What does it take to be a good accountant?
Traditional answers to that question might include things like: "an eye for detail," "a mathematical mind," "an ability to spot patterns," and "above-average organization skills."
In today's day and age, though, you can go ahead and add "comfort and experience using business software" to the list.
Because of its computational, data-intensive nature, accounting work has become inseparable from the software applications that enable efficient and accurate financial record keeping.
Software savvy is now among the most marketable job skills a professional accountant can possess. To keep up with the changes, there are a number of things every future accountant should know about how software is affecting their chosen profession.
No matter what kind of accounting you specialize in or whether you work for a private company or a public firm, you'll use accounting software on a daily basis.
Inc.com describes the centrality of software to contemporary accounting this way:
It used to be that keeping "the books" for a business was literally a paper-based process, involving a ledger, lots of columns, and a pencil to record a business' essential financial data. In the digital age, however, even the smallest business can benefit from a wide variety of small business accounting software products on the market.
According to a survey by Accountemps, the second most in-demand non-traditional skill for accountants was "expertise in information technology." The study polled a sample of CFOs who ranked the desirability of IT skills in accounting job candidates ahead of "communication skills," "leadership abilities," and "customer service orientation"
You may have read articles talking about technology eliminating the need for accountants. Don't believe the hype.
The American Institute of CPA's (AICPA) reported that 43,252 new accounting graduates were hired in 2014--the largest class of newly hired accountants since the organization began compiling accounting job market data in 1971.
While software might not be eliminating the need for accountants, it is changing their roles.
Software is making the computational, task-oriented style of accounting work a thing of the past. Tedious calculations and long, manual records reviews are out. Jobs relying on accountants to provide strategic insights on business decisions from a financial perspective are in.
Technology advancements have enhanced the accountant's ability to interpret data efficiently and effectively. He/she now has the ability to interpret the language of business with such ease that the accountant has become a corporation's most trusted business advisor. CPAPracticeAdvisor.com
Software developers have created software for every imaginable business accounting process. Beyond core accounting modules such as the general ledger, accounts payable, and accounts payable, software functionality exists for job costing, bank reconciliations, cash management, budgeting, tax preparation, forensic accounting, financial statement compilation, asset depreciation, and beyond.
(Check out a list of 54 various accounting and other business management application types.)
With a huge chunk of the small business market share, an extremely low pricetag, and an easy-to-use interface, QuickBooks is the go-to program for many new accountants looking to familiarize themselves with accounting software.
But there are lots of other product options that deserve attention. The software market for medium-sized and enterprise businesses is not nearly so heavily dominated by a single solution. And, medium to large businesses are where many of the accounting jobs are.
Most accounting degree programs now include requirements for course work dealing generally with business technology and specifically with accounting software. But additional accounting software training and expertise can help new graduates get a headstart up the job ladder.
Future accountants looking to gain specific product expertise have access to both developer and independently offered interactive online training series, user created YouTube instructionals, seminars, certification programs, books, user community forums, and a host of other resources.
According to Senior Accountant and industry thought-leader, Nate Roth, from Sitzberger Hau & Co, SC, he's used roughly 30 different individual programs in the last seven years. When it comes to getting up to speed on new software, Roth says that he's "always found the 'undo' button a great help."
On a more serious note, though, Roth explains that, "Learning systems takes time and hands on practice." His advice for accountants working with new software is to, "Find the right reports for the decision makers, then tackle how to create those reports as quickly as possible, because accounting data is only useful if it is timely and provides management with the info they need to make decisions."
"Information technology accountants" ranked third on a list published by Accounting-Degree.org of the highest paid accounting job specialties.
The median salary for IT accountants outpaced the annual earnings for "senior financial analysts," "risk and compliance professionals," and "international accountants," among many other accounting job specializations.
A question many accounting students will ask themselves is this: With sophisticated software so readily available, should I focus on learning software or on accounting practices and theory?
The answer of course, is both. Software skills are necessary--but not a substitute for accounting expertise.
In an article published on AccountingToday.com, CPA, Stephen Yoss, had this to say about the value that knowledgeable accountants will continue to provide:
We realize that while our clients might utilize the same accounting tools that we have, they do not have the essential training or expertise to be able to use the tools as effectively as we can. Additionally, they may not be able to translate exactly what the numbers mean, and validate whether the information is accurate. Therefore, they still require the assistance of a financial professional.