Will your technical knowledge make you a great accountant?

You’ve studied IFRS, pored over Tax legislation and agonized over the ISA’s, will this make you the successful Accountant you wish to be? Whether you’re studying a CA(SA) qualification, ACCA, ICB, CIMA, or any other type of studies, you’re going to need to broaden your skillset.

Most accounting students focus on their technical knowledge with an intensity that feels like it leans towards an obsession! This is a necessary response to the volume, depth and complexity of the work involved in studies. The perception is that the more you know, the more successful you’ll be.

The academic syllabus imparts an enormous amount of technical knowledge, however, it leaves quite a gaping hole in terms of the rest of the requirements of a successful professional.

My question to students is as follows:

Is it your technical knowledge that will make you a valuable professional accountant?

Your ability to perform the calculations, identify the journals and generate the disclosures? Or is it the professional judgement you apply to your client’s circumstances in performing the above? The clarity of your advice to them regarding appropriate solutions? The value they feel you add to whatever project you’re performing for them?

There is no denying that the technical components of our accounting studies are important. If that’s all you pick up from your studies though, you’re in for a bit of a shock! Once you stop studying, you forget all the little details relating to the technical components. Not only that, but the Standards change, Legislation changes, disclosure requirements change. There is no way you can keep up to date with everything, all the time. This is where the ability to work through technical information, and apply it, comes in. When Legislation does change, can you analyse it and interpret what those changes mean to you? This is not a technical skill, this is a professional skill.

As with any business, your value lies in the perceived value your clients place on what you do for them. As a professional, you need to identify what that value will be. The calculations? Disclosures? Or the ability to explain to your client WHY they need to apply a certain Standard, and what impact it will have. The understanding of the risks they face and how to assist them in mitigating them. Creating solutions for problems they approach you with.

Analysing and researching information and situations and creating appropriate solutions for problems require technical knowledge as a base, but these skills require more development. This is generally obtained during your training contract, depending on the exposure your training office can give you. This teaches you to apply the technical knowledge you’ve gained, but also takes your skills further.

Our interpersonal (or ‘soft’ skills) are also vital. This is another area that is not addressed in most academic environments. As mentioned above, your value lies in the perception that your client has. In some cases, these are even more important than technical skills.

Consider accounting or any other lecturers or teachers you’ve had in the past. Some of them were technical masterminds, but not fantastic teachers. You wouldn’t doubt that they knew every detail of the syllabus, but they couldn’t explain it to you, or simplify it so you could understand it. Does it then matter how brilliant the lecturer was? If they couldn’t help you to understand the material, what did that help you? Conversely, you’ve probably come across other lecturers, fellow students, tutors who didn’t know as much as the technical genius, but were able to simplify it so you could understand the concept. Who added the most value to you?

Although your accounting studies begin to impart some of these additional skills, the real development comes through the on-the-job application of the technical skills you have acquired and how you use them. As mentioned before, don’t underestimate the value of your training contract and practical experience, and how it can round off your skills as a professional!

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