The accountant’s role has changed significantly in recent years, moving away from processing and calculating data and focusing instead on analyzing information and helping to chart the course of a company’s future. As job responsibilities have shifted, so have the requirements to be successful in accounting. It’s no longer enough just to have solid financial expertise. Accountants must also have a diverse skill set that enables them to serve as business advisors to an organization.
So, what are some of the specific abilities you should focus on developing as an accounting professional? Our company recently completed a research study called “Next Generation Accountant,” which identified the skills and experience that will be in demand in the coming years. They include:
- International experience – Accounting professionals who understand international transactions and accounting standards and are fluent in other languages will find many opportunities in the increasingly globalized business world.
- Strategic analysis – Public and private firms are seeking accountants with the ability to see the “big picture” and provide strategic advice. Accountants who have kept up-to-date on the latest industry and business trends and understand a company’s role within its industry sector will be at a professional advantage.
- Technical abilities – Technology’s growing role in the accounting field is creating a need for professionals who are not only proficient in accounting software and systems, but also have the ability to provide advice on implementing new systems.
- Communication skills – There is strong demand for accountants who can convey in-depth business information to nonfinancial colleagues. This is particularly important as firms increase their use of cross-functional work teams, which typically involve employees from multiple departments working collaboratively on special projects.
- Professional certifications – Credentials such as chartered accountant (CA), certified general accountant (CGA) and certified management accountant (CMA) are widely respected and are valued by employers because they indicate a commitment to excelling in the accounting field.
In addition to focusing on developing the skills and experience in demand, it’s important to enhance your knowledge in some of the expanding areas of accounting. According to Robert Half International research, a number of specialties are expected to see strong growth in the coming years:
- E-commerce experts: The growth of e-commerce will result in demand for financial professionals who are systems security experts and Internet strategists. A comprehensive knowledge of Internet regulations and the ability to manage e-commerce initiatives will be indispensable.
- Assurance services: Using both financial and nonfinancial information culled from past performance and/or present conditions, assurance services providers will put business intelligence into a financial context. They’ll convert data into knowledge, especially in sectors such as elder-care, e-commerce, risk assessment, performance measurement and technology.
- Personal financial planning: Financial professionals in this specialty will help their clients reduce debt; develop investment and asset allocation plans; control expenses; and minimize their tax burdens. Personal Financial Planners also may get involved in insurance analysis and retirement planning.
- Environmental accounting: As businesses strive to be environmentally responsible (as well as more profitable), they will enlist professionals with a CPA credential to handle projects ranging from environmental compliance audits to managing and preventing claims and disputes.
- Forensic accounting: Experienced professionals who can identify and track computer fraud, particularly in the realm of e-commerce, will be high in demand as corporations rely increasingly on technology. Forensic accountants will work closely with financial and IT professionals to solve problems related to systems integrity and security.
Knowing how marketable your skills are is key to building a successful accounting career. It can help you identify areas for improvement and give you an understanding of your value to potential employers during a job search. Each year, Robert Half and Accountemps research salary trends and release their findings in a salary guide.
Some sample salary ranges from this year’s guide:
Senior accountants at large firms (more than $250 million in sales) will see average starting salaries of between $50,250 and $62,500 annually. At mid-sized firms ($25 million to $250 million), their base compensation will be in the range of $44,500 to $55,000.
Starting salaries for senior accountants at firms with more than $250 million in sales will be in the range of $47,000 to $65,750. Accounting professionals with one to three years of experience will see base compensation of between $38,750 and $47,500, while managers will start in the range of $62,000 to $83,250.
According to the Salary Guide, a graduate degree or professional certification can increase a candidate’s starting salary by an average of 10 per cent.
Succeeding in the changing field of accounting requires a commitment to learning and a willingness to adapt to new requirements. Financial professionals who take proactive steps to become “next generation accountants” by developing their interpersonal, technology and business skills today will be in a strong position for future career opportunities.
(All salaries are in Canadian dollars.)