Today the role of the accountant is broadening even further and even more exciting opportunities are on offer
We all know that accountancy’s image in the past hasn’t exactly been that of a white-knuckle career ride, but the reality is that accountancy has always offered a varied and stimulating career for those wanting to push themselves.
But before exploring some of the great roles up for grabs, how is the profession changing exactly?
According to Josh Rufus, manager, public practice at Morgan McKinley, not only do you need to be technically competent, firms are increasingly looking for individuals who also have the softer skills. ‘By this I mean that you need to be personable and have the ability to be able to influence and upsell,’ he says.
It’s a point taken up by Ellis King, manager of accountancy and finance at Morgan McKinley.
‘For those attempting to progress their career as an accountant, developing soft skills is more crucial than ever,’ says King. ‘Although excellent technical knowledge will always be required, accountants are now finding that they have to liaise with other departments, such as IT, marketing and sales, and therefore communication and teamwork skills are becoming central to the role.’
Neil Imber, head of UK learning at Deloitte, believes firms value emotional intelligence as much as IQ and there’s an increased appetite to focus on developing client relationship skills much earlier.
‘An ability to add value through providing insight and challenge is also core to our strategy and something we are increasingly focused on in terms of employee development,’ says Imber.
The good news is that the number of jobs on offer to fledgling accountants has definitely risen over the last couple of years, according to Rufus. ‘This is due to practices wanting to hold on to their staff. So instead of letting them go for a similar role elsewhere, they are much more inclined to help them find other opportunities within.’
Jonathan Firth, managing director at Michael Page Finance, takes a slightly different perspective.
‘The number of roles hasn't increased; however, an accountant is viewed as more applicable for a wider variety of roles, so they can move more easily to different areas of a business,’ he explains. ‘In the public sector industry, accountancy roles have increased with accountants moving into review and investigation roles, as well as more standard areas.’
When quizzed about some of the more unusual or exciting jobs available, Firth says: ‘We placed someone as the accountant for a famous rock star, where they were flown out to their villa to meet them at the last interview. There are indeed some exciting and unusual jobs available.’
Over at Morgan McKinley, Rufus talks of having recently recruited for an audit role with a top 10 practice where they promised that the candidate could go out on secondment to a client within the first six months.
‘This is particularly appealing,’ he says, ‘as not only does the candidate get to experience working within industry, but the client gets to upskill their workforce, meaning everyone is a winner.’
One of the companies that Morgan McKinley recruit for also look for royalties auditors, which can be an interesting role as it involves liaising with radio stations, record companies and recording artists to work out how much commission is earned by the amount of air-plays by artists around the world.
‘It’s great for those wanting to travel because it involves travelling to lots of European and US destinations on a regular basis,’ adds Rufus.
We can thank business partnering for the explosion in different roles that are appearing for accountants, says Phil Sheridan, managing director at Robert Half UK: ‘The business partnering function has created a host of new roles as companies look to manage and expand their commercial finance objectives. Roles including commercial finance controller, commercial finance manager, financial business partner and assistant business partner are positions that didn’t even exist five years ago and are now the most popular profile requested by Robert Half clients.’
So should fledgling accountants be thinking about the specific area they want to go into early in their training? ‘Not necessarily,’ says Rufus. ‘I think, if anything, fledgling accountants should look at broader generic areas, and a number of different sectors, so that when they do qualify they have a broader range of skills, which will in turn make them more marketable.’
Firth agrees that it is always good to have a plan, but is not a necessity: ‘The beauty of accountancy is that the ACCA Qualification shows a skillset that allows you to move around in different industries and sectors.’
So have a plan by all means, but don’t beat yourself up if you’re still not sure what area of accountancy you want to go into. And when you do come to decide, remember there are some great and stimulating roles out there.