15 key business skills for future focused accountants

May 14, 2024 | Business Strategy

In my latest talks about what the future demands from accountants I reference key business skills.

This is a subject that has long been dear to my heart as, after I had been working in tax for a while at what is now Deloitte (back when it was Touche Ross), I helped out the tax training team.
Our focus was NOT on tax knowledge but on client relationship skills.

Much more recently I developed a personal skills self-audit for accountants that I may update soon. It addressed a dozen key business skills that every firm needs to some degree or another.

I would stress that here I am talking about the skills you develop over time, to some degree or another, over and above your technical knowledge and your ability to apply this effectively in practice.

The majority of the training most accountants have received in practice is intended to ensure we understand the rules, practices and laws relevant to the compliance and advisory work we do. It’s addressed by regular update courses, magazines and technical briefings.
And of course that’s all critical but it’s not enough. And frankly never has been.

These days the more successful accountants evidently have a wider range of skills and these will all remain important into the future.

What follows is a list of 15 key business skills that I believe will become increasingly important in the near future.

Client and relationship management

  • Distinction marketing that evidences you are NOT ‘just another accountant’
  • Your ability to lead and delight your clients to engage you for more services
  • Your ability to build collaborations and relationships with clients and third parties
  • Being able to successfully promote a range of services that go beyond the traditional focus of compliance services (as the perceived value and fees that clients are willing to pay for such services continues to fall)
  • And, very much related to that, your ability to value price, to pitch and to secure client commitment to paying the fees you want for doing the work you most enjoy

Strategic and analytical expertise

  • Enhancing your ability to deliver business advice and business coaching to clients – beyond simply reporting what some clever software says
  • Your ability to assess and manage business, commercial and cyber risks
  • Your ability to think strategically and to communicate this effectively to clients
  • Updating and refreshing your understanding and ability to conduct commercial analytical reviews – using but not relying entirely on the latest software
  • And, perhaps most importantly – effective AI prompting to avoid the consequences of garbage in, garbage out.

And the third group of non-technical skills you will want to explore, refresh and enhance, rather than leave it all to ‘common sense’, are related to

Leadership and project execution

  • Project management generally
  • Problem solving
  • Business leadership
  • Influencing and persuasion
  • Intergenerational adaptability – recognising that different-aged people work differently and are motivated in different ways.

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