Does your company’s accounting team have the modern accounting skills it needs to support your company in a competitive global economy?
Great accounts are more than just number-crunchers. They possess a multidisciplinary range of skills and strengths, only some of which are quantitative.
“Accounting is not the staid, sleepy business that many assume it to be,” says Fergus Cleaver, partner in Auckland-based Cleaver Partners and business finance expert. “The considerations involved in modern accounting are surprisingly complex, particularly for enterprises that do business in multiple countries.”
Whether you’re evaluating your internal accounting team’s performance or vetting accounting outsourcing partners, make sure you’re working with professionals who exhibit these six key traits.
1. Effective Written Communication
It’s all too easy for credentialed professionals to regress into industry jargon. CPAs and other finance professionals are no exception. That’s why it’s so important to hire accountants who can bridge the gap between their guild and the wider world with clear, effective written communication. They don’t have to be the next Thoreau; they just need to be able to string a few paragraphs together and leave their colleagues better informed than when they began.
2. Great Presentation Skills
Not every busy executive has the time or patience to sit and read a dense, high-level written report. To ensure they’re reaching every key decision-maker in the organization, accounting professionals need to be willing to craft effective visual presentations — PowerPoints, whiteboards — that summarize key financial metrics or trends for non-specialized audiences.
3. Openness to Feedback and Direction
If your company has a larger accounting staff, it’s likely to have a hierarchy: a VP of finance or CFO, middle managers, analyst-level types. If your company is smaller, you might have just one or two (or a handful of) pros on your finance team, or an outsourcing vendor that handles your accounting needs.
Whatever the case, the bulk of your accounting team must be open to feedback and direction from above. Accounting is a highly specialized skill that requires a certain degree of self-starterism, but it’s not a breeding ground for cowboys.
4. Honest and Integrity
Honesty and integrity are the definition of “soft skills.” You can’t earn a master’s degree in truth-telling — you’re either honest or you’re not.
Even if you’re constitutionally allergic to bad news, you need an accounting team that won’t shy away from delivering it if and when necessary: a team that commits to “bad news first, good news second,” no matter how grisly the details. Pick any newsworthy accounting scandal from the past 20 years of history and there’s a good chance dishonesty — or, at least, avoidance of the holistic truth — lies at its heart.
5. Unflappable Work Ethic
Well-compensated professionals have to work hard. What a surprise!
Seriously, though: your accounting team needs to be prepared to put in long, grueling hours at the numbers farm. That’s especially true during crunch times, like tax time and year-end auditing season. Accountants that don’t put in the requisite effort when it’s required run the risk of omitting or leaving unfinished crucial tasks, which can come back to bite them (and your company) down the road. Remember, it’s invariably cheaper to fix a mistake before it’s discovered.
6. Time Management Skills
When the going gets tough, time management skills are almost as important as an unflappable work ethic. Given the boom-and-bust nature of corporate accounting work, it’s crucial that you work with professionals who can identify the highest-priority tasks during busy periods, and devote their attention to less pressing work during down times.
What traits do you value most in your company’s accounting staff or partners?