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As financial services grow increasingly commoditised and automation takes care of many traditional accounting tasks, finance professionals need to find other ways to add value. This often includes taking on a more advisory role, translating the now automatically generated data into meaningful insights that non-finance people can understand.

Sounds easy, right? Wrong.

All that advice needs to be delivered in a way that might not come so naturally to finance folk, and that’s why today’s most in-demand skills in the finance industry have little to do with finance.

There’s hard data to support the notion behind investing in soft skills. Research shows that 76% of accountancy jobs advertised require candidates who demonstrate a range of soft skills. Employers are looking to recruit talent that can do something that robots can’t – be human.

There are substantial skills gaps in the accounting profession, and the ones considered crucial for success are currently weakest among finance professionals. When recruiting, employers are more likely to choose finance professionals who possess soft skills than those who are only technologically strong.

Here are some soft skills finance professionals need to develop to stay relevant in today’s market.

Moving between numbers and narratives

Data is only powerful when analysed, refined, and properly understood.

Business stakeholders are increasingly looking to finance professionals to help them transform their operations using accurate, relevant, and reliable insights that highlight opportunities and mitigate risk.

For modern finance professionals, this means using data to see exactly where an organisation stands and creating a narrative around the data to show how the company can grow successfully into the future. Drawing narratives from numbers means that finance professionals are now required to move between analytical and creative thinking, a difficult switch when either way of thinking is underdeveloped.

Knowledge of financial software

Adopting cloud-based systems is essential if finance teams wish to be competitive, and it is critical for finance professionals who want to keep pace with client demands.

Until recently, technologies have been considered mere tools to assist in the fast-changing regulatory and work environment. As finance is now a primarily automated environment, accountants need to build the skills required to use the technology more effectively to enhance the quality of the output it generates.

To be an attractive candidate, modern accountants will be required to learn to work with new accounting software as and when it comes to market and to understand cloud computing,  enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and new database applications.

Interpersonal skills

Gone are the days of accountants crunching numbers behind closed doors. In today’s world, customer service skills are essential as it is imperative to be able to communicate with existing clients and entice new ones. When you build rapport with current and prospective customers, they see you as approachable and trustworthy, and you are more likely to retain them in the long term.

Adaptability

It isn’t news that the accounting profession is undergoing massive change. The accountant’s role has transitioned into an advisory one as technology automates processes and replaces much of the traditional accounting routines. Clients have new expectations, and accountants can now collaborate and work with them in real-time.

With technology bringing constant change, accountants need to be able to adapt quickly and learn new systems as and when required. Having a good attitude towards change has thus become critical in the finance function.

Critical thinking skills

Strategic and critical thinking skills are essential for accountants. They need to be able to look at a spreadsheet and see more than a series of numbers – they need to uncover the story it holds.

Identifying patterns and trends, challenging information, or drawing up a sound strategy to solve complex problems is critical thinking. Developing long-term financial plans for clients requires this kind of thinking.

Accountants increasingly have to think outside the box to develop creative solutions for the ever-changing business landscape their clients need to navigate.

Emotional intelligence (EQ)

“The rise of automation and robotics in the workplace is driving a greater need for people that possess qualities that can’t be replicated by machines,” notes a PwC report.

One of these qualities is Emotional Intelligence, or EQ. EQ includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skills. It is the ability to be aware of and in control of one’s emotions, thus allowing for better handling of interpersonal relationships.

In the context of the accounting profession, with the rise of automation and self-service, accountants have become increasingly dependent on client relationships and business development skills. This is where EQ plays a significant role. The ability to respond to situations rather than reacting to them will help you build rapport with your clients and stakeholders alike.

Embrace lifelong learning

In today’s ‘adapt or die’ business environment, it is essential to continuously improve your knowledge, skills, and experience to further your career and assist your clients. Employers are attracted to candidates who show a keen interest in continuous development and challenging themselves to grow.

An adaptable mindset is indispensable for navigating today’s uncertain world, as the solutions that worked yesterday are unlikely to solve tomorrow’s problems.

Accountants need to focus on the business and commit to helping it evolve. They need to be relentless in their efforts to learn and unlearn as needs change.

Perfect your communication skills

Communication skills are the most in-demand soft skills as accountants need to share information and findings across all business areas in a manner that is easy for the layperson to understand. Extracting relevant information from various data sources and then relaying it clearly and concisely is a rare and sought-after skill.

Soft skills have been placed squarely in the spotlight in response to the pandemic, and communication and interpersonal skills are top of the list. This is likely a direct result of the rapid implementation of remote work, which often hinders communication. Engaging your clients and your team is critical for those in the finance profession.

Accountants also need to develop the ability to listen. One can no longer assume to know what a client wants or needs. It is vital to listen carefully to understand their problems and concerns thoroughly and be able to assist in the best way possible.

Must-haves: Commercial acumen, stakeholder management, and collaboration

In a constant state of flux, businesses are increasingly turning to finance professionals who possess commercial acumen, understand their business operations, and can support them through collaboration with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders alike.

Accountants in large organisations must work with others in their own teams and across the company. Being able to collaborate with and manage a diverse group of people is a skill that is in high demand as shared work and planning are integral to most teams today.

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