There are numerous different types of accounting, including audit, tax, financial accounting, management accounting and forensic accounting, all of which aim to collect, organise and track financial information for businesses. Specific roles which involve accounting skills include accountants, auditors, controllers, bookkeepers and accounting clerks, amongst others. We take a look at some of the core accounting skills that you will need to advance your accounting career.
The ability to interpret and compare data and make recommendations to solve financial issues and meet future goals - within the context of current regulations - is of paramount importance to any accountancy role. For example, accountants use data to conduct audits to determine whether a business is following established legal practices and company policies for financial transactions and record keeping. Another example of using data effectively is in preparing tax returns and minimising a company’s tax liability. Variance analysis, price and volume analysis, product profitability, cost analysis, life-cycle cost analysis and capital budgeting are used to ensure the best allocation of resources and achieve management goals. Mathematical competence, numeracy skills and excellent attention to detail are essential accounting skills for ensuring that the numbers always stack up.
Accountancy roles require a strong understanding of computer programmes and systems such as Excel, SAP or ERP systems, payroll software, data-modelling programmes, cloud accounting (such as Xero and Quickbooks) and other finance-related software. Previous experience of having used these systems will be a strong advantage in any accountancy role. An accountant may need to explain how these systems work to clients if they are also accessing them, so an understanding of how to teach others is important. The use of finance-related software is a given in any accountancy role and you should therefore fill any obvious gaps by undertaking accounting training or enrolling in a course.
Organisation and time management skills
Accountants have to juggle numerous duties as part of their role, such as preparing accounts and tax returns, administering payrolls and controlling income and expenditure, auditing financial information and compiling and presenting reports, budgets, business plans and financial statements, amongst many other responsibilities. Organisation and time management are therefore key accounting skills for any accountant to ensure that tasks are completed on time and to an excellent standard. Managing expectations around deadlines or deliverables is key in any accounting role. Setting and prioritising goals, creating schedules, using optimisation tools, making lists and breaking large tasks into smaller ones are all methods that can be adopted to meet deadlines and prioritise tasks. Effective organisation and time management skills become increasingly important for an accountant during peak times, such as at the end of the financial year.
The accounting industry is dynamic and requires accountancy professionals who are able to adapt quickly to change. Someone who is willing to learn, embrace challenges and apply innovative thinking are accounting skills that are more likely to ensure individuals excel in the field. Accountants should be proactive and keep up-to-date with industry news and insight. Advancements in technology have helped to automate many processes which has underpinned the need for accountants to act as consultants and provide advice as a primary focus of their role. Accountants need to adapt to these technological changes quickly as they occur and ensure they’re providing real value to their business or clients. Accountants working in public practice will also have to adapt to the different industries that their clients work within.
Strong written and verbal communication skills are essential accounting skills. Accountants will need to explain complex information in as straightforward a way as possible, whether it be to clients or colleagues. This information will often be delivered via presentations, so accountants need to be competent at compiling and delivering these. Accountants working in public practice will need strong relationship building skills in order to attract new clients and retain existing ones. Those working in corporate accounting will have to work alongside other departments, colleagues and clients and should therefore be effective collaborators. For example, accounts payable accountants will liaise with marketing managers and directors on marketing and advertising expenditure, assessing whether they have kept within their budgets.
Long term planning, strategic thinking and decision making are all key to an accountant, whether employed or working independently. The ability to look and plan ahead is vital as accountants act as consultants, providing guidance on how businesses can improve their operations. Accountants should possess confidence when dealing with various stakeholders and should be approachable and available to those they are responsible for. They should be a mentor to those they work alongside, delegate tasks effectively, demonstrate patience and have a mind for both working on the present as well as the future. Leadership skills are not only important to more senior members of a finance team in managing and shaping the company’s strategy, but also to those who need to support colleagues with their own learning and development, such as demonstrating how to use a particular programme.
Accountants should possess a thorough understanding of the business, its operations and the industry it operates within, including the external economic, social and political factors that influence the business and how best to adapt to these. Having some international work experience is a bonus as businesses are often focusing on their next growth phase which usually includes elements of overseas trade. Demonstrating initiative and keen creative problem solving skills are very attractive qualities for an accountant to possess as they show a willingness to contribute new ideas with a focus on continually improving business performance. Keeping up to date with the accounting industry and any changes that affect it will allow an accountant to influence a business’s commerciality accordingly.
Nigel Wright Recruitment is a recruitment agency specialising in placing permanent and temporary finance and accountancy professionals in companies across a wide number of industries. Find out more about our finance & accountancy specialism or view current finance & accountancy roles.