What Does it Take to Have a Successful Accounting Career?  

What Does it Take to Have a Successful Accounting Career?

The most important path to success is the one you build. Millions of books and websites can offer you different strategies and tactics but ultimately, you get to define what success means to you.

Yes, you will benefit from learning how to win friends and influence people, nurture a growth mindset, tap into the power of grit, and think yourself rich. Before all that, though, it would be wise to envision what a successful accounting career looks like for you and what you’re willing to do (or not do) to achieve it.

Here’s the challenge. You will need to commit to your plan for achieving success—and yet, when market conditions or your needs change, be ready to adapt and adjust your plan.

After working with more than 3,400 accountants and bookkeepers, we’ve observed 5 conditions that lead to success in accounting careers. These can help you meet both objective markers of success (being paid well, getting promoted, and making helpful connections) and subjective ones (feeling supported and finding your work meaningful).

These conditions are:

  • competence and confidence. 
  • the ability to adapt to new technology. 
  • knowing how to communicate with influence. 
  • work-life balance and self-care. 
  • a supportive work environment.

Competence and confidence

“First of all, there’s no substitute for competence, so devote yourself to learning and expanding your knowledge, not only of the financial services sector but also of business generally.”

This advice comes from Olivia Kirtley, a former president of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). Before stepping into leadership positions in IFAC, Olivia trained in accounting, particularly taxation, and spent the first 10 years of her career in one of the world’s Big 4 accounting firms. She eventually rose to take on leadership roles in the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

“Competence must be accompanied by confidence, which can only be gained through experience. So, my primary message would be to raise your hand, and take the risk of accepting new challenges and opportunities.”

“New” is the operative word. While the Covid-19 pandemic was a disruptive shock that cost millions worldwide their jobs, it also compelled more firms to use technology for learning and collaboration online—a new way of working that makes global teams succeed.

So, while a university degree in accounting or finance is valuable, it can become even more so if you commit to keep on learning throughout your career.

Accounting as a practice maybe half a millennium old, yet it keeps changing. There’s an abundance of online courses, videos, and newsletters that you can choose from to expand your knowledge and gain fresh skills.  

Accounting technology trends to brush up on

Artificial Intelligence: This will empower accountants to process a huge amount of data, saving time on recurring tasks.  

Big Data: The ability to analyze vast amounts of data will enable real-time monitoring of financial transactions. Data visualization and predictive analytics will inform business decisions more.

Blockchain: Distributed ledgers enable smart contracts and faster verification of people’s identities, and will improve the transfer of assets. Once industry regulations are sorted out, this can reduce business costs and boost security.

Intelligence of Things: A combination of artificial intelligence with interconnected devices or machines (the Internet of Things) will help accountants keep track of transactions, including inventory management and ledger changes, in real-time. Continuous monitoring will make audits easier.

Robotic Process Automation: This will free accountants from document processing, data entry, and other labor-intensive, repetitive tasks.

Source: Bernard Marr, author of Tech Trends in Practice: The 25 Technologies that are Driving the 4th Industrial Revolution

Adapting to technology

What are accountants and other professionals learning online? In 2022, the World Economic Forum and the training provider Coursera observed that more individuals are learning online, but not everyone is picking up digital skills.

“Broadly speaking, men are more likely to invest in digital and innovation skills and women are more likely to choose to upskill in working with people and self-management skills…women are substantially more likely to upskill in resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility, and men are twice as likely to choose to upskill in technology use, technology design, and mathematical thinking.” 

Yet digital skills are a must for those who desire success in accounting.

Starting in 2024, aspiring CPAs in the United States will have the option to specialize in the Information Systems and Controls discipline. All candidates will need to pass exams in three core sections: Auditing, Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Tax and Regulation.

They then get to choose 1 out of 3 disciplines; the more traditional ones are Business Analysis and Reporting, and Tax Compliance and Planning. Candidates who choose the third discipline, Information Systems and Controls, can build their careers by focusing on:

  • enterprise and accounting information systems. 
  • the integration of data from various sources. 
  • IT change management. 
  • security and privacy. 
  • business process models.

“The CPA exam has evolved to align with a digital-driven marketplace,” said Susan Coffey, CEO of public accounting at AICPA, “and that means a greater emphasis on technology and analytical skills.”

Career moves for elite accountants

Professional growth. Dedicated support. Relevant training. All that to help you move ahead on your career path and grow with a global accounting team.

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