The role of the accountant is similarly evolving, so employers are looking for talent that can take on a broad range of tasks and demonstrate strong quantitative and qualitative skills.
Here are the six skills that every future accountant needs for success.
1. Data analytics skills
There is more data to analyze than ever before. Technological advancements such as cloud computing enable masses of data to be stored and sent in one place—increasing the possibilities of how data can be used in the finance profession.
Previously, data-handling and analysis was primarily the responsibility of data scientists, it’s now an essential skill for anyone pursuing a career in accounting.
“Without question, the expectations are now higher for accountants,” says Michael F. Peters, Ph.D., chair and Alvin A. Clay professor of accounting at the Villanova School of Business.
The Master of Accounting with Data Analytics (MAC) program at the Villanova School of Business explores accounting through the lens of data.
“There’s millions of pieces of data but if you don’t know what questions to ask, that data is useless,” says Jennifer Altamuro, faculty director of the Master of Accounting with Data Analytics program at the Villanova School of Business.
In one course called Accounting Systems and Controls, MAC students learn to extract data from SAP software—an enterprise-wide financial reporting system—and use the data to answer business problems and understand risks.
A career in accounting involves presenting reports and explaining complex financial information to clients and stakeholders. Strong communication skills are essential for professionals to build trust in their expertise.
“If you want to make a persuasive argument, want people to understand the business case, how to solve it, and how the accounting can be beneficial, then you need to have strong communication skills,” says Jennifer.
Within internal teams, accounting professionals must demonstrate strong communication skills to provide a good level of service and uphold accuracy.
“If there are issues that need to be addressed, you need to communicate these problems effectively,” says Michael.
The advancement of technology and automation is evolving the role of the accountant, leading to a shift in responsibilities.
“Keep an open mind about taking something on that’s different, more challenging, or outside of your comfort zone,” says Michael.
With clients, accountants today are taking on a more consultative role, offering financial advice and strategies to optimize business operations.
With these changes taking place, curiosity is among some of the most important skills an accountant can have.
“Be curious about your client, ask what type of business are they in? What is their strategy? What is important to them?” says Jennifer.
The MAC program at Villanova prepares future accountants to be successful in the evolving industry by keeping professionals up to date with trends.
These trends or developments are informed by an Advisory Council of industry professionals.
“We emulate what we teach our students who are going into this profession in that we are curious and willing to adapt,” says Jennifer.
4. Ethical leadership
Ethics are intrinsic to the accounting profession to ensure the accuracy of financial information and mitigate the risk of fraud or misconduct.
“Accountants have a big responsibility,” says Michael.
Alongside gaining the quantitative skills to work with numbers, students on the MAC program develop their ethical values in courses such as Leadership for the New Accounting Professional.
“Everyone will make mistakes and fall short and if you do, own it,” advises Michael.
5. Ability to work in a diverse environment
It’s essential for future accountants to be able to work in a diverse team and in a global business environment.
While accounting is not historically a diverse industry, firms are committed to focusing on diversity and inclusion. Each of the Big Four accounting firms—Deloitte, KPMG, PwC, and Ernst & Young—offer early career support for underrepresented groups through training, internships, and connecting with minority students to attract and recruit talent.
Students on the MAC program at Villanova School of Business develop their ability to work with individuals from different backgrounds through group work and projects, preparing them for the collaborative workplace environment in the accounting profession.
In a career in accounting, no day is the same. Accountants operate across multiple business functions: finance, marketing, operations, and systems. They must also keep on top of economic trends and regulatory changes that could cause an unexpected shift in their role.
“Agility is a critical skill because it opens students’ minds to thinking beyond the bounds of their area and fosters the idea of constant learning and growth that will advance their career,” says Michael.
The MAC program at the Villanova School of Business deep-dives into the cross-functional topics and skills that new accountants must deal with on a daily basis.
While the program also prepares students to pursue the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam—fulfilling 150 credit hours—it develops an even more advanced, agile skill set by covering analytics, extensive risk management issues, and technology, explains Michael.
“Such qualitative skills—alongside technical skills—are essential for well-functioning accounting teams,” says Michael.