Accountant working at office at night signing document, working late overtime

The Top Accounting Skills In 2021

I think it was Steve Jobs who said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”.  As the accounting industry continues to transform and change the role of accountants, this saying has never been more accurate.

Those who desire a successful career in accounting must be willing to think creatively about accounting. It’s not just about becoming a CPA or chasing a lucrative career. Rather, those who want to succeed within the accounting industry must be willing to combine their accounting skills with creative thinking so they produce innovative results and business strategies for themselves and their clients.

Just as most business owners have abandoned the idea that accountants are just humanoid calculators, so accounting professionals must be willing to upskill and shift their own perception of an accountant’s role.

As a CPA and President of a growing advisory accounting firm, I consider it my duty to help aspiring accountants become part of the next generation of accountants.

Understanding of how to prepare financial statements

Financial statements meme. Interpreting financial statements is one of many accounting skills.

Image Credit:

Despite the emerging chatter around blockchain and cryptocurrency, accountants still need to understand how to prepare financial statements. To be clear, preparing financial statements these days is much easier thanks to software like QuickBooks Online that enable real-time access to a client’s financial records.

However, even though generating financial statements is largely automated with modern accounting software, understanding the information in financial reports is still critical.

Though most accountants hate financial reporting, I appreciate the chance to help my clients identify spending trends so they can optimize costs, improve their cash flow, and take other actions that make their business more successful.

Knowledge of accounting principles

Accounting standards are the guiding light for businesses as they report revenue, record costs, or show losses to investors, internal accountants, or shareholders. Without regulatory standards in accounting, known collectively as generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), companies would have no established guidelines for recording financial transactions or performing financial reporting tasks.

There are three categories of accounting standards and principles:

  • Assumptions
  • Principles
  • Constraints

Accounting assumptions

Within accounting assumptions are the accrual assumption, conservatism assumption, economic entity assumption, and more. Many accounting assumptions are quite obvious, but it’s necessary to codify them so companies are consistent in their record-keeping during audits and presentations to investors and shareholders.

Principles of accounting

Similar to assumptions, principles help standardize the operation and management of an organization’s accounting practices. Investopedia notes that, “The ultimate goal of standardized accounting principles is to allow  financial statement users to view a company’s financials with certainty that the information disclosed in the report is complete, consistent, and comparable (Investopedia).”.

Constraints within accounting work

Another term you’ll come across within the accounting field is constraints. Accounting constraints, also referred to as constraints of accounting, are the limitations or boundaries that ensure that corporate and public finances are consistent, accurate, and precise.

There are different types of constraints within accounting, including:

  • Objectivity
  • Materiality
  • Conservatism
  • Timeliness
  • Consistency
  • Industry practices

Using accounting constraints, accountants can adjust how they report a company’s financial data and financial practices without violating recognized GAAP standards. Variances in reporting on a company’s financial information are permissible in this case because constraints are commonly recognized within the accounting industry.

Mastery of accounting software

Mordor Intelligence Report on Accounting Software

Image Credit: Mordor Intelligence

According to a Mordor Intelligence report for 2021 through 2026, the market for accounting software is on track to reach USD 19.59 billion by 2026.

Many accountants have feared this increase in accounting automation and software options. However, as certified public accountant Mike Whitemire noted while writing for AccountingToday, “…[C]ompanies still need interpretation and judgement to realize the full potential of technology and automation.”

Whether you’re new to accounting or a battle-tested veteran, you should learn to master the most popular software options so you’re able to coach clients on how to get the most value and ROI from it.

Ability to harness robotic process automation (RPA)

The analytical skills and principled judgement of modern accountants are elements that can’t be replaced by automated accounting and accounting software.

In 2020, Global Market Insights, Inc. predicted that the market for robotic process automation (RPA) would grow by 20 percent by 2024.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a death sentence for accountants.

In fact, accounting professional Liz Scott believes (as do I) that there are numerous opportunities available for accountants within the realm of robotic process automation.

Dubbing it “Process Advisory”, Liz states that accountants can go beyond transactional accounting to become valuable advisors in the area of workflows.

I definitely agree! Learn to master, not fear, accounting automations and you’ll become a much more appealing accounting hire.

Insight on what makes a great accounting resume

A great accounting resume lists achievements, as well as accounting skills.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen in applicants to my firm over the years is when they list their accounting skills without describing their accomplishments.

While it’s important to list your technical accounting skills, it’s also important to list your soft skills and provide examples of your past successes.

I and other potential employers get hundreds of resumes that list hard skills without telling us other relevant skills.

For example, if you are in the process of getting your Master’s degree, you can talk about how you worked on multiple projects or were involved in student clubs.

General accounting knowledge

It’s recently become a common mantra for people to insist that a finance degree isn’t needed to become a CPA. And, that’s definitely true…

Gary Goodman, a CPA in New York wrote about this on Quora:

Accountant Gary Goodman answers question on Quora, "Can I become an accountant without a degree in accounting?"

Answering the Quora question, “Can I become an accountant without a degree in accounting?”, Gary explains that it is possible for you to become an accountant without a degree.

However, although you don’t need a college degree to become an accountant, a basic knowledge of accounting is still a must-have for any accounting professional. This is true whether you’re in a corporate accounting department or joining the gig industry.

Know how to advise to clients & identify solutions

Top accounting skills include knowing how to advise clients about their business.

In 2020, as companies everywhere tried their best to weather the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, accountants everywhere began fielding questions about the CARES Act, PPP loans, and other financial relief options.

It’s a well-known fact that most business owners regard their accountant as a trusted advisor, not just a number-crunching spreadsheet junkie.

As the world of business becomes more complex, clients need trustworthy advisory accountants to translate their insight regarding the organization’s finances into other areas of the company. The analytical skills and critical thinking that you do while combing through financial data on tax returns and financial reports translate well into other departments.

Approaching accounting as the bedrock company, rather than an ancillary function, enables accountants to view a company’s finances through a holistic lens. And, it’s this big-picture thinking that sets apart average accountants from excellent ones.

Good communication skills

When most people think of accountants, their mind usually goes to green visors, lamp-lit rooms, and long hours of seclusion and spreadsheets. However, modern accountants are constantly communicating with people, whether it’s their team members, their business partners, or their clients.

There are three main mediums or forms in which accountants must communicate with others:

  • Interpersonal: meeting with clients, partners, or potential employers
  • Written: annual reports, memos about accounts payable, proposals and plans
  • Verbal: explaining your data analysis and turning raw data into meaningful information

It’s common for those who have a thorough knowledge of a complex topic like corporate finance to fail to communicate clearly with others.

This is why being able to communicate complex ideas to the average person is one of the most critical accounting skills. As you provide financial advice to clients or explain international financial reporting standards, you must be able to speak clearly and concisely so the average person or your client can understand you.

Ready to step into the accounting world? We’re hiring!

At MBS Accountancy, we’re changing how accountants work. If you’re interested in working with our team, check out our Careers page.

If you’re interested in accounting careers that include remote work options, full benefits, competitive pay, and amazing team members, we’d love to have you!

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