The seven key qualities of accountants of the future

 
Helen Brand
Annual Animal Stocktake At London Zoo
It is safe to say that the age of accountants as bean-counters is over (Source: Getty)

From the global fall in oil prices back in March to the months of uncertainty created by today’s EU referendum, so far 2016 has been an unpredictable year for businesses in the UK.

Of course, challenges such as these are nothing new. In the modern, global economy, volatility is the new normal. The question now is how you chart a steady course for your business when the only thing we know for certain is that nothing is certain.

The answer is, as with most things, to be found within your people. Whether you are running a large organisation or a small firm, when it comes to future-proofing, your finance team is one of the most valuable resources your business has at its disposal. This has always been the case, but what that team looks like – the skills those people possess and the role they undertake within your business – has likely changed beyond all recognition over the past decade.

To succeed as a professional accountant in 2016, a vastly different set of skills is required than was necessary just 10 short years ago. And in the next decade, things are likely to change even faster and more dramatically as the global economy continues to evolve at an ever-quickening pace.

Staying ahead in a fast-changing environment

I am acutely aware of ACCA’s responsibility in developing the future professionals the world needs. As of now, we have 488,000 students around the world studying to become professional accountants. It is vital to business and society – not to mention those individuals themselves – that ACCA equips them with the skills they need to succeed. To do that, we must continually scan the horizon and adapt so we stay ahead of the fast-changing business environment.

The latest phase of this work is a major new global study which has identified exactly what talents finance professionals will require to 2020 and beyond.

The study, dubbed “Professional accountants – the future”, has been two years in the making. Our crack team of researchers has travelled across the globe to collate information from thousands of chief executives, chief financial officers and other high-profile business leaders. Using that expert insight, the team has been able to paint a clear and detailed picture of what the future of finance looks like.

The results are exciting, to say the least. Accountants have become leaders, trusted expert counsel and key strategic advisers to organisations in every industry, sector and country in the world. As they have become more valued, so they have come to face different challenges. More regulation, greater globalisation, ever increasing risk, and of course, massive technological advancement have all played a part. The accountancy profession has to be ahead of the curve on all fronts – trained to the highest of professional standards and crucially, in 2016, looking beyond the numbers.

The seven key qualities

Our report has identified seven key qualities which come together to create the future finance professional capable of rising to these many and varied challenges. These “magnificent seven” quotients are the skills employers are seeking today and will demand from finance professionals in the decade ahead:

  • Technical and ethical competencies (TEQ) – The skills and abilities to perform activities consistently to a defined standard while maintaining the highest standards of integrity, independence and scepticism.
  • Intelligence (IQ) – The ability to acquire and use knowledge: thinking, reasoning and solving problems.
  • Creativity (CQ) – The ability to use existing knowledge in a new situation, to make connections, explore potential outcomes, and generate new ideas.
  • Digital quotient (DQ) – The awareness and application of existing and emerging digital technologies, capabilities, practices, strategies and culture.
  • Emotional intelligence (EQ) – The ability to identify your own emotions and those of others, harness and apply them to tasks, and regulate and manage them.
  • Vision (VQ) – The ability to anticipate future trends accurately by extrapolating existing trends and facts, and filling the gaps by thinking innovatively.
  • Experience (XQ) – The ability and skills to understand customer expectations, meet desired outcomes and create value.

Top of the list are the technical and ethical competencies that remain at the core of the profession. These are the areas professional accountants have always known to be important. We see so many instances where businesses run into trouble because they do not possess a core technical understanding and a strong ethical compass. More than ever, society looks to accountants to provide guidance in both of these areas.

Unsurprisingly, digital skills are now essential and will only grow in importance in the coming decade. As new and upcoming technologies arrive thick and fast, a digital focus is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity.

Fifty-five per cent of respondents to our research thought the development of automated accounting systems would have the most impact on the industry over the next decade. Notably, this impact is considered to be a positive one – with accountants moving to a more strategic role, new technologies are perceived as being a welcome enabler rather than a threat to jobs.

Alongside technical, ethical and digital expertise, the modern accountant must possess another set of skills perhaps not historically associated so closely with the profession: creativity, emotional intelligence and vision. Modern accounting requires the ability to steer a business on a steady course between risk and opportunity. This requires collaboration, strategic thinking and a real 360 understanding of the business – its environment, its people and its opportunities.

Once you gain a full picture of the new and expanded role finance professionals now occupy in a business, it is easy to see how a broader, more diverse range of skills are required.

It is safe to say that the age of accountants as bean-counters is over. A truly modern business demands far more from its finance team, and it is the job of ACCA to ensure we continue to create future professionals who are up to the task.

As part of this project, we have created a test designed to help anyone in business understand how they stack up against our seven quotients. You can find it online at www.accaglobal.com/thefuture

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