The Changing Accountancy Landscape
The 20th century notion of accountants sitting at a desk all day, staring at a spreadsheet or sifting through a heap of paperwork, is passé. Moreover, the idea that it’s enough for an accountant to have good numerical skills is a misconception, too.
Today we work and live in the age of Big Data where the convergence of social, mobile, analytics, and cloud computing technologies (SMAC) are transforming the workplace. AI and ML too are adding to the workplace transformation. In such a fluid scenario, it’s silly to think and believe that the field of accounting would remain unaffected.
Accounting has indeed come of age and accountants are playing a crucial role in driving success for the business. To grow and gain recognition as a competent accountant, it is imperative to have a repertoire of skills. Let’s now examine the 9 must-have skills you must possess as an accountant.
Skills of an Accountant: Core Skills
To succeed as an accountant, perhaps the most important prerequisite is an innate liking for numbers and the propensity to do number crunching with speed and accuracy.
Arithmetical acumen such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are essential for many accountancy tasks, including analyzing and interpreting financial figures. A competent accountant is one who can use mental calculations as well as a calculator to perform a range of numerical tasks with equal dexterity.
You must also be conversant with the accounting equation, which is the foundation of the double-entry system of accounting, and is the basis of preparing the balance sheet and the income statement.
Eye for Detail
As an accountant, you are supposed to read and review various financial statements and reports. You are required to sift through numerous financial records to ensure that the details are current and accurate.
Any error in financial reporting can end up becoming the reason for monetary penalties and a stained reputation in the business world. Hence you have to be meticulous and tenacious with an eye for detail; it’s important to be able to read between the lines.
Time Management and Organizational Skills
Time is the most precious resource. All the more so for accountants, because they usually work on multiple projects at once, which requires the ability to balance tasks, expectations, and processes. Moreover, timelines are always tight and the ability to deliver on time is considered a key strength of a proficient and professional accountant.
Apart from sticking to timelines, it is equally important to be well-organized, since accountants have to deal with a lot of documentation. Whether it is paper-based records or digital documents, storing and retrieving them quickly and easily is a symbol of efficacy. Using secure, proven digital tools and apps for boosting productivity is a mark of the modern accountant who emphasizes ‘smart work’.
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The pace and scale of digital adoption across the organization is simply growing by the day. And the finance function certainly is not an exception. In such a scenario, accountants must have up-to-date knowledge and understanding of the latest technologies. Apart from having proficiency in using spreadsheets, word processors and specialized accounting software, accountants today also need to be conversant with the following tools/platforms:
- Advanced Excel and Modeling techniques
- ERP tools such as SAP, Oracle, etc.
- Big Data Analytics and Query languages (e.g.: SQL)
- Microsoft Visual Basic
Communication is often a neglected area in the sphere of accountancy. As a finance professional, you carry in your head valuable knowledge about the business. In fact, you possess crucial insights that most others in the organization don’t have.
The key is to convey this knowhow concisely and precisely to a varied audience in such a way that the meaning behind the numbers comes through. The stakeholders could be fellow accountants in your team, the finance manager, company directors, or even the organization’s clients.
Here it must be understood that brevity is the soul of effective communication, since people are perpetually short of time. Succinctly written emails, reports with crisp and lucid executive summaries, and engaging slide decks without flabby content will drive the point home, quickly and easily.
However, communication is not only about conveying information – it is also about good listening. The ability to be attentive and patiently hear out what the other person is saying is equally important for you to succeed better as an accountant.
Apart from deep domain knowledge and soft skills, accountants must also have an acute awareness of the organization’s business operations and the industry landscape in which the company operates.
Knowledge of how businesses make their money, understanding what their customers want, and awareness about various aspects such as social, economic, and government policy that can affect business is also vital in enhancing your performance as an accountant.
To illustrate the point, an accounting manager in a logistics company should be aware of the governmental regulations pertaining to the life of vehicles, road tax, vehicle insurance, etc. Ability to anticipate market trends can help in budgetary planning or other decision making tasks.
Integrity refers to upholding ethical standards and moral values. In simple words, it’s about doing what is right and just at all times.
As an accountant, your work must be driven by the highest ethical standards. Accounting systems may vary from place to place; different accounting trends may come and go. However, an accountant must make a commitment to be truthful, honest, and fair in all aspects of their work. They must always adhere to the professional Code of Conduct and ensure total transparency.
An accountant of questionable integrity poses risk to the organization; their unfair practices could lead to financial loss for the company, erosion of trust among shareholders and the general public, and the accountants can even attract legal and penal action for ‘cooking the books’.
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Resilience and Adaptability
Immense work pressures are a way of life in the corporate world today. This leads to anxiety, stress, and even burnout, where accountants can feel overwhelmed. To be able to stay focused and meet tight deadlines while maintaining consistent performance, you must nurture the quality of resilience. In other words, you must be able to cope with adverse situations with a balanced outlook and have the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.
Another personality trait of a successful accountant is adaptability. In a rapidly changing workplace marked by technology disruptions, tighter compliance requirements, and demanding clients, your willingness to upskill and reskill, your flexible approach to work, and your readiness to embrace change and be proactive will indeed stand the test of time.
According to the International Federation of Accountants, leadership skills are important for accountants “particularly as they have become the key to helping their organizations navigate an increasingly complex business world.”
In accounting, leadership skills can be demonstrated through strategic thinking, long-term planning, and problem solving, among other abilities. The best accountants in the business are usually known for their vision – the ability to make logical decisions with a tinge of creativity.
Skills of an Accountant: Bonus Skills
Accountancy, like most other professional arenas, always stands at the crossroads of change. Whether it is government policy, tax codes, technology upgrades, or evolving workplace practices, the ground reality is that change is unavoidable and inevitable. Hence, as an accountant, to stay ahead of the pack, you must be willing to constantly learn.
It is the only way to keep abreast of unfolding developments and be an industry-relevant and sought-after professional at all times.
A good accountant must have great analytical capabilities, which can help them understand and interpret financial data quickly and pick out trends and patterns in order to make recommendations to clients or management.
Also Read – 15 questions asked in every Accounts Interview
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‘Numbers person’ or ‘people person’? Or both..?
Finance is not just ‘another department’ in the organization today. It is a key business function that can drive strategic growth and performance of the company. No wonder then the profile of accountants has gone beyond mere number crunching.
Accountants are now expected to be versatile and multifaceted professionals. They are required to be both a ‘numbers person’ and a ‘people’s person’.
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Q1: How many types of accountants are there?
A1: Essentially there are three types of accountants: Management Accountants, Financial Accountants, and Tax Accountants.
Q2: What are the roles of an accountant?
A2: The principal role of an accountant is to collect, analyze, record, and report the financial data of a company or an individual.
Though an accountant’s responsibilities vary depending on the organization and client requirements, they usually comprise the following tasks:
- Documenting financial records
- Reviewing financial documents to resolve any anomalies
- Creating, reviewing and presenting budgets
- Using actionable insights for recommending financial actions
- Preparing cash flow statement, balance sheet and profit and loss statement
- Submitting annual tax returns
Q3: How much does an accountant earn in India?
A3: Accountant salary in India ranges between ₹ 0.4 Lakhs to ₹ 6.0 Lakhs with an average annual salary of ₹ 3.3 Lakhs.
Q4: How to improve accounting skills?
A4: As an entry-level accountant, you can strengthen your core functional skills by:
- Learning to analyze data
- Gaining industry-specific knowledge
- Practicing adaptability and flexibility
- Enhancing your communication skills
- Managing time efficiently