When accountancy firms come to recruit in the next five to 10 years, they may well be looking for a new breed of accountant.
No longer will accountancy-specific qualifications or a background in mathematics, economics or statistics, along with basic IT proficiency be enough. Instead, there will be a higher-level of technology know-how needed which is currently only prevalent within corporate IT teams.
Firstly, there are those that aspire to work in audit that will require – or will benefit from- having some knowledge of big data analytics. AccountingWEB had covered the auditor of the future, which brings to light how data analysis will become an essential part of the audit role.
In summary, some of the biggest accountancy firms want to give clients a clearer picture of their financial records. At the top level that requires people with knowledge of data science who can look at reasons why financial transactions may have occurred or may have been accounted for.
However, from a recruitment perspective, these skills are hard to come by, and so accountancy firms want trainees that have an aptitude to analyse and interrogate data and come to conclusions using it. Many of these traits can already be found in an auditor; the ability to interrogate, look for anomalies and patterns is something that they do – but finding this mindset in a trainee means they can learn more sophisticated ways of analysing data.
From clerical to strategic
As Bob Dohrer, global leader of quality and risk at RSM suggested, accountants need to raise their game within the next ten years in order to stay relevant. He suggests they need to go from being “clerical accountants or ‘bean counters’” to strategic accountants that use data effectively.
“They will have to think more creatively and strategically to add real value to the business and therefore will need data science and statistics skills and business acumen to understand data visualisation, among other things,” he said.
“Rather than a focus on mechanically putting together reports or financial statements, they are going to need to convert their skills – to interpret those reports and provide management with meaningful conclusions and recommendations for them to base strategic decisions on,” he added.
Andrew Wright, manager solutions consulting EMEA at BlackLine suggested that this necessity for data analysis skills will be split into two types of accountants: systems accountants and business advisory accountants.
“As automation and robotics have become more established in finance we’re already seeing an increase in the number of ‘systems accountants’ in the finance departments of larger companies,” he said.
“These are the more tech-minded finance professionals who understand how to implement and maintain the systems which automate reconciliations and analyse high levels of data, and we’re going to see more and more of these kinds of accountants as systems get faster and automation generally becomes ubiquitous,” he added.
However, he warned that these skills won’t appear overnight and that is why the ‘classic’ interpretation of the accountant will still remain, albeit with a slightly different role.
“In the next five to ten years we’re more likely to see a split between two different breeds: the systems accountants I’ve just mentioned, and the more classic interpretation of the accountant, who takes more of a business advisory role, taking the data analysed by the systems accountants and using that to define the roadmap for the business and for their clients,” he stated.
“Looking ahead further, as technology becomes a crucial aspect of the finance function, we’ll see the education of young accountants changing to fulfil this need. I envision young accountants coming into the job with a mix of systems and financial knowledge, and then specialising as they advance further in their careers,” he added.
And as data is increasingly becoming a vital asset for businesses – so too is the security of that data or ‘data governance’. Accountants will have to ensure they’re using the methods of communication set by the IT department or risk losing or leaking data. This kind of knowledge is likely to be given out by the company they’re working for, and the importance has to be stressed on induction to the company.
In addition, they will have to make sure that the quality of the data is up-to-scratch, meaning they will have to work more closely with the IT and data teams within the business – otherwise the insight they’re getting may not reflect a true picture of the organisation.
Using and developing technology
Using other forms of communication is also important, from video-conferencing tools to social media apps like LinkedIn.
Video conferencing can help with interviews and even client meetings – saving time and money, while social media can be a used to reinforce strategic relationships, find new partners and clients and promote the firm, brand or individual accountant.
Going forward, accountants should be open to communicating with corporate IT teams; particularly those on the developer side. Accountants know the service they’re providing to clients better than the IT team – and this needs to be translated to developers who are creating applications to improve the way this service is delivered.
Finally, and perhaps most obviously, is proficiency in accounting software. That could include the big name companies such as SAP, Microsoft, Oracle and Sage, or smaller providers – many of which are now cloud-based.
In addition, when HMRC’s Making Tax Digital scheme finally arrives, accountants will have to help their clients file their tax quarterly using an online app. By the time the scheme goes into force, accountants should have more than enough knowledge of the technologies necessary as they’ll take on advisory roles to clients, and let them know what software to use and how.
About Sooraj Shah
Sooraj is a freelance technology journalist covering all things IT.