The accounting profession is in the midst of a transformation, and firms must ensure they are upskilling their accountants to remain competitive and keep pace.
While the profession is no stranger to change, the COVID-19 pandemic shifted that change into higher gear, driving home the need to meet rising client demands and shifts in employee wants and expectations. However, in light of the strained bandwidth sweeping the profession, firms may be wondering how they can effectively meet the growing list of needs. For many, the answer lies in technology.
This article will explore how current technology can help accountants find the time they need to broaden their skillsets and further propel their career.
What is upskilling?
Upskilling is when an accountant broadens their existing skillsets to further advance their career. Upskilling is not to be confused with reskilling. The two are similar but there are distinct differences. Upskilling enables accountants to further their professional development and advance themselves up the career ladder by learning expanded skillsets. Reskilling, on the other hand, implies a lateral move in one’s career and typically means learning skillsets outside of their existing skillsets.
There are several ways that firms can support and upskill talent, including sending professionals to seminars and training. Attending such events can improve staff engagement and morale and enables them to bring back fresh perspective and new learnings that can be shared with other team members.
What additional skills do accountants need today?
In today’s complex business environment — riddled with ever-changing regulations, advancements in technology, and rising client demands — the need to grow and adapt has perhaps never been greater. To keep pace, accountants must possess the skillsets needed to further their career.
Obviously, the specific skills needed vary by job title but in general, there are certain hard and soft skills that professionals must not overlook.
Hard skills, which tend to be technical abilities, are those skills that accountants formally learn and fine-tune and master through practical application.
In today’s tech-driven environment, it comes as no surprise that up-to-date technology expertise is of utmost importance when it comes to hard skills. This includes having familiarity with the following:
- Big data analysis and advanced modeling techniques
- Business intelligence software
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems
A 2023 AICPA poll found that data analytics topped the list with essentially all accounting firms (99 percent) citing data analysis, tools and techniques (e.g., Microsoft Excel, Power BI) as a valuable (either very valuable or somewhat valuable) skill/competency for new professionals.
Data analytics is “perhaps the most important skill set for firms of the future,” noted AICPA Vice President of Small Firms Carl Peterson in a statement announcing the findings.
Data analytics enable accounting professionals to provide clients the valuable insights they need to improve their business, drive efficiencies, and enhance risk management.
Furthermore, advanced analytics (e.g., data mining and visualization, predictive analytics) ranked high, with 87 percent of firms valuing that skill, followed by advanced taxation (e.g., passive loss limitations, gifting assets, consolidated returns) at 83 percent.
Additional hard skills that accountants should not overlook include, but are not limited to:
- Technical research (83 percent)
- Information security, confidentiality, and privacy (78 percent)
- Information systems and data management (77 percent)
Soft skills are more intangible skills, like critical thinking and problem solving. These skills, however, are no less important than hard skills and can even be the differentiating factor between two accountants vying for the same job.
Soft skills may be more difficult to teach compared with hard skills but possessing strong soft skills can help further an accountant’s career and make them more well-rounded, the AICPA noted.
In fact, the AICPA poll found that soft skills are on par with data analysis, tools and techniques. According to the findings, 99 percent of firm respondents said that CPA candidates should extend their knowledge and understanding of such soft skills as:
- Time management and organization
- Critical thinking
- Public speaking
Peterson noted that “Integrating firm experience with education focused on developing soft skills would result in staff retention and create higher value earlier in their career, while providing better client relationships and value to the firm.”
What are the benefits of upskilling your accountants?
For starters, upskilling accountants makes for a more well-rounded staff that can better meet clients’ needs and expectations and, ultimately, drive greater firm profitability.
Another benefit is that it can help firms better attract and retain talent. This is a critical factor to consider given today’s war on talent. Accounting professionals, especially newer staff members, want to work for a firm that fosters a culture of professional growth and development. This helps boost employee morale and drive greater engagement.
How APIs, AI, and automation can help upskill accountants
Some firms may be wondering how they can find the time and bandwidth to upskill their accountants given today’s challenging environment. As noted earlier, the answer for many lies in current technology. More specifically, application programming interfaces (APIs), artificial intelligence (AI), and automation. Let’s take a closer look:
APIs connect otherwise disconnected or siloed systems enabling them to communicate and work together to share data. This is important in driving greater efficiencies and reducing redundancy.
One benefit of AI is that it has the ability to process massive amounts of data, mine it for insights, identify anomalies, organize it, connect it, contrast it, and answer questions about it. This can be done much faster and more efficiently using AI compared with a human charged with the task.
Leveraging automation capabilities enables firms to weed out time-consuming, inefficient tasks like manual data entry. Maximizing automation enables staff to work faster and smarter.
By leveraging APIs, AI, and automation, accountants can eliminate time-consuming, manual tasks and have more time to focus on continuing education and furthering their career.
Embracing these technologies offers countless benefits to accountants, providing them with many opportunities to enhance their skills. However, it is crucial to recognize that fully harnessing these benefits requires proactive action. Investing now in time-saving technology will help ensure your accountants have the tools and resources needed to upskill.