It’s no surprise that accountants’ roles are changing.
Process automation can perform much of the formerly tedious work of record-keeping and other rote accounting tasks. And while basic procedures will always need oversight, controls supervision, and other tasks, there’s also a widening array of opportunities for accountants to take on analytical and other skills, and to pay more attention to the needs and opportunities of their business.
For instance, Deloitte Partner Jonathan Leiper sees corporate finance groups evolving to make more use of advanced skills in everything from product and service development to strategy planning and pricing optimization. (See Sidebar)
Other accounting groups agree and emphasize the importance of accountants upskilling to become better strategic partners with the business.
But, says BlackLine’s Director of Strategic Accounting Michael Shultz, accountants also need some qualities that aren’t typically found in a formal education plan, and these begin with curiosity.
“The best accountants have always been curious,” he says. “But in the past, they didn’t have the time or opportunity to put that curiosity to use outside of their standard accounting chores.
Now, with change comes opportunity.”
The rapid progress of process automation is now freeing many accountants from doing the repetitive, day-to-day chores of traditional bookkeeping. Shultz notes that they are taking on new problem-solving skills. They are looking more analytically at the financial statement and thinking about how they may have an impact on their company’s performance.
Get Curious & Socialize
There are growing opportunities for today’s accountants to apply their analytical skills to the business. But to do that, Shultz says they have to put some interpersonal skills to use as well.
“Accountants need to be curious, and they need to socialize—then they can embrace the opportunities in front of them. Get off the chair, leave the cube or office, and see others in the company. Talk to marketing, sales, R&D, wherever your interests lie and where there might be a need for help. Find out what makes that department tick, and what they need from Accounting.
“This moves accountants out into the business, where their value becomes more visible to the rest of the organization,” Shultz says. “It also moves accountants up from being reactive—which is what we were for years before automation—to being proactive and forward-looking. And that’s a major change.”
Change for the Better
Many accountants always wanted to be analytical, but didn’t have the opportunity, he notes. They wanted to take advantage of new technologies, but often their companies didn’t want to spend the money to upgrade.
“COVID really put the spotlight on what technology could do for Accounting and Finance, and what accountants could do to help their companies get through the massive upheaval of the pandemic.
“Now more and more companies are upgrading their accounting technology, and they’re seeing the analytical benefits—in marketing, product development, and other departments—that accountants can bring when they’re freed from their reactive workloads.”
Read our latest issue of BlackLine Quarterly for more stories like this and become better prepared to take advantage of new opportunities that will undoubtedly arise throughout the year.