In the world of accounting, data analysis is playing an increasingly important role in driving better decision making. The analyst can see beyond the past to explore the future world of the client in relation to growth, value, profit and cashflow. Being curious about the numbers can create immense opportunities for you and your firm to add real value to clients.
Data analysis is, however, a lot more than simply filtering data and putting together pretty graphs and tables. It’s also about knowing what numbers to use and then understanding what they mean through the clients’ eyes.
A lot of firms have invested money in the tools. Having the right tools is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. What are you doing to invest in your accountants to help them look ‘beyond the numbers?’
We’re now starting to see more accounting graduates come out of university with a broad set of motivated abilities, including analytical, IT and marketing interests. They want broad exposure to real client issues and needs from the beginning of their professional career rather than just punching in data and printing out reports.
Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect that staff who have never been exposed to the world of business would have strong insights into the world of their business clients. But it must start somewhere. There’s a lot that we can do as managers and leaders to give our staff direction and support in moving to the accountant-analyst role.
How can we train our accountants to be better analysts?
1. Leaders and managers of accounting firms firstly need to train themselves in being better analysts and advisers. If we’re not able to do this ourselves, what hope do we have in being able to coach our staff to think more deeply about the work they’re doing? There’s no excuse for not doing this, as technology and outsourcing make compliance more efficient and allow for more timely access to relevant data.
2. We should provide our accounting staff with training in the lifecycle of our business clients, so that they can get a stronger insight into the situations that are likely to arise as businesses transition from start-up to growth and then from maturity to succession.
3. We need to show our staff how to interpret current and historical financial information to better predict the future for our business clients. This means a stronger focus on relevant KPIs, ratios and forecasting tools. A curiosity about the numbers and an inquiring mind are also important factors in developing stronger analytical skills.
4. A firm culture that encourages active sharing of client relationships and information is essential for success in the world of a business analyst. Managers should encourage their staff to find out more about the world of the clients they are doing work for, through research, discussions and the opportunity to actively engage with clients.
5. We need to focus on the development of the soft skills of our accounting staff to prepare them for their roles as analysts and advisors. They must be good communicators. This means that they can facilitate meetings, ask questions, listen to answers and understand what’s being said. They should also have critical thinking skills, to be able to understand problems, identify possible solutions and assist the client in implementing those solutions.
Is this realistic? I’ve seen many accountants and managers who, with strong coaching and technical support, make the transition from number cruncher to analyst. Whilst it takes a lot more time to develop advisory skills, they certainly have the capability to engage clients in a discussion about what the numbers really mean.
In the Firm of the Future report, FRMC proposed a new approach to the life cycle of accountants, where graduates first gain exposure to working with staff and clients in public practice before venturing out into the business world to gain broad-based commercial and business experience … ultimately returning to public practice in a key adviser role.
No matter what direction our graduates and accountants take in seeking the skills they will need for their professional future, it’s clear that we need to start now in encouraging our staff to have a strong level of curiosity about their clients and a willingness to ask questions about what the numbers really mean.
What are you doing to encourage your accountants to show real interest in clients ?
The BUSINESS ANALYST eLearning Course facilitated by CPD for Accountants introduces the world of analytics to accountants and managers in public practice seeking to develop their diagnostic and advisory skills.
Over 10 modules, we’ll take you on a journey from accountant to analyst and finally to advisor. We’ll outline the skills required at each stage of professional development and help you to develop and implement a SMART action plan focusing on your personal interests and capabilities.
For further information on the eLearning course:
Dale Crosby | Director, CPD For Accountants | www.cpdforaccountants.com.au