(BPT) - Technology is rapidly changing all industries, including the accounting profession. An accountant from 30 years ago would barely recognize the field as it exists today, as mobile devices and cloud computing have begun to automate many of the day-to-day responsibilities of accountants. The integration of technology into all aspects of an accountant's daily duties - called 'pervasive computing' - has enabled accountants to streamline customary duties such as data entry and offer more value-added services to their employers and clients.
This paradigm shift is opening up new opportunities for accountants to go beyond simply presenting the numbers and to assume leadership roles within the companies they serve. Today's accountants still need to have a solid grasp of a company's or client's financial situation, but have opportunities to go a step further by delivering insights and solutions to business-related concerns they're finding in the numbers, making them a valuable resource to the c-suite. They play a bigger role in counseling senior executives on the financial impact of budget decisions or by serving as trusted business advisors to their clients.
'More than ever before, accountants today have greater opportunities to assume strategic and consultative roles in the c-suite and for their clients,' says Joyce Barden, CPA, accounting program chair and senior professor at DeVry University. 'They're increasingly being viewed as an integral part of the business decision-making process.'
Increased upward mobility for accountants
Barden says with the proliferation of technology streamlining and simplifying previously time-consuming tasks such as gathering and inputting data, accountants' roles will be elevated to higher-margin jobs that emphasize their advisory skills. Some of these functions include consulting, information analysis and serving as a company's CFO or financial controller. These roles span CPA firms, corporations, government agencies and a myriad of other organizations. This potential for upward job mobility, along with the fact that the accounting field is expected to grow 13 percent between 2012 and 2022 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, makes the profession very appealing to recent graduates or seasoned accountants looking to advance their careers.
Soft skills are critical in today's environment
In order to fill the advisory role now being asked of accountants, it is important for students to have the right education and skills to fit the part. For example, according to Robert Half International, soft skills are an often overlooked, but critical aspect of what makes a good accountant. Soft skills are personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. Six soft skills that accountants should possess are: business knowledge, leadership capabilities, technical prowess, communication skills, customer-service orientation and multitasking/problem solving.
It's readily apparent why these interpersonal skills are just as important as the ability to crunch the numbers. Increasingly, today's accountants are being relied upon to advise senior management and help make key business decisions, requiring proven business acumen, communication skills and problem-solving abilities. As accountants spend more time counseling their clients, a customer-service mindset becomes imperative. For job seekers at all levels, exhibiting these soft skills will provide a competitive edge over other candidates - as well as increasing the chances of success in this exciting industry.
How can students prepare?
Despite this changing landscape, it's still imperative for accountants at all levels to have the requisite education and certifications. Many schools offer degree programs to meet the educational needs of both aspiring and seasoned accountants. DeVry University offers associate and bachelor's degrees in accounting and a Master's of accounting & financial management degree program through its Keller Graduate School of Management. Graduate students at Keller can simultaneously take CPA exam prep courses that integrate Becker Professional Education's CPA Exam Review. Students can complete the bachelor's and master's degree programs and complete CPA prep in as few as five years - a savings of two years, seven courses and more than $10,000 in tuition.
Today's accountants are relied on as strategic advisors to senior management and their clients. Because of the quickly evolving field and need for strategic and analytical thinking, it is important that prospective accountants prepare themselves with not only the necessary degrees but important soft skills. This type of background will allow accountants to succeed in the field as it continues to evolve.