6 Skills Accountants Need To Become Exceptional

Zach Deming

Part 10 in the Continuous Accounting Series. 

In my last blog, I made the case that manual processes and tedious tasks are taking up too much of accountants’ time – and by automating processes, accounting and finance teams can shift their focus to more rewarding work. With continuous accounting practices, “exceptional accountants” can evolve toward providing higher-value services in areas like fraud detection, compliance, data analytics, technology, and business advice. Here are the six skills that exceptional accountants will need.

1. Analytical skills

For the finance function, providing leadership with historical data used to be quite sufficient. Yet today, companies also expect to have access to predictive data. For today’s accountants, this requires knowing how to turn Big Data into concise, decision-driving insights. Vanguard businesses are already hiring accountant/data scientists. Accountants looking toward the future must have both a theoretical and practical understanding of data and analytics.

2. Communication skills

It’s said ad nauseam: this is the age of information. Yet all this information is just noise if it’s not shared effectively. The exceptional accountants of tomorrow won’t know only why data looks like it does (analytical skills); they’ll also be able to skillfully convey those insights to others.

Accountants must begin to cultivate strong written communication skills – the ability to think critically and translate those thoughts into compelling documents. They will also need strong oral communication skills – the ability to convey pertinent financial information to executive teams and stakeholders.

3. Relationship skills

During the “good ol’ days,” an accountant could hide in the back office, subsisting on a few basic greetings at the legendary water cooler. But thriving in tomorrow’s business is going to take more than water cooler-level conversational skills. As automation streamlines transactional tasks, accountants won’t have the “millions of transactions to match” excuse to sidestep human interaction.

The exceptional accountant of the future will know how to manage numbers and people. That requires cultivating a broader range of relationship skills today, such as how to work in a team, how to motivate and engage employees, and how to deliver bad news without making somebody cry.

4. Creativity

It used to be that nobody wanted a “creative” accountant. But in an era when businesses must quickly identify opportunities while simultaneously mitigating risk, a finance professional who can think outside of the proverbial box is a strategic asset.

Accountants who can combine creativity with a deep understanding of the company’s financial capabilities will be able to solve complex financial – and non-financial – problems faster and more cost effectively.

5. Business acumen

Contributing to the business on a strategic level requires more than just an understanding of the numbers. Accountants also need to understand the business as a whole. The ability to provide counsel to the C-suite requires seeing the big picture, from how each functional area works to the best way to acquire and retain talent.

When accountants have the opportunity for stretch assignments, cross-training, and job-sharing, it’s easier to understand – and make decisions based upon – the holistic interplay between a company’s services, employees, customers, and stakeholders.

6. Tech-savviness

Technology isn’t just changing every job function; technology itself changes rapidly. Instead of expecting to use the same tool for the next decade, accountants today must be ready to use new technology every year. This requires not just a basic understanding of technology itself but the ongoing cultivation of flexibility and adaptability.

Becoming an exceptional accountant

Today more than ever, companies need finance and accounting professionals who can transcend traditional number-crunching. Yet for accountants, making the transition from spreadsheet jockey to strategic expert requires new skills.

Your people are the ones who redesign your processes, and therefore it is essential to encourage, help develop, and hire for a different set of skills. This is the most difficult hurdle to clear because there is so much inertia, with the biggest battle being the comfortable, fixed mindset of “this is the way it’s always been done.”

The tactic to overcoming this is to create buy-in for the continuous accounting approach and get your people on board with your vision. For this to be successful, your continuous accounting strategy must clearly point to your end goal as an organization, along with a blueprint of achievable milestones.

Fundamentally, continuous accounting is about unleashing the accounting and finance professionals who have the unparalleled vision to experiment, push the limits, try, and fail. When you allow your people to drive change, they deliver things that scale in a very exciting way. And it all begins with empowering the skillsets that will propel finance organizations into the future.

To learn more about continuous accounting, read the Ventana Research Paper.

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Zach Deming

About Zach Deming

Zach Deming is the director of Product Marketing at BlackLine. Zach partners with accounting and finance leaders to help them realize how their spreadsheet-driven processes hiding in the shadows simply can’t cope with the demands of always-on modern business, and the expectation of real-time analysis. After a decade in the industry, he thinks the benefits of cloud software can free accountants from the chains of transactions, liberating them to focus on strategy and analysis. Zach is skeptical of the robot uprising, and as a champion of Continuous Accounting, he believes the future of accounting does not lie in new technology alone, but also with the nuanced intelligence of skilled accountants. Connect with Zach on LinkedIn and Twitter (@ZachDeming).