with hindsight I now see what businesses need and can fit in to help and partner but how on earth do you give a novice that depth of knowledge so that they can hit the ground running after their training as a "strategic business partner" (is it me or does anyone else put their fingers down their throat when they hear "strategic" Alex only mentions it 5 times).

Not sure I know the answer, I suppose you do the best you can and, like any job, they learn from experience and mistakes.

My own view is that with the depletion in compliance work - through simplification, clients & IT doing the work - clients will no longer have such a need for an accountant.  Let's face it, if I couldn't do a tax return or prepare a set of accounts or a VAT return, but was ace at strategic and risk management (gag) would I have many of the 70 clients I have today?

It's only because they want me to do the boring stuff that I've got the "in" to get to know them and their business, and have developed long lasting relationships and can help them with their strategic thingies.

Without that hook to reel them in how will we convince all those millions of small businesses we currently live off, that they need an accountant?

Won't be my problem, I'm making a strategic retreat to my dog walking, wildlife watching future.....going forward (gag).

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27th Sep 2012 10:12

You hit the nail

on the head Paul. It is the boring stuff that allows you to get to know your client and their business, which in turn enables you to be a strategic partner.

A few years ago Barclays decided that all business loans would be agreed only after going through the computer assessment (this had worked for personal loans (so Barclays believed)). My friend (now a client) who was a corporate manager decided this was plain daft and told them so. He was offered early retirement and took it. The point I'm making here is that you need the training and experience to advise and that hasn't changed nor will it. How many of us have had to learn IT skills themselves because it has been forced on us. Jack of all trades - master of some.

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27th Sep 2012 22:54

Accounting skills

Keep hammering home this message.  Australian and New Zealand education for entrance into the profession is now being down-graded to technical skills.  In place of a more rounded 4-year degree, the professional bodies have reduced their requirement to a 3 year degree focussed on economics, finance and accounting.  The new graduates are now devoid of exposure to such as communication, marketing, human relations, strategy.  

Ironically, the large professional bodies such as ACCA and IFAC recognise the much broader skill set accountants need.  More than compliance assistants!


Thanks for your comments.

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01st Oct 2012 10:10

unfortunately some skills can't be taught....

they just come with experience....and these seem to be the ones we are talking about.  How you deal with people, extract the info you need, and see the opportunity to do more business/offer advice etc etc all come from sitting down with can read all the books you like but the trouble is all people are different, and it is for the adviser to recognise what buttons are the right ones to touch for that business owner.

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01st Oct 2012 12:20


You've just flicked a light switch.  I had the same conversation with my hairdresser a couple of weeks ago when she was moaning about her job, I said "at least you won't lose it to a computer".

So there is something worthwhile about being an old accountant who's been around the block a few times (must tell my wife).

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