There's More Than Meets the Eye in an Accountant's Job
- 9th October 2017
- Accountancy and finance
So you think you can be an accountant – but did you know there’s more to the job than meets the eye?
First and foremost, plenty of common misconceptions surround the accounting and finance industry. Some people seem to think accountants are dull and stodgy – “you guys just stare at spreadsheets all day, huh?”Others think of accountants as calculative and money-obsessed – “bet all of you spend your time plotting how to get more money, right?”
Even with a good idea of how an accountant’s day-to-day looks like, you might not have given much thought to the qualities needed for the job. The finance environment is a demanding one, with little room for error. As you might imagine, it takes some remarkable traits to do the job well.
So what really goes on behind the scenes – and what does it take for you to become great in the finance and accounting world? Here are six key traits that you should definitely aspire to be:
1) Good communicator
Surprise, surprise – accounting isn’t all staring at spreadsheets and figures. No accountant works alone, and at the end of the day, you’ll be called upon to present or explain your financial data.
Here’s what the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the global body for professional accountants, has to say about why communication is important:
“If there is one prerequisite that sets accountancy apart from other professions, it is the need to communicate clearly and concisely both internally and externally.
Communication is the core activity of the accounting profession, transmitting information from one person to another, from one organisation to another […] and to the shareholders and other stakeholders of the organisation.
[…]Many problems such as bias, distortion and omission are often the result of poor communication.”
Being able to communicate your technical calculations in clear, simple language is a rare skill. Suffice to say that it’s one your clients and bosses will definitely appreciate.
When you work with numbers, there’s little margin for error. An inaccuracy can snowball into miscalculations that impact an organisation’s bottom line and lead to bad strategic decisions. Most recently, analysts found an egregious US$2 trillion accounting error in President Trump’s proposed national budget which ‘double-counted’ the profits for proposed tax cuts.
A knack for focusing on (even obsessing over) details is invaluable for any accountant. Doing your due diligence by checking and triple-checking your work should come as second nature.
3) Calm under stress
Accountants need to perform under high pressure. Add this to the heavy workload and tight deadlines, and it’s no surprise that chartered accountants say their stress levels are rising.
Accountants who have staying power in the industry are those who know how to remain calm and efficient in the face of stress. Good poise is also essential for inspiring clients’ confidence in your judgement.
It’s true that part of accounting work is heavily routine-based – you make the same entries every week, run the same processes every quarter and so forth. But at the same time, fresh trends and new technology such as cloud-based software are always being introduced. As an accountant, you should have the mental agility to respond to changes and adapt your problem-solving approaches accordingly.
Accountants handle a lot of sensitive data as a matter of course, such as bank statements and tax forms. Given the trust invested in them, accountants need to abide by a strong sense of right and wrong – sometimes even when you’re pressured by higher-ups.
You might remember the huge Toshiba accounting scandal in 2015 when it was discovered that the electronics giant had been overstating their profit numbers by three times. Investigators found that Toshiba’s employees had been “pressured into inappropriate accounting”. Even two years on, claims of unsavoury accounting dealings continue to haunt the company, causing their stocks to plunge.
Acting ethically can mean a variety of things, from safeguarding client privacy to following good professional practices at all times. Word spreads quickly, so building up a reputation for integrity can only help win you more clients.
If many of the traits we’ve mentioned sound familiar to you, then good news: you might just be an accounting and finance rockstar in the making! There’s a goldmine of raw potential sitting within you, all ready to be unearthed and refined through training.
An accounting diploma is an easy first step if you’re preparing for a career in finance. A word of advice: when selecting your programme, be sure to pick one in which you can foster the important traits we’ve just discussed.
Look out as well for programmes which offer greater mobility in career progression. Certain courses can serve as stepping stones towards higher qualifications – the Diploma in Accounting & Finance, for example, allows you to progress toward a Higher Diploma and an Advanced Diploma. This gives you plenty of bright prospects for upskilling and climbing the career ladder. Keeping all these in mind, it’s time to get number-crunchin’!