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Joining the Next Generation of Accountants: Highlights from our Panel

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Panelists Ron Baker, Nicole Rousseau, Hannah Dawson, and Erin Vukelich tell us how accountants will step into the future

They’re on a mission to revolutionise accounting. Here’s what it means to be a next generation accountant.

What does it mean to be a next generation accountant?

The next generation accountant is more than just a service provider. Here are the traits our panelists say you’ll need to evolve in your role:

  • A business partner: Not content purely dealing with the compliance aspect of the industry, you’ll need to become a partner in a client’s business. To do this, you’ll need a different set of skills than you needed ten years ago. You need to really understand your client’s business and their vision. You need to be tech savvy, and embrace digital transformation. But it’s also very important to have a set of soft skills: be good at communicating, have problem-solving skills, and be able to connect with your client.
  • A knowledge worker: A next gen accountant has to constantly invest in their intellectual capital. It’s a process of lifelong learning, but also unlearning. Unlearning can be far more challenging than learning something new. It’s very difficult to challenge your worldview, but it’s essential to constantly challenge it, based on new evidence. That’s something that’s not taught anywhere – it’s a skill you’ll need to teach yourself.
  • Adaptable: You have to be very adaptable, and able to shift as the clients’ needs and technology shift. Your communication to clients will also need to change as their goals change throughout your relationship with them, because it is a partnership. We’ve all just been through an enormous change – small businesses have been stretched beyond recognition. And the likelihood is that these challenges aren’t going away anytime soon. You should start changing your processes and think more strategically and tactically about your own practices so you’re best able to serve those small businesses.

What do we have to do differently to attract the next generation of accountants?

Our panelists defined three key elements that accountancy firms will need to focus on if you want to attract next gen accountants: culture, purpose, and communication. 

  • Culture: You need to create an environment people enjoy going to every day, because we spend so much time at the office. So you need to want to go to work. A big part of that is creating a culture that’s attractive. That means getting rid of the unsustainable long hours during busy seasons, and instituting work-life balance. You also need to foster a culture of openness, where staff feel they can bring their ideas to the decision-makers, and have open conversations about career progression. Treat the people you hire like adults: they’re smart, educated people. You don’t have to make them account for every six minutes of their day. Let’s build firms that are as human as the people inside of them, which means crushing bureaucracy, eliminating the annual performance appraisal, because it doesn’t improve future performance. 
  • Purpose: You need an inspiring purpose. This is the reason your firm exists, and why anyone should care – and it can’t be “because we want to increase efficiency by 5%”. Nobody works at Google or Apple because they have the best systems and processes, they work there because they want to put a dent in the universe. And if all your firm cares about is increasing efficiency and profit. That’s not going to inspire anybody, especially today’s knowledge worker. Today’s knowledge workers are actually volunteers: firms need them more than the knowledge workers need the firms.
  • Communication: We have to start thinking about how communication is going to change with the next generation of entrepreneurs. Technology has to play a part in all of this, but compliance isn’t going anywhere. Finding the most efficient, time-saving ways to get compliance done so you can have some fun with the business owners, and have conversations with them about making their businesses better, is crucial. And remember, this isn’t just the 10% of larger businesses who are typically getting traditional advisory services. We can’t just see the other 90% once a year, that has to stop. 

What’s the next big thing in accounting?

The panel agreed that the next big thing in accounting is the subscription business model. The next gen accountant needs to move from a transactional based relationship with customers to one that’s built around relationships. Businesses aren’t buying tax returns and compliance work or even consulting or advisory work – they should be subscribing to the firm, which is going to create annual recurring revenue and lead to higher valuations of firms. Some firms are already doing this, so it’s already happening – and whether your firm does it or not, you’re going to have to contend with firms that do. The ones that do are going to have an enormous competitive advantage. 

Overall, an emerging theme from the panel was that change is difficult, but necessary. Moving from timesheets to a subscription-based model isn’t necessarily easy – nor is convincing traditional compliance staff of the value of advisory services. But if you want to stay relevant to your clients in the digital age, change is essential. 

Our panelists were Ron Baker, Founder of the VeraSage Institute | Hannah Dawson, founder and CEO of our partner Futurli | Nicole Rousseau, Head of PKF Ignite | Erin Vukelich, Accountant at JCCS PC. You can watch our panel here to hear more insights from the experts about the next generation of accounting.