Onward and Upward: What Accountants Should Focus on to Positively Impact Their Careers

Technology advancements usually have us looking for faster and easier ways to get our work done. However, this can lead to complacency, with professionals failing to take proactive steps to many professionals don’t often step back and look at the ways in which our entire profession as accountants is being impacted.

Late last year, The CPA Journal published an article highlighting the drastic changes we have seen in our profession due to technology and that many professionals are considering how they will move their careers forward in this new environment.   

The CPA Journal article findings seem to echo Dimensional Research’s study “Understanding the Modern Controller,” which reported that showed 96% of controllers feel technology has had a big impact on their role, and that they spend more than three-quarters of their time on IT management. Clearly, the days of ledger paper and green bar accounting reports are very far behind us. 

It also appears the vast majority (95%) of controllers in the survey feel their jobs are, “…more important and strategic than in the past.”  Whether you are a freshly minted accountant or a seasoned pro, the writing is on the wall and we will need to continue to evolve to remain relevant. The CPA Journal article gives us several key areas in which to focus as summarized below.

Strategy vs. Reporting

These days, it takes minutes to create a traditional financial report. There’s even software easily accessible to create graphs and tables that just 10 years ago would take hours of manipulating in Excel. In the past, accountants were asked to use this data to interpret the story it told and diagnose the issues potentially preventing the company from reaching its goals. According to Raef Lawson, accountants need to move higher up the “…analytics continuum to predictive, prescriptive and adaptive.” We see this as leaning into a role of looking forward by considering possible alternatives, how to react to them, and finally, how to adapt the approach going forward. 

Technology Will Set You Free

While technology can present its own challenges at times, it also gives accountants the opportunity to break free from the drudgery of counting beans. Instead, they’re freed up to use their business acumen to perform trend analysis, research alternatives, and work alongside leadership.

Risk Managers Replace Number Crunchers

Both the Dimensional Research survey and the CPA Journal article highlight the changing roles of accounting leaders to a focus on functioning as the internal control guardian. Data security and protection of intangible assets requires hyper-vigilance as their value to a company has increased significantly. Don’t forget the ethical component of internal controls: Company risk regarding ethics extends far beyond the abuse of expense accounts into the significant value of intangible assets such as a company’s brand and ethical employee behavior surrounding their affiliation. Additionally, as the accounting profession moves to influence strategic company decisions, accountants’ own ethical behavior is challenged at a new level. 

Finally, we can’t help but make a connection between all of this change in our profession and Dimension Research’s survey results showing that almost nine in 10 controllers feel their position is more stressful than 10 years ago. Many at the middle-management levels came into this profession when number-crunching was still a primary responsibility. While the study finds the top reasons for the increased stress levels to include: Demand for faster turnarounds, increase in workload, and increasing compliance requirements; it is critical in the rapidly changing profession to take a step back and evaluate what new skills you need to weather the storm. 

What Does It All Mean

There’s a lot to consider here. With the uncertainty surrounding pretty much everything at the moment, it’s natural to be wary of what’s to come. Ultimately, there is solace in self improvement.

Here’s what you should consider:

  • How will you move your career forward in the next decade? 
  • What skills do you need to stay relevant and reduce your stress surrounding changes in the profession since you first sharpened your #2 pencil in college Accounting 101?
  • If you are a newcomer to the profession, how will you leverage your technology skills to provide high-value analysis for leadership? 

Check out the full Dimensional Research study