Qualified accountants are in high demand in the UK, but the increasing use of financial technology and automation in firms and businesses has fundamentally changed the skills needed for accounting.
Accountants today do not fall into the number crunching introvert – who spends all day talking about tax and compliance – stereotype that they perhaps used to.
With automation taking over much of the data entry and filing tasks, accountants are now required to take on more high-level business and commercial tasks, like forecasting and commercial planning.
This rise in the need for accounting “soft skills” and more rounded business experience has raised the question of whether accountants need an MBA to get ahead today.
In short, the answer is no, they don’t.
That’s not to say an MBA wouldn’t be useful, but it would only benefit an accountant in the context of giving them more general business experience – and that’s nothing they wouldn’t get anyway from just being in a business environment.
There are also lots of other means of self-education out there – podcasts for example – that can help teach accountants more about general business and enhance their existing accounting skills. An MBA could be labelled as one of those “nice to haves” but it is not essential.
The changing role of an accountant and the skills needed today
If you look at what makes up a typical accountant’s day today, it is likely that only 30% of it is spent on “financial” tasks, those tasks you’d probably associate with accounting. The other 70% is likely to be spent on commercial matters, data analysis and forecasting, pricing and even planning how customer success should be designed.
Not having to spend all their time on the repetitive tasks has left accountants free to do that kind of high-level thinking that adds real value to a business.
Obviously, accountants still need their basic skills: they need to know about purchase ledgers and if something doesn’t balance, and they need to know how to investigate it and dive into those old elements of the job, but these tasks have become less of a focus.
Even the career path of an accountant has changed.
Moving into a financial director role used to be the pinnacle. Now you see a lot of FDs essentially become COOs, or “mini” CEOs, looking at what overall customer success organisations look like, they review pricing strategies and also play a role in how a business can scale; from a finance, business and even tech standpoint.
Is there a new skills crisis in accounting?
It really depends on what type of accounting skills you’re talking about. There are some who talk about a skills crisis but they’re talking about skills accountants don’t really need anymore.
Yes, the skills are diminishing, but they’re not important because accounting technology and automation is doing those jobs.
The new skill set is something that will take time to develop because it is new, and it is a new direction for the accounting profession.
If you look at what the industry says, there does appear to be a concern that not enough accountants have these new, wider business skills yet.
A study by Robert Walters for instance, which surveyed 1,000 accounting and finance workers, found that 39% of employers said many new accounting candidates lacked general business skills.
Maybe this is when an MBA could be a benefit, but really new accountants are going to get that business experience by being in business – this is not really a crisis. At least, not yet.
If you look at the most in demand accounting and business skills that firms and businesses are looking for, according to the Robert Walters study (analysis, businesses partnering and reporting) you can see how the direction of the accountant’s skillset is going.
All these skills are part of wider business knowledge and strategy.
Our own research – How tech will change the role of finance – found that 45% of accountants and finance workers think their job won’t exist in its current form in the next 5 years, so the industry is clearly preparing for a change of emphasis.
Tomorrow’s accountant is going to be an entirely new business beast – and if businesses can provide the environment for them to thrive, then the business will thrive as well.
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