BING 6 Skills Accountants Need to Become Exceptional | BlackLine Magazine

6 Skills Accountants Need to Become Exceptional

As accounting and finance professionals, you do so much more than just handle money matters – you’re also critical for creating strategy and driving process improvements across the entire organization.

But if the majority of your days are spent manually reconciling accounts and matching transactions, little time is left for these bigger picture activities.

What if you could be more productive with fewer resources, less overtime, and also easily improve the quality of your work? Not only would you be pleased with this improvement, but it would set you apart in the industry.

The Modern Approach

Continuous Accounting is a modern approach that enables this improvement and creates competitive advantage. It transforms the way accounting and finance are done by embedding automation, control, and period-end tasks within day-to-day activities, smoothing out the end of period spikes and allowing the rigid accounting calendar to more closely mirror the broader business.

Effectively implementing Continuous Accounting requires a holistic approach, combining a mix of technology, process, and people to realize continued improvements across the accounting organization.

Using technology to automate procedures enhances the benefits of process optimization while increasing the overall productivity of accounting team members. Optimized processes will streamline automation, reduce risk, improve accuracy, and increase efficiency, benefiting the entire accounting and finance function.

Optimizing Your People

Your accounting and finance professionals are at the heart of your organization’s innovation, and crucial to driving strategy and future business growth. But according to a recent BlackLine survey conducted by Censuswide, many mid-sized and large company decision-makers are not fully leveraging this talent.

Manual processes and tedious tasks take up too much time and result in this invaluable skillset being widely underutilized. To unlock this value, companies need to automate the tedious and manual accounting work that consumes so much of accountants’ time and effort.

When manual processes are automated, accounting and finance teams spend fewer hours on transactional activities. The focus shifts to analyzing the data and reports, and addressing only the exceptions.

Thus, by embedding Continuous Accounting practices, everyday accountants can become exceptional accountants, providing high-value services in areas like fraud detection, compliance, data analytics, technology, and business advice.

What is an Exceptional Accountant?

By only researching the anomalies, accounting and finance staff can also refocus on providing strategic guidance to the business, such as improving internal processes or finding cost-saving opportunities. In other words, the added time allows accountants to apply not just their knowledge and expertise, but also their nuanced creativity and intelligence.

According to Helen Brand, chief executive of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), “To succeed as a professional accountant…a vastly different set of skills is required than was necessary just 10 short years ago. And in the next decade, things are likely to change even faster and more dramatically as the global economy continues to evolve at an ever-quickening pace.”

So, what does the exceptional accountant of tomorrow need to cultivate today? Think mastering communication, not macros. Strategic aptitude, instead of being spreadsheet savvy. In short, capabilities that enable any accountant to deliver predictive insights to leadership, drive data-based decisions and provide expert counsel. These six skills work in unison to serve as building blocks to Exceptional Accountant status.

1)     Data analysis.

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)     Effective communication.

It’s said ad nauseam: it’s the Age of Information. Yet all this information is just noise if it’s not shared effectively. The exceptional accountant of tomorrow won’t just know why data looks like it does (analytical skills); she’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 building.

During the “good ‘ol days,” an accountant could hide in the back office, subsisting on a few basic greetings at the legendary water cooler.

Yet 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 savvy.

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 into 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 a story 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 skill set that will propel finance organizations into the future.

Accountants who cultivate business acumen can begin to provide guidance relevant to the entire company, not just the finance department.

Nurturing creativity leads to innovative solutions for some of the biggest challenges in business today, from the unexpected corner of accounting.

Developing analytical capabilities ensures the accounting function can deliver true insight, not just historical information, while building communication and relationship skills guarantee those insights aren’t lost in translation.

Finally, because technology will continue to change at light speed, accountants who not only have basic IT skills but also flexibility and adaptability will always be ready to integrate new, more efficient tools into existing processes.

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