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For most accountants the word automation conjures up gloomy images of shrinking revenues and job losses across the industry. As many UK SMEs begin to employ sophisticated, cloud accounting applications to organise, report and analyse their financial information, those fears don’t seem to be wholly without merit.

One Door Closes...

But the truth is that accounting has been moving away from its traditional expense management and bookkeeping functions for some time now. Instead, modern-day accountants serve the role of expert advisors within their organizations.

Rather than number crunching, their primary function is now decidedly more strategic in nature, focused on bringing wholesale process improvements, cost efficiency and investment optimization to the enterprise. As the volume and quality of financial data grow, more and more of these cross-functional accountants will be required to derive actionable insights for management teams.

Of course, with these new demands, comes a need for new skillsets, here are a few competencies that any ambitious accounting professional should look to develop in the new year.

Soft Skills

Technical experts often overlook the importance of strong communication, but the ability to elegantly articulate complex data into communicable insights for the eyes and ears of key stakeholders is an invaluable skill. Any candidate that can ally technical expertise, with a strong ability to organize, motivate and manage employees across the organization, will be a highly coveted candidate for C-level positions.

Technological Know-How

From cloud computing solutions, to AI-driven analytics and stalwart industry-specific software like QuickBooks, Excel and SAP; if you’re going to be at the forefront of the digital transformation that comes to your organization you need to have an in-depth familiarity with the tools of the trade. Expanding your understanding with a secondary certification in Information Security audits, or data science will make you a hot prospect in your sector.

Strategic Insights

A modern accounting needs to be able to see their role in light of the overall objectives of the organization. With your knowledge of regulatory compliance, financial insights and analytical abilities you possess expertise that could be vital to your organization. But if these skills remain siloed within the narrow area of your function, then any opportunity to add lasting value to the business will be lost.

If you can identify potential issues with a new merger, or investment proposition or you see clear areas where processes could be optimized then it’s your job to detail these views in a clear documented fashion.  By going above and beyond the call of duty you can make managers see your skills in a new light.

Specialize

Automation is negating the need for accounting generalists; much like the legal profession accountancy will become increasingly fragmented into niche areas. While organizations will still require tax accountants and audit specialists for some time to come, specific industries require specialist services to thrive.

  • Real estate investors require financial advice to minimize tax liabilities, improve cash flow management and forecast investment profitability
  • Businesses in the restaurant and hospitality industry need help managing operating costs, optimizing inventory and managing workforce requirements in anticipation of seasonal peaks and throughs.

Corporate governance is a hot button issue, and organizations are looking for key personnel to help them tackle incidences of fraud and misappropriation. In this environment a forensic accountant that can understand the flow of business processes and examine them in light of prevailing fraud risk management techniques is an invaluable asset for any company.