The 6 accounting skills currently in highest demand

Whether you’re a junior accounting looking to land one of your first roles or an experienced accountant looking to get ahead in your career, staying on top of high-demand accounting skills will make you significantly more competitive. Today, the modern accountant is expected to to demonstrate a wide variety of skills beyond that of a traditional accountant.

For today’s article, we’ve looked into a range of recent insights and reports. We’ve compiled a list of 6 emerging accounting skills that are the most desired in today’s fast-paced business environment. These include key innovations, such as blockchain technology, as well as age-old skills that have had growing importance, such as relationship building.

You’ll find that all the skills we’ll discuss hinge on the accounting industry’s digital transformation. In a recent research paper published by Deloitte on Finance in a Digital World, 43.9% of high-level accounting professionals listed a ‘mix of strong accounting and technology skills’ as one of the most difficult skill sets to find. About 40.4% of the same group felt that ‘strong technology skills’ was one of the most important for their team to improve upon.

Cloud-based accounting software

One of the largest trends in the accounting industry has definitely been the rise of cloud-based software and cloud accounting. Instead of storing data locally on a single computer, cloud computing enables data to be accessed from anywhere. Surprisingly, only 28.2% of firms have invested in cloud-based accounting solutions. However, another 36.2% are currently implementing or to plan to implement these tools.

Though the cloud accounting market in 2019 was only worth US $2984.2 million, it’s set to reach a whopping US $4567.9 million by the end of 2026. The predicted growth has led skills in cloud accounting to become much more desirable. When high-level accounting professionals were asked about the skill sets that need the most additional training in the next 2 years, 45.8% put ‘cloud-based accounting solutions’ as their first or second option.

The use of cloud computing in accounting goes beyond accounting software as well. Firms are using cloud technology internally for enterprise resource planning (ERP), inventory management, project management and for general communication. More tech-first firms are also advising on suitable cloud software for clients and sometimes helping with implementation.

Intelligent accounting automation

Cloud computing enables businesses to better automate their processes. The importance of automation became clearer as finance teams were forced to close their books remotely during the pandemic. Those that relied on cloud technology to automate functions such as accruals, adjustments, and internal transactions, fared much better than those who didn’t.

Hence, the demand for those with skills in automation is significantly higher now. In particular, firms are looking to take advantage of automated data entry, payroll, A/P and A/R, and audits. For example, an accounting professional working with an e-commerce client can benefit from understanding how to connect e-commerce platforms to accounting solutions through accounting integrations that can automate data entry.

These tasks are typically categorised into Robotic Process Automation or RPA. About 23.9% of high-level accounting professionals said ‘RPA’ was the most or second-most important skill needed in the next 2 years. Hence, it would be useful to get a grasp on the tools available on the market.

Budgeting, forecasting and reporting tools

Now that cloud computing and automation have made keeping the books accurate a lot easier, there’s now a greater opportunity to use the data in budgeting, forecasting and reporting tools. Currently, 26.7% of firms have already implemented these tools with another 41.1% planning to or currently implementing them.

When finance and accounting managers, directors, controllers, and CFOs were asked about the skill set that they thought needed the most additional training in the next 2 years, the largest proportion (52.3%) put ‘budgeting, forecasting and reporting tools’ as their first or second highest option. Clearly, experience in these tools are highly coveted in the accounting industry at the moment.

Blockchain technology

Blockchain has been making waves in the news for years now. The technology is a great representation of where the accounting industry wants to move. Blockchain uses peer-to-peer technology, allowing users to keep up-to-date contracts and asset registers, and process real-time transactions without the need for a bank. This model supports standardisation, verification, authentication and privacy.

The Big 4 are currently researching and trialling blockchain technology in the accounting industry. There’s a potential for blockchain technology to do away with the need for financial statement audits or at the very least, change financial reporting and auditing processes. Blockchain could provide a more consistent format for auditors, make accessing information easier and create more opportunities for automation.

Though at the moment, blockchain technology implementation rates are quite low (1.4%), there is a substantial proportion of firms (9.6%) in the process of implementing or planning to implement it. Demand for accounting professionals with an understanding in blockchain technology is expected to rise with 11.0% of high-level accounting professionals noting it as the skill that needed the most or second-most training in the coming couple of years.

Data analytics and critical thinking

As technology speeds up processes for accounting professionals in a range of ways, the need for data analytics increases, particularly for early career accountants. Being able to use different software and tools is only one part of the equation. Accountants need to be able to find patterns, draw conclusions and analyse data strategically.

We’re already seeing shifts in the type of work done in the industry with 64.4% of high-level accounting professionals stating that it’s become more analytical in the past 18 months. A whopping 91.6% expect the work to become more analytical in the next 5 years. It’s not surprising that in a survey of almost 5,400 finance professionals, 31.6% considered ‘data science and analytics’ to be a main focus when hiring.

On a similar note, the skill ranked most important by leaders in the industry (61.7%) was ‘critical thinking/problem-solving skills’. Reporting no longer refers to just presenting data and graphs. In order to be an effective business partner, accountants need to be able to have a bigger hand in providing more strategic, deeper insights.

Relationship building and communication

Last but definitely not least, you need relationship building and communication to complete the trifecta of accounting skills. Though this skill set has been around for as long as we can remember, 28.4% of accounting managers, directors, controllers, and CFOs have still noted ‘people skills’ as one of the core capabilities that needs improvement.

The insights drawn need to be articulated clearly both internally and externally. One interesting development we’ve seen is the increased need for accountants who can communicate through online channels as well as traditional channels. Unfortunately, confident and strong communication skills are underdeveloped in many accounting organisations.

Similarly, accountants need to be able to build strong relationships. Internally, this helps with collaboration and motivation. Externally, accountants can better understand their clients’ needs and hence provide a more tailored service. Despite technology taking over many accounting processes, building rapport is still in the hands of accountants themselves.

Key takeaways on high-demand accounting skills

Accounting technology is already changing processes and expectations in the industry. More organisations are investing in technologies and more tools are becoming available. Around 51.0% of finance and accounting managers, directors, controllers, and CFOs are expecting specific technology capabilities to become more present in finance as opposed to IT.

To make sure you remain competitive, it’s crucial to get ahead with the technologies that are currently being implemented. However, the more technology is introduced, the more time accountants will have on their hands. This ultimately leads to a stronger demand for skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and relationship building.

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