Why ‘numbers people’ need better people skills

The stereotypical accountant – a solitary number cruncher hunched over a calculator and stacks of spreadsheets – is going the way of the abacus and slide rule.

Modern accounting is fundamentally a collaborative field, driven by advisory services, complex technologies, and remote work. Client needs have evolved, mechanical bookkeeping is largely automated, and analysis is far more data-driven.

To deliver value in this environment, today’s young accountants must flair their communication abilities as much as their finance skills.

The accountants of the future are client-facing advisors, adept at understanding needs beyond debits and credits and explaining technical analysis in plain language. They are technology navigators, guiding implementation to transform effectiveness. They are organisational connectors, bridging interdepartmental objectives and collaborating across distances and platforms.

While expertise in accounting, analytics, regulatory compliance and other hard skills will always remain essential, the differentiator for next generation finance professionals will be soft skills like presentation delivery, email writing, meeting facilitation and active listening.

Firms are emphasising communication abilities more than ever in recruiting and training because they understand advisory capabilities directly impact an accountant’s worth. In effect, modern accountants must speak the languages not only of business, but their clients and colleagues.

Numbers may be the nouns, but words are increasingly the verbs that build impactful analysis sentences and client recommendation paragraphs.

The impact of communication skills

Communication skills are essential for accountants to effectively convey financial information to clients, colleagues, and other stakeholders who may not have a background in finance.

The ability to translate complex concepts into layman’s terms is a valuable skill that can facilitate collaboration, build trust, and drive informed decision-making.

A survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that 97% of employers consider communication skills to be as important, if not more important, than technical expertise.

Listening skills: The foundation

Listening is the first and foremost communication skill that every accountant must possess. By actively listening to clients and understanding their financial concerns, accountants can provide tailored solutions and address their specific needs.

Additionally, listening at a deeper level allows accountants to uncover hidden clues and gather valuable information that may not be explicitly stated. This helps in gaining a comprehensive understanding of the client’s financial situation and delivering more accurate advice and recommendations.

Articulating ideas and building relationships

Accountants must be able to communicate their ideas, findings, and recommendations clearly and confidently. Effective written and verbal communication skills enable accountants to articulate their thoughts, present complex financial information, and engage in meaningful discussions with clients and colleagues.

Accountants should be able to craft coherent and concise emails, memos, and reports that convey the necessary information without overwhelming the reader with technical jargon.

Moreover, communication skills are vital in building and maintaining relationships with clients, colleagues, and other stakeholders.

Accountants need to communicate with empathy, ensuring that non-financial individuals can grasp the implications and significance of financial data. By fostering open and effective communication, accountants can establish trust, strengthen relationships, and enhance their professional reputation.

The role of technology in communication

Technology plays a significant role in shaping the way accountants communicate. With the widespread use of digital tools and platforms, accountants can leverage technology to streamline communication processes and enhance efficiency.

For example, collaborative software and project management tools enable accountants to work seamlessly with colleagues and clients, facilitating real-time communication and document sharing.

Additionally, accountants should stay updated with emerging communication technologies and trends to adapt to changing industry dynamics.

Embracing digital communication channels, such as video conferencing and online collaboration platforms, can help accountants connect with clients and colleagues from anywhere in the world, fostering collaboration and expanding their professional networks.

Developing communication skills

While technical expertise forms the foundation of an accountant’s skill set, the development of communication skills is equally important. Accountants can enhance their communication skills through various strategies, including training programs, workshops, and mentorship initiatives. Here are some key areas to focus on for accountants looking to develop their communication skills:

1. Professional Writing Skills

Writing skills are crucial for accountants to effectively communicate through emails, reports, and other written documents. Accountants should strive to write clearly, concisely, and in a manner that is easily understandable for non-financial individuals. Adopting a reader-centric approach and organizing information logically can significantly improve the clarity and impact of written communication.

2. Verbal Communication and Presentation Skills

Verbal communication skills are essential for accountants to deliver presentations, engage in discussions, and communicate effectively in meetings. Accountants should work on their public speaking skills, such as articulation, tone, and body language, to convey their messages confidently and persuasively. Practice and seeking feedback from colleagues or mentors can help accountants refine their verbal communication skills.

3. Active Listening and Empathy

Active listening is a skill that accountants should continually develop. By actively listening to clients and colleagues, accountants can better understand their needs, concerns, and expectations. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is also crucial for effective communication. Accountants should strive to empathize with clients and colleagues to build rapport and establish trust.

4. Non-Verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication, including facial expressions, gestures, and body language, can significantly influence the effectiveness of communication. Accountants should be mindful of their non-verbal cues and ensure that they align with their intended messages. Developing self-awareness and practicing active observation can help accountants improve their non-verbal communication skills.

5. Continuous Learning and Feedback

Communication skills, like any other skill, can be developed and refined over time. Accountants should embrace a mindset of continuous learning and seek opportunities for improvement. Actively seeking feedback from clients, colleagues, and mentors can provide valuable insights and help accountants identify areas for growth.

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