After quickly realizing just how “silly” some of our accounting work is, I knew that if I wanted to advance in my own career, I had to figure out ways to become more efficient and effective.
I also realized that as our world becomes more and more complex – and not just from an accounting sense but from an overall business perspective – accountants will have to expand both knowledge and skill sets.
Now, before I set off some alarms with my comment on “silly” work, allow me to explain.
How my journey began
After completing my degree in accounting and then passing that dreaded two-day CPA exam (yes, I’m old school and had to take all four parts at one time), I was excited to apply my education – only to find copious amounts of spreadsheets and mindless data entry.
I was one of only a few students who had the opportunity to start with a Big 4 accounting firm right after graduation, and one of my first assignments was to audit cash. I sat down with the colleague responsible for reconciling the larger cash accounts, and we started his step-by-step process.
After going through it, I started to ask questions, as I’d been taught to do as an auditor. This turned out to be an incredibly eye-opening experience for me. I asked him why a certain transaction was taking place, how he knew it was right, or what he did with the exceptions. His responses were often “I don’t know” or “because we’ve always done it that way.”
I will make a bit of a confession here: This made me question my choice of profession. Who wants to just follow a checklist and not really have to think? This certainly didn’t seem appealing to me.
I asked even more pointed questions about whether he felt like he was adding value to the accounting team and company as a whole. I asked if he was learning new skills and growing his own knowledge base.
At first, he said he loved his job, but the more we got into the questions, the more he opened up and confessed that he felt more like a glorified data-entry clerk. And I started to realize just how antiquated many of the accounting and finance processes were.
The pivotal point
I may not have known how that would change, but I was certain things had to. And at the time, I had no idea just how important this discovery was going to be – not only for me but for many of my colleagues and their organizations, as well.
Throughout my career, I continued to encounter all kinds of challenges around the typical accounting activities – especially during the month-end close. Trying to meet deadlines that management was always looking to reduce. Trying to ensure that everything was being done (journals all booked, balance-sheet accounts reconciled, and month-end tasks completed). This was particularly difficult in organizations where the work was being performed by different teams and, in some cases, different locations.
Many of the companies I worked with were experiencing significant changes, including mergers and acquisitions, expanding into new countries, rapid growth, and IPOs, which only further exacerbated these challenges.
Then there was all of the paperwork and supporting documentation! One organization I was working with had their reconciliations all over the place – desk drawers, binders, manager offices. It was a nightmare trying to keep everything straight, not to mention quite costly trying to store everything.
My proactive response
Ultimately, I found myself in a position where I had to find alternative solutions. I knew I had to expand my knowledge base and provide more strategic insight in addition to better managing the close process. I had to help our accountants shift from these mundane tasks to applying their knowledge. I had to work with our other departments so that, as a whole, we were making the best decisions for the business.
I also recognized that our accountants needed, even wanted, more challenges. They wanted the time to research and investigate exceptions. They wanted time to proactively identify errors so they could be fixed before it became a problem.
I needed to not only help my organization but my fellow accounting colleagues, as well. In order to be effective in driving forward this change, I had to start with myself, so I could share what I learned with my team, with the other departments, and with leadership.
The success of this transformation was contingent on their support. While this would ultimately be a team effort, this was my opportunity to show that accountants can offer so much more to our organizations.
The skills that lead to success
I started by working on my communication skills, which allowed me to improve my networking. I reached out to folks I’d worked with in the past. I joined various organizations, and not just around accounting, but also technology and communications. I started paying more attention to articles around accounting and automation.
I quickly became overwhelmed and excited at the same time. Not only was this a viable option, but other departments were just waiting for accounting and finance to step up and be their business partner. They were desperately seeking valuable information from us that would help them decide where to open a new plant, should they acquire a business, what they should charge for a new product line, and on and on it went.
Just as much as they needed us, we needed them. We needed their help in understanding the business side of things so that we could help them understand the numbers. It was a win-win!
The more I talked to people internally and externally, the more I realized this was much bigger than I first thought, and I wanted to be a part of the revolution. This was the opportunity I was waiting for!
Destined to be exceptional
You see, I realized that I was never meant to be “just an accountant.” I was destined to be an exceptional accountant. And being an exceptional accountant isn’t about knowing FASB123 or the ability to explain and apply the new revenue recognition standards. It isn’t about being able to manage the biggest team of accountants or work as a leader for a large multinational organization.
It is about expanding our knowledge base and skill set. It is about networking and creating relationships with others to share best practices. It is about not only being open to technology but actively keeping up with what is available and thinking about how it might benefit your organization. It is re-shifting how we utilize our accounting talent, and making the mind shift from cost center to strategic business partner.
Read this e-book to learn how to develop the skills you need to become exceptional, and join me as part of the accounting and finance revolution.
This article originally appeared on BlackLine.com and is republished by permission.