CareerThe most sought after accountancy skills for 2018

The most sought after accountancy skills for 2018

In an age when automation is rife, employers are becoming more discerning about the skills they desire

According to a recent survey of 1,200 accountants, more than half (55%) said they wished they could quit their jobs. The research, from CV Library, also found that 42.5% were seeking promotion. However, those looking for a new role should be aware that, in an age when automation is rife, employers are becoming more discerning about the skills they desire.

Against this backdrop, it’s no surprise that businesses are looking for in-house accountants with first rate technology skills. Advanced Excel is no longer enough. Today, hiring managers are seeking finance professionals who are up to date with smart technologies, leveraging solutions such as cloud-enabled ERP systems. Many CFOs are now key players in driving adoption of these technologies: recent research from EY found that 58% of CFOs believe combining state of the art technology with process improvement is crucial. In fact, a separate report carried out by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation has found the UK’s productivity slowdown is the largest of the G7 economies, and subsequently recommended that the UK needs to embrace technology to address this. Harnessing technology to improve reporting and simplify and tighten processes is key.

In a similar vein, in recent months we have also seen a significant increase in financial planning and analysis opportunities as organisations seek to step-up general FP&A reporting. This is likely to be in response to companies wanting to arm themselves against future uncertainty, not least Brexit, by collating robust data to inform long-term financial strategy. Those with a proven track record of providing detailed financial analysis and financial modelling are particularly sought after, as are those with solid experience of designing and creating revenue generation and job costing reporting systems. If you can prove measurable ROI on projects to improve efficiency and performance you’re on to a winner.

Last year saw a strong increase in demand for interim accounting professionals and we expect this trend to continue into 2018. This can also be attributed to external market conditions, with businesses perhaps unwilling to commit to permanent headcount costs against the current landscape, choosing instead to invest in flexible resource until there is more certainty.

The clients we work with are increasingly seeking “adaptable” candidates, which may be reflective of the prevalence of start-ups looking for professionals who can multi-task as they guide high-potential businesses towards profitability. In this type of role, you may be pulling together reports and presenting to secure investment from private equity houses one minute, and popping to the shop to buy stamps the next. Similarly, at the most senior end of the market, CFOs who have spent time outside the finance function, such as in marketing or operations, are becoming increasingly sought after by companies which value skills that a traditional accountancy degree and a linear career path wouldn’t necessarily provide. According to data from McKinsey, 31% of CFOs hired since 2009 have such experience, up from 17% of those hired prior to 2009.

While the digital revolution has no doubt increased demand for “system savvy” professionals, the rise of automation within the finance function has placed a fresh emphasis on the importance of innately “human” skills such as creativity. Accounting professionals can prove their worth by finding innovative ways in applying data to achieve growth, particularly in sectors with frequent disruptions that require dramatic changes in resource allocation.

Similarly, professionals with superior communication skills are also in high demand. Contrary to long-held stereotypes, today’s in-house accountants must have the ability, and charisma, to engage with stakeholders both inside and outside of the business.

Looking forward, as blockchain technology grows in prevalence, the skills that client companies seek in potential recruits will continue to evolve. Businesses will increasingly seek candidates with experience within companies who are harnessing the power of blockchain-based transactions, and who know how these should be recorded and recognised in financial statements.

While senior professionals won’t need to learn how to code, ambitious accountants are already expanding their knowledge to include an understanding of at least the principle features and functions of blockchain, so that when making their next career move, they’re not pipped to the post by someone who has.

Technology is doing more of the heavy lifting in finance – and the remit of the role of an in-house accountant is changing exponentially in response. Finance professionals are metamorphosing from straight number crunchers to strategic advisers – and those looking for their next role must recognise that expectations are shifting.

Adrian O’Connor, founding director of Global Accounting Network.

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